Editor's Note: In addition to being a poker enthusiast, gambling columnist, and lecturer, John is a National Certified Counselor (NCC). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
I play in a regular weekly game. One guy seems to have an amazingly great read on me. He seems to call me every time I am bluffing. When I raise with a good hand, he always folds. It happens too often to be dumb luck. I don't think I'm giving off tells, but this guy has my number and it drives me crazy. How do I beat him? - emailed by Keith from Arlington, VA
As many older guys do, my buddies and I often sit around and talk about the highlights of our high school sports days. We inter mix stories of poker bad beats with stories of our varsity glory days. One of my pals was the star of our basketball team. Although he'd regularly score over 20 points per game with his smooth jump shot and quick dribble-drives, I was always able to hold him nearly scoreless during practice. Since he and I had been playing basketball together since we were kids at the local playground, I "knew" him. I knew his style, his usual moves, and most importantly his mindset. After so many hours logged together on the basketball court, I was certain when he was likely to be looking for a 3 pointer versus when he wanted to streak towards the hoop. Since you've played so many hands against this single opponent at the poker table, he's grown to have such an instinctual feel for your game, as well.
Your ultimate goal should not be to beat this one opponent. Instead, you should thank him for pushing you to be better. Your goal is to be a better overall player. First, closely inspect yourself and your game to insure that you are not leaking a physical tell. Have a trusted poker-playing friend (if there is such a person) evaluate your play. Have them share any possible tells with you. If that does not produce any tells, you may not want to stop there. See if it is possible for you to videotape yourself during the home game. Like an NFL coach that must break-down game tape, harshly judge yourself and your play on your homemade tape.
Next, take the opportunity to talk with the opponent that "has your number." Your mission is to pick his brain, getting him to coach you on the apparent mistakes that he's been exploiting. This is not as tough of a task as you might think that it will be. He'll probably share his insights if you are able to swallow your pride. Basically, you have to stroke his ego by expressing your appreciation for his ability to read your play. Your small limit home game poker is more about competition than money. If you take the element of competition away by admitting that he has you beaten, he'll almost certainly help you improve your game. Most poker veterans find a certain satisfaction in leading a "student." The responsibility and thrill that he'll experience will offset the small financial wins that he might take from your chip stack. After some self-evaluation, some help from some friends, and some help from your opposition, you will be on your way to great poker improvements. Be sure to provide sincere thanks and give credit to those who've helped you along your trek.
People seem to react in very unpredictable ways when they are busted out of a cash game or tournament. If I am still left playing while someone just busted out, what should I do? I mean, should I apologize if I took them out with a bad beat? Should I shake their hand, even if I didn't particularly like the guy? Should I try to shake his hand even if I wasn't involved in the final hand? - emailed by Brookings from Baltimore, MD
There is no exact protocol to the player exit. While some players storm off in an emotional tidal wave, other players accept their defeat with grace and understanding. Since there is a complete range of possible reactions to being knocked out of the game, knowing what to do and how to react is not a perfect science.
While many players quip that poker is not about making friends, there is no doubt that the social element of the game is part of its charm. Interacting with the players at your home game and regular card room is certainly a part of what makes the game so appealing. In other words, there is no real benefit in trying to make enemies at the table. On the other hand, there is no need to fret about dancing around the perfect way to console a player who's just lost.
My advice is to simply be sincere and understanding. Attempt to stay in control of yourself, so it does not appear that you are gloating or rubbing in your good fortunes. Extend a handshake in appreciation of their play. If the opponent has offended you in some manner, there is no need to feign sportsmanship by shaking their hand. The dishonesty is blatant with such an exercise. Instead, just go about stacking your chips and preparing for the next hand. If you've taken a player out by getting a lucky river card, apologizing about the bad beat is not necessary. You are not upset that you won, so don't pretend that you are!
KEEP THE QUESTIONS COMING!! Carlisle14@hotmail.com
Ed Note: Paradise Poker is where the action is.