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The Poker Counselor's Corner (23)

The Poker Counselor's Corner (23) 0001

Editor's Note: In addition to being a poker enthusiast, gambling columnist, and lecturer, John is a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and practices in his home state of Pennsylvania. He has a Master of Arts degree in Counseling from West Virginia University, and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology from Lock Haven University. You can arrange for interviews, speaking engagements, or ask your question to "the Poker Counselor" at

One of my main leaks in my game happens after I start winning. I get to feeling invincible and make stupid plays that cost me money. -Posted by Wooly on a poker forum

Many players can easily identify tilt when they are steaming after a bad beat. The emotions of disgust, disbelief, and anger are gut-wrenching explosions. The wave of psychological negativity causes obvious physical reactions --- stressful tightening of muscles in the body, increased heart rate, deep breathing, sweat, etc. At times, though, another element of tilt arises that can easily slip past our self-evaluation. When running with good cards and solid wins, the positive emotions automatically take hold. For many of us, pride and pleasure can quickly snowball into potentially harmful characteristics such as cockiness, overconfidence, and feelings of invincibility. In the long run, "playing your rush" can be as costly to your poker bankroll as steaming after bad beats.

I am a huge advocate for staying confident at the table. On the other hand, I certainly note the ill-effects of being foolishly overconfident. Since rushing with tilt can sneak up on us, we must be keenly tuned into our emotional state at the table in order to sense it arising. When rushing, poor starting hands suddenly start looking more playable. Likewise, marginal hands begin to appear to be monsters. You feel compelled to call the turn and river on the slight chance of improving your hand. Rather than sharply measuring information to evaluate if your opponent may be in the lead, you start to assume that you are winning. The altered perception of play will certainly catch up to the rushing player, causing the chip stack to take a hit.

Preventing a rush begins with prevention of it entirely. After a big win or a series of good wins, take a deep exhale before the next deal. Then immediately think through the last win in an analytical style, not an emotional style. Think of how you could have extracted more money from your opponents in that hand. Try to identify the emotional state of those that you just beat, and how you can take advantage of their reactions. Review your current chip stack versus the stack of your opposition. Remember your predetermined goals, and evaluate how close you are to achieving those goals.

If your attempts to quell rising a rush fail, then immediately work to get yourself back into an appropriate emotional state. Take a break from the game. Use the time between hands to calm yourself and reclaim your thoughts. Take a pause from your normal routine of stacking chips, riffling chips, and chatting with your neighbor. Instead, take a moment for a concentrated mental effort to reclaim your emotions. Think through your play, making sure you are staying disciplined, patient, and appropriately aggressive (not wild). Players who are able to do this are certain to improve their overall success.

I make about $500 a month online playing small stakes Hold 'Em. That is a pretty consistent rate for around 18 months or so, about 12-15 hours played per week. I'm playing 3/6, .50/1 No Limit, .50/1 Pot Limit Omaha, etc. I can't get a bankroll rolling because I rely on that poker money to pay the bills. Am I ready to make the step to the next level? - Posted at on online forum by Lvman

YES you are ready, but NO you are not!

The Yes: Pulling in those profits over the course of a year and a half shows that you have indeed mastered the basics of the online game. You certainly know how to be patient, selectively aggressive, play position, understand odds, avoid traps, set traps, etc. Thus, I'd say that you are indeed ready for the next level in terms of poker skill and knowledge.

The No: You would be setting yourself up for failure to delve into the 5/10 or higher level if you can't afford to lose money. Being that you rely on your profits to pay the bills (thus draining your poker bankroll each month), playing at the next level would open you up to become a scared money player. Your guarded psychological state will inevitably cause you to alter your play. You'll find yourself check-calling the river at 5/10, when you would've certainly check-raised with the same hand in 3/6. Those lost bets will quickly add up, causing your percentage of wins to get drastically cut. Smart opponents (which there should be more of as you progress up the levels) will easily identify you are scared money, and will inevitably bluff you off of pots or cause you to play soft. Until you have the bankroll saved and ready to play, you should not consider taking the next step. Find a way to save the money, or find a financial backer to invest in you and your play.


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