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The Poker Counselor's Corner (44)

The Poker Counselor's Corner (44) 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

Poker players are supposed to have no emotions. Still, I see guys on TV and in my home games screaming, jumping up and down, moaning about a bad beat, the whole bit. I try to stay on even level but I get excited with a big win and pissed after a loss. -Posted at online forum by Chuckie_99

Let me start by redirecting your very first sentence. You write that "poker players are supposed to have no emotions." You've either poorly communicated your ideas, or you actually have a false truth embedded in your mind. It is foolish to ever think that poker players can be emotionless. Not only do all human beings have emotional reactions to nearly all stimuli, we have more deep reactions to things that we care deeply about. I'm willing to bet that everyone who spends their time reading this website have an emotional investment in poker. If the truth was told, most of us would have to admit that on some level we actually "love" the game. With that in mind, there is no doubt that we all have emotional reactions to our play, our wins, and our losses. What poker books and magazines instruct us is not to be emotionless about poker (as that is impossible); it is to appear emotionless during the play of each hand. This is the basis of the notion of the poker face.

With TV cameras at more poker events than ever, we are seeing the entire range of emotional reactions in the poker room: anger, despair, jubilation, disgust, and everything in-between. We are now seeing recreational players follow the lead of those who play it up for the television coverage, with some new players shouting and hooting at even low-limit games. While some of the poker veterans show open disgust at this unveiled emotionality, I find it to be a nice tool to use at the table. Being emotional at the table is fine, but the key is not letting those emotions affect your decision making on the very next hand. This is a skill that only the best poker players have acquired. When talking about this subject, Phil Hellmuth once explained to me, "Hey, I'm passionate. I'm a passionate person. I can bear-down when I have to, but I like playing with joy. I like playing with passion. I love the game. It's not just grinding. It is work, but you can at least have fun and enjoy it." I think one key in his statement was a bit buried in the overall message: 'I can bear-down when I have to.' While Phil may be the most famous poker whiner on the planet, he does indeed rebound from emotionality as quick as anyone who plays the game. I've seen him take a terrible beat on one hand, yet wittingly outplay his opposition to recoup his chips the very next deal. In other words, it is fine (and natural) to get upset to sucked-out by a one-outer on the River. It is acceptable to get the adrenaline pumping if you hit win an enormous pot. The true key is getting mentally, physically, and psychologically prepared for the next hand before looking at your hole cards. The best players can do just this. Keep working to get there. Don't try to deny emotions, just let them go before the next hand.

Who is the most interesting professional poker player to talk to? - Asked by David Hart from Pennsylvania

Everyone that I have had the chance to interact with in the realm of poker has been cordial and interesting. I think all of the poker professionals can't help but allow the excitement and joy from the recent popular boom in poker enhance their overall demeanor. You see, after years of grinding out a living in smoky backrooms in the unheralded life of a poker pro, the "big time" has hit in the form of endorsements, TV exposure, book deals, and business ventures. Almost every poker pro is onboard with promoting a positive image of the game to continue the trend and social acceptance. With that in mind, nearly everyone is buzzing as excited with the potential of where poker may grow towards.

To more directly respond to your question, I guess I'll have to actually name some names. I think some of the most interesting and insightful players that I've interacted with over the past couple of years include Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Annie Duke. Many casual fans disregard Phil Hellmuth due to his crass and opinionated style of presenting his ideas. What they tend to overlook is that he continues to be wildly successful at poker and business, and that many of his ideas on improving poker are very valid and well-intentioned. Daniel Negreanu is always very open and honest, making him a great person to speak with. Also, Annie Duke has such a unique and interesting outlook as a female player in a "men's" game, having learned the game from brother Howard Lederer, her strong background of education, her family, her connections to Hollywood, and much more. Overall, though, I think my favorite pro to interact with is Phil Gordon. This route to poker is the most unique one could imagine: child prodigy who entered college at young age, then retired as an internet millionaire at a young age, then toured the world for several years with no destination in mind, and eventually becomes a poker TV host, author, DVD company leader, leader in fundraising efforts for cancer research, and champion player. I could spend hours listening to Phil tell of the times he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, lived amongst the locals in Ethiopia, or traversed the Amazon river on a raft he helped to build. He could entertain an entire audience with his true tales of what he calls "the biggest boondoggle in the history of mankind". He and a buddy crossed the USA with his ultimate sports adventure (hitting 140 major sports events in 1 year such as World Series, Super Bowl, Triple Crown, Golf Majors, Daytona, etc). His inside scoop on the celebrities involved with Celebrity Poker Showdown are always fascinating. He can also have you reaching for your pockets as he talks about cancer research with his Bad Beat on Cancer efforts. Oh, in addition he has amazing stories to tell about his poker experiences if you are interested in that!


Ed note: Phil H, and Annie play at Ultimate Bet - shouldn't you?

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