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
Dear Poker Counselor: I recently returned from a 4-day visit to Vegas where I logged just over 52-hours in the poker room at the Wynn. I had been playing poker for just over three years on-line, in local casinos near my home, as well as a very competitive monthly cash game prior to my trip.
I ended up breaking just about even by the time I checked out to return home. While I was playing I was constantly taking in the sights and sounds of the poker room. I completely enjoyed myself and met a lot of very nice players along the way.
However, after I returned home I had a chance to replay my visit and digest my game and I became very disappointed with myself. For the amount of time that I put in, to come home with basically nothing to show for it was not acceptable to me! I feel that I allowed myself to be distracted by all of the glitz and glamour of Vegas and did not play "My Game" so to speak. To further complicate my emotions, I also felt that I should consider myself lucky that I did not take a bath and bust out for my entire bankroll either!
Am I being too hard on myself? I feel like I have a really solid game and that I may have allowed a good opportunity to prove it (to myself as well as the Vegas locals) slip away. Are you aware of other "Vegas Rookies" that have experienced this as well? -Emailed by Michael P.
Many years ago, Las Vegas poker rooms were hardly a place to leisurely "take in the sights and sounds." Most poker rooms were relegated to a hidden area well off of the main casino floor. The rooms were cramped, smoky, and filled with grizzled veterans who often had a bit of a sour disposition when it came to newcomers. Back in those times, most of the games in town focused on Stud. The chance of finding a friendly Hold 'Em game would have been a challenge for a tourist. Finding a room as plush and welcoming as the Wynn's poker room would have been an impossibility. The Wynn's poker room looks like a regal old world classic area, with the elegance of the nearby Ferrari store across the hall seeping into the room. Passers by hang out in the corridor to watch the players, making even those sitting at a $5/10 Limit table feel like they are admired professionals.
The face of poker in Vegas has changed since Chris Moneymaker's fateful ascension into the popular consciousness. Now it seems that almost every casino along the strip and downtown has a busy poker room around the clock. Many rooms are near the sports book, which can be an especially distracting place on weekends during any major sporting event. The excitement, the free cocktails, the action on the gambling tables, the conversation with players from across the globe, and more can add an extra challenge to Vegas first timers.
Let me commend you on a very vital step that you enacted. You write that you were initially satisfied with breaking even, but took time to later reanalyze your assumptions and your play. This is an important step that even some of the professional players that I speak with often neglect. Just like football players who break-down game tape on Monday afternoons, we must find a way to evaluate our play after emotions settle. Even if the team won the game, they know they can improve themselves by looking intently at themselves and their efforts. In your critical self-evaluation, you shifted your immediate feeling of passive resignation to active frustration & disappointment. Now you are looking for a way to use your experience as a learning tool. Kudos. You are on the right track.
So allow me to say, 'No,' you are not being too hard on yourself. You are appropriately evaluating yourself and looking to set a new goal. What I'd surmise that you were going through is a psychological battle of a Vegas "vacation" versus a serious poker session. Part of you wanted to scramble up and down the Strip watching the fountains, hitting the comedy clubs, and eating at the fabulous restaurants as any typical tourist would. That part of you is the same part that compelled you to yap with your tablemates, get distracted by the surroundings, and kept your winnings low. After reading your email, I'm willing to bet that your next trip to Vegas will look much different. I suggest that you set definitive times (or specific days) that you play the role of tourist, staying away from the poker room when it is not poker time. When it is time to hit the tables, you'll then put on your "game face" and be ready to prove yourself and rake in the chips.
Dear Poker Counselor: Do speed tournaments favor the more skilled players or the less skilled? Since there is less time to think, I'm guessing the better players have the advantage as they can make better decisions quicker? - Emailed by Hans_Foldo
Since traditional multi-table tournaments can take more than 8 hours in the much quicker online poker world, speed tournaments are growing in popularity. The online poker site gives each player just a few precious moments to act in many of these speed tournament set-ups. Live poker rooms are following suit, as well. Blinds are increasing quicker. Time clocks are being introduced. The more structured & predictable time frame for poker may be a trend of the future, as it is very attractive for TV producers and executives, as well as helpful in planning for players and poker room managers.
So, does the speed aspect favor beginners, experienced players, skilled players, unskilled players, etc.? It is always hard to make sweeping judgments such as this, encompassing an entire range of people with differing skills and experiences. In general, though, I believe that the best online speed players will be experienced, good online players. Often times, you see, great live poker players are not as good at the web-based genre of the same game. These live players may be using more physical cues from their opposition, and they often take time to analyze their opponents. The best online players are used to acting fast. Online veterans can calculate pot odds accurately in short order, as well as identify the likely hands of their opponents based on the betting actions and the texture of the board. Likewise, savvy poker online vets are not likely to get rattled by the time clock's quick evaporation. With inexperienced players and live game players, the anxiety that comes with the tick-tock can take the place of the valuable mental processing that comes with serious poker.
The key in speed games is not allowing the clock to interfere with that thinking. Each decision must be made as clearly and thoughtfully as those made without a time crunch. Don't allow reckless choices be labeled as "instincts." There is no place for hastiness in your play. Pros, veterans, and amateurs alike must all take this to heart no matter the demand of the clock.
Keep those questions coming! Carlisle14@hotmail.com
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