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 email@example.com
I keep reading books and magazine articles that tell me to play very tight in the first levels of a multi-table tournament or single-table sit and go. Personally, I like to fire out some bluffs and buy some pots early because everybody else seems to be playing tight. What are your thoughts on this? - Emailed by screen name Bob_the_Breaker
I can never fault a player for working to accumulate chips in a tournament. Whether it is the first hand of the tournament or three hours into play, your goal is to pull more and more chips into your stack. After all, you need ALL of them to be piled in front of you to win the tournament. While what you have read advocates for playing conservatively in the early stages, this is not certainly not a universally accepted avenue of play. Antonio Esfandiari and Gus Hansen, for instance, come out of the gates at 200 miles per hour every time. They look to set the tone that applies pressure on their opposition. Antonio once told me that with his style he can expect to be out early or at the final table, and there is rarely a chance for much in between! If you do choose to be aggressive early, be sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. Never attempt to bully the table in order to feed your own ego while making yourself feel powerful. If you are bullying the table, it should be to win the available chips while solidifying your table image. Know that each time you win a pot, the opposition at the table will begin to log mental notes on you and your play. They will soon become suspicious of your tactics. Your job is to read each of their likely reactions. If they are meek and conservative players, they will likely react by avoiding pots that you have entered. They do not want to risk chips into a pot that you are probably going to move them off of. With that information in mind, you'll know that you should run for the hills if they make a bet into you. On the other hand, you'll have to identify those who feel threatened and challenged by your more aggressive style. They will be looking for an opportunity to play back at you. Rather than wilting under your applied pressure, these players expect the pressure and use it as a tool against you when they check-raise. The key is that when you have established your table image; never think that your job is done. Identify the style and psychology of your opposition, and react accordingly. When you feel that they have adjusted, it is time for you to change gears and keep them guessing some more. By coming out in the early stages aggressively, you are sure to be an early target. Once you have that lead, it is up to you on how to handle it until the last card is dealt.
I have been burned so many times with pocket Aces that I am starting to dread seeing them. Had them twice last night playing $4/8 at PokerStars and lost both hands. I figure I must be a bit sick in the head when I start disliking Aces, right? - Emailed by Reggie D.
You've probably heard the poker adage that pocket rockets will win you a small pot or lose you a huge one. Aces are a rather effective tool in No-Limit and Pot-Limit hands, as you can raise up to thin the field rather effectively. In Limit games, though, many pros will tell you that they are more excited to look and find hands such as medium suited connectors than big pocket pairs. The connectors can hit for a huge pot more often than the pocket pair, they say. The strategy end of pocket pairs may be secondary in this question, though. Something that concerns me in your email is your negative emotional reaction that is arising from the Aces. It is like the continual negative reinforcement of losing with the pocket Aces is causing you to expect them to be steady losers. In essence, I would agree that there is indeed a bit of poker psychology "sickness" that has infected your thinking. The negative mindset that you hold for the mightiest of hands might seems to be affecting your play, having you play the big pocket pairs passively or overly cautious. Losing confidence is a slippery slope. Once you start questioning cards, yourself, and your play, you may be on course in a downward spiral. Get your poker mind back on track as quick as you can. Believe that you will win with Aces. In fact, believe that you will win every time that you enter a pot! In poker, self-confidence is always a true key to success.
Keep those questions coming!! Carlisle14@hotmail.com
Ed Note: You'll like your pocket Aces a whole lot when you see them on Everest Poker's sleek, modern graphics.