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
My buddies think that I'm crazy, but I swear that I have nothing but bad luck at this one home game that we all go to. We've been there 15 times and I've never cashed. I always seem to have great hands like 3 of a kind get sucked out by a flush or straight on the River over there. I do consistently well online and at other home games, but this place just seems to be my own kryptonite. Is there such a thing as a home field advantage in poker? - Emailed by Sean from Arizona
There can indeed be home field advantages in poker, on several different levels. One advantage that some home gamers use is completely illegal. You see, home games are often targets for cheaters. Your consistent suck-outs on the Turn and River might be the result of carefully stacked decks or bottom-dealing mechanics. Likewise, colluders love to practice their signaling skills at friendly home games. I am not accusing your friends and tablemates of cheating; I'm just encouraging you (and all of the readers out there in poker world) to be keenly aware of your susceptibility in home games, especially when the players take turn dealing the cards.
Even if you're not getting cheated, you can still be seeing the disadvantage of not playing in your home "comfort" zone. Poker is deeply rooted in psychology. Factors such as trusting your instincts, reading your opposition/detecting slight tells, focus, and patience can be more important than the cards you are dealt. With that, conditions that encourage your overall mindset to be optimal will only enhance your game. Since you've taken some bad beats and lost some money at this particular home game site, it is very difficult for you to find that psychological edge when playing there. You almost expect to take some beats at this game, meaning your confidence is busted. With all of your focus and energy focused on the seemingly inevitable bad beat on the horizon, you are missing tells, making poor decisions, and missing out on the focus that is needed to win. There is no shame in skipping this home game if you feel that you cannot overcome the hump. If you are up for the challenge, focus on your own psychological self-control and personal drive more than the cards you are dealt. I see this as a nice personal and poker challenge which could provide some positivism if you overcome this uncertainty.
Most people think they play better if they've been playing a bunch. I play better after taking a break from the game. If I take 4-5 days off from the game, I almost always have a great session my first time back. If I play every night for a week straight, I usually play poor and lose money the last couple of days. It is possible that I play worse with experience? - Emailed by Jay from Idaho
I wouldn't say that you are necessarily playing worse "with experience." I think of experience as a cumulative phenomenon. The experience that you are gaining is invaluable, and it is not to blame for your likelihood of losing after several sessions in a row. Instead, you need to look within yourself to truly identify what's causing your late-week downward spiral. I'd guess that your play deteriorates as the week drags from other factors: fatigue, lack of focus, loss of patience, the winnings that you've already secured causing you to loosen your starting requirements, etc. I'm sure that some would advise you to only play on occasion in order to avoid your mistakes and assure more wins. I challenge you to do the opposite. Keep playing a steady, busy schedule but work to overcome your leak. Take a hard look to identify what the psychological factors might be that are affecting your play negatively. I suspect that there are several of these psychological mistakes that are combining to harm your game. Playing great for several consecutive games is a difficult task for even the best professionals. If you want to take the next step to the higher poker levels, this is a hurdle that you must overcome. As the days rattle on, make increasingly focused efforts to stay on top of your game. Like an athlete who is conditioning his body for a sport's season, your poker mind and poker psychology can be honed and improved. You need the practice the mental discipline that it takes to play at this level of poker. You need to train your mind, your patience, and your confidence. Once you've flexed this newfound longevity, you will rise to be a more consistent force in cash games and tournaments.
KEEP THOSE QUESTIONS COMING!! Carlisle14@hotmail.com