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The Poker Counselor's Corner (37)

The Poker Counselor's Corner (37) 0001

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

I've been playing online for 6 months. My buddies and I are driving to Atlantic City next month. I've never been inside of a casino before. I don't want to go in there and lose all of my money because I'm playing scared or tight. What should I do to get myself ready to go? - Emailed by Zach R. from Baltimore, MD

I have seen questions similar to this posed on many internet chat forums over the past few years. It is natural to be curious and a bit cautious as you enter into any unknown situation. It does not matter if it is your first day at a new job or your first time in a casino, the uncertainty is sure to cause a combination of jitters and excitement. With poker being a game best played in a controlled emotional state, neither jitters nor excitement are beneficial for our play. I always advise new players to take things very slowly as they get their feet wet in live games. Many guys will enter into a casino for their first time and dash to the poker tables to buy-in. Relax. The games will be there when you are ready, I promise. Before heading to the poker room take some time to take in the sights and sounds of the larger casino. Roam around and enjoy the scenery of the gamblers and environment. Allow yourself some time to feel more comfortable and more in control. Then find the card room and become a railbird. Spend at least 15 minutes observing the games. When watching, try to get a feel for the speed of the games, the level of competition, and the atmosphere of the room itself. You see, some poker rooms are filled with wild energy with players joking, chatting, and drinking. The next poker room up the boardwalk may be quiet, filled with stoic and serious players who take extended time to contemplate every single move. If you don't feel like the room you are observing feels "right", know that Atlantic City has several quality card rooms available in walking distance. Move along and observe action until you've found a room that seems to fit you nicely. Along with that exploration, be sure that you find a room with manageable buy-ins and blinds. If you are worried that your nerves may keep you from playing your normal game, buy into the cheapest game available in order to take a few deals. Even on busy weekend nights some Atlantic City rooms host $2/4 limit games, with $1/2 games during less busy times. In these inexpensive games you can get used to the flow of the live game without risking too much of your bankroll. As you begin, your task is to learn the casino etiquette as much as it is winning pots. Be sure that you act in turn, and let the dealer take the lead if you are unsure of what to do next. Just ask the dealer or floor manager for a table change once you feel comfortable and are ready for the next challenge. Before long you'll feel very much at home at the casino poker tables.

I hate pocket 10's. I mean that I literally hate them. They never do me any good. I either run into and overpair and lose with them, or I run into a smaller pair and lose to a set when the other guy gets lucky. It is so bad that I've started folding them pre-flop, since I am sure they will lose. Last week pocket 10's put me out on the bubble in a sit-and-go, lost me about $50 at a No Limit cash table, and put me out in a multi-table tournament! - Posted at online forum by Me2good

I always find it interesting to hear players talk about their favorite and least favorite hands. I have a poker buddy who loves playing 3-8, saying that it has won him tons of money over the years. I know another guy who has no confidence in J-10, a hand that many pros really love to play. This really boils down to the simplistic psychological principle of Classic Conditioning. Anyone who's been through Psych 101 in high school or college can recall Pavlov's dogs that'd been conditioned to salivate at the sound of the bell. The dogs had been exposed to food and a bell tone in such a manner that eventually a bell caused saliva to flow. This Classical Conditioning affects us every single day in ways that we never had imagined. Marketing gurus attempt to get us to associate their products to sexiness, money, and fun in a similar manner by leaning on this principle. My friend seeing the 3-8 hand signals his brain that it is essentially "dinnertime". In your case, you've been burned by pocket 10's to the point where you no longer have confidence in the hand (and in your ability to play the hand). Tens in the hole is indeed a tricky hand to play optimally. I suggest that you reignite your belief in the hand by discussing the hand with experienced poker players that you know and trust. Let them in on some of the circumstances that lead your 10's to lose, and they may be able to expose some mistakes that you make when trying to handle this particular pocket pair. It is certainly not good for your game to have an aversion for this relatively solid starting hand. When you peek down to find two tens, you have to believe in your heart that you can indeed play them well enough to win the pot. You know the poker statistics, so don't allow your own psychological errors overshadow them. Hands like 8-3 usually belong in the muck, and 10-10 is a hand to win with. Make it happen.


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