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The Poker Counselor's Corner (38)

The Poker Counselor's Corner (38) 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 always used to laugh at guys with lucky rabbit's feet, lucky t-shirts, etc. Now all of the sudden I have to have this "lucky" little token that I keep on the table while I play. I even keep it with me when I play online! I am not sure how I ended up with this? -Posted at an online poker forum by Jess

Superstitions have been a part of gambling and poker since the first cards were dealt and dice were thrown. There seems to be several psychological elements that play parts to the phenomena. First, our human nature of automatic association always seems to be a factor. We seem to all be very apt to put two concurrent stimuli together, assuming cause and effect even if they are not related. For instance, some avid boaters once wondered if consumption of ice cream led to boat accidents. You see, it seemed to them that after someone ate ice cream they have a much better chance of getting into trouble on the water. In reality, it is clear that it is another factor that brings about both ice cream consumption and boat accidents: warm, beautiful weather. The mind easily makes connections to unrelated things like ice cream and accidents all of the time, though. This is what advertisers try all of the time, as they attempt to link their products with positive emotions. Another factor is our psychological desire to control the uncontrollable - luck. All human beings feel uncomfortable when relying on factors beyond our immediate control and influence. The rush that goes with this powerless feeling is what causes roller-coaster junkies to seek out on the big drops. That rush is not something we want to endure every time a flush draw hits the board, though. The tokens that we keep to sway luck is at least a psychological attempt to feel that we are trying to stay in control. There is no surprise that you've developed a superstition or two. Just don't take on one of those superstitions where you never change your underwear, as it makes it tough to breathe for everyone!

I am the only guy at my regular home game that does not drink. I always make a ton of money in the last hour or two of the game, mostly because the other guys get tipsy (or skunk-drunk) and play bad poker. These guys are all my friends, and I actually feel a bit guilty about taking their money. -Posted at an online poker forum by MizMayThree

I am always surprised how often I see these types of morality questions in my email inbox and on poker forums, considering that classic thinking tells us that poker players are "win-at-all-cost" rogues. I find that many players actually have severe reservations about winning money from those who are obviously unskilled, drunk, or mentally unable to compete. It just seems to detract from the natural beauty of the psychological battle that IS poker. This particular situation is compounded by the fact that the sober player is friends with his opponents, making the decision a bit hazier. If this was a casino-hosted game with a table full of strangers, I know that the writer of the prompt would have no problem check-raising the drunkards into oblivion. When it is your friends and it happens every week, it does begin to seem too easy and almost unfair. You would not steal money from your friends, right? Well, the mind begins to associate these ridiculously easy poker wins to stealing after a few instances.

Many readers of this column will be screaming that the sober player should push onward, taking in as much dough as humanly possible from the foolish foes. In reality, I know that the decision is not that simplistic. I would not blame a person at all for taking a different approach to this situation. His buddies are obviously using poker night as a recreation, drinking and having fun as a means to unwind. The sober opponent sees the evenings as a chance to improve his poker game in this great game of skill. Since his opposition is not providing much challenge, there really is no sport in playing. The varsity team does not get much thrill in beating the J.V. squad, after all. If the profit is more important than the sport, the challenge, and the friendships then continue to seek the easy payday. If the dollar bills are not the ultimate motivation for your game, then there is no shame in exiting this home game early when the booze makes it too easy.


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