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The Poker Counselor's Corner (45)

The Poker Counselor's Corner (45) 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 see the jugular vein pump on the neck of many opponents when they put in a huge raise. I figure that I'm seeing a tell, but does it mean a bluff or a monster hand? - Emailed by Jarron T.

I get variations of this question all the time in my email inbox. All tells are dangerously difficult to interpret without background knowledge on the player that is telling. It is really best to pick up the tell (blood pumping in neck vein) and then see the hand result once or twice. You then have a great read on that opponent for the future. Without such background knowledge to build an opinion on, we'll have to look at what this tell probably most often means. The jugular vein tell was the topic of conversation that I recently had with 2 time WSOP bracelet winner Scott Fischman and ex-FBI counterterrorism expert Joe Navarro (who is using his expertise on human behavior to write a book on poker tells) at Camp Hellmuth. Navarro and Fischman both agreed that a pumping vein likely signifies a monster hand, especially in any player with significant tournament experience. The big hand causes the limbic system to enact the excited state automatically. You see, most players are much more calmed and in control during a bluff. While a bluff is indeed exhilarating, it is an anticipatory excitement as the mind wonders if the bluff will work. In these moments of wondering, the mind is focused on being calmed physically to avoid giving hints. In other words, players are more "in control" of themselves and their reaction during a bluff. As I mentioned in the opening of this response, the most significant information is in past behavior - if you've seen his jugular pumping two times and he was bluffing both times, that is the tell. If you are unsure, I'd lean most often toward believing my opposition has a huge hand when I see the pulse beating in the neck.

Here is the situation. The tournament was paying out the top 30. With 40 or so players left everyone was being pretty tight. I was too, even though I know this is the best time to get aggressive. I ended up lasting into the money spots and made $760, which was nice. I'm still second guessing myself. Maybe I should've been super aggressive as the button neared and took a shot at the $12 grand top prize. What do you think? - Emailed by Kevin B.

Most poker professionals would (of course) advocate for everyone to push for first place. With that in mind, they would advise you to push hard when players start to tighten up as the bubble comes near. That is always the right play for poker pros, who salivate for the big pay off at the final table and the accomplishment on their poker resume. Well, you are not a professional so their advice may not be applicable to your situation. I am unsure of your poker goals and your poker bankroll. For many low limit players who are slowly building up a playing bankroll, the appropriate play may indeed to sit tight and to be assured of at least the several hundred dollars awarded at the bottom of the pay scale. If cashing (even at the bottom) provides a significant boost financially and psychologically (with confidence and pride), then coasting is not a huge faux pas in my opinion. At a certain point, though, your poker bankroll and internal drive will demand that you seek greatness. When this takes hold, your insatiable appetite to win will make you always play for the top. Since your conscious is now giving you fits about your decision to play tight and soft, that new mindset may be taking over. My hunch is that the next time you find the bubble nearing, a hunger might arise from within and compel you to start stealing blinds and buying pots.


Ed Note: Start stealing blinds, and buying pots at Everest Poker today

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