Dear Poker Counselor: Playing in a home game (No Limit tournament) I was able to see the flop for free with 7-9 off suit. The flop gave me the nut straight and my heart stared thumping. I checked and sat there trying to get my heart rate down and breathing under control. The harder I thought about calming down the more it pumped. Later I picked up pocket Aces and I felt it going again. Luckily the inexperienced players in this home game did not really notice and I still got a third place finish (out of 20). I know that I have to fix this because better players will see this tell. What the heck can I do? -emailed by John E.
The good news is that you identified one of your major tells. The bad news is that it is common tell that is not extremely easy to rectify. Endorphins and adrenaline have combined to enact your autonomic nervous system. The excitement produces a series of identifiable reactions, including increased heart rate, breathing rate, enlarged pupils, shaking hands, and a higher pitched/quaking voice due to tightened throat muscles. As with most of poker, your issue is psychological in nature. You'll need to use the power of your mind to control your physical reaction. You mention in your question that you had tried to use your mind in this manner during the hand. You were essentially attempting to will your heart to slow and reaction to calm as it was occurring. Unfortunately, this may be too late of a stage in the reaction to make a true impact. The best way to combat this tell is to prevent it before it ever begins. You see, once it takes hold it is rather difficult to reign back in. Prevention comes with preparation. The element of surprise fuels the reaction. You can easily negate that surprise via some focused concentration and anticipation. Before you look at your hole cards, be sure to take a deep breath inward. Exhale as you lift the corner of your hole cards, keenly focused on your poker face. Be expecting what you see to be playable cards. If you must, expect them to be Aces every time. After you look at the cards, have a spot on the table that your eyes move towards as you make your decision. This sort of habit will assure that your eyes to dart toward your chips if you have a monster. Basically, like a basketball player who has a foul shooting routine, you are looking for a comfortable and consistent pattern. Getting your mind set before looking at the hole cards is the key. The same concept holds true when you hit a flop. You had mentally given up on the 7-9 Big Blind hand that you mentioned. When it hit for a straight on the flop, the adrenaline raced in a flood. To prevent this, I'd suggest that you not watch the flop as the dealer exposes it. Instead, watch the reaction of one or more of your opponents to see their tells. Take that calming breath again before fixating your eyes on those community cards. Once again, expect it to be favorable and playable. You are attempting to replace the emotional reactions with intellectual ones. There is time for emotions after the hand is done (and after the session is done). During the hand, though, those emotions and reactions are your enemy.
Dear Poker Counselor: The cards have been a train wreck over the past month. I feel like I am playing good poker, but I never seem to pick up playable hands. I have been a folding machine. It is unreal. Any words of advice as I try to outlast last cold card streak? - Emailed by Glider99, who plays at PokerStars
You have not given us insights into your normal game, as folding and patience have different meanings in Limit, No Limit, cash games, and tournament style poker. In all, though, it seems that the key in your question involves your attempt to deal with the frustration that comes with a long run of bad cards. It seems positive that you have not begun to question yourself and your abilities. Too many players allow their egos to get damaged and their confidence to wane if they hit upon a tough streak. In your case, you seem to be pleased with your play and perseverance despite the bad cards. That should help to propel you from the funk. If the disgust or impatience becomes worse, it might be time to take a short break from your normal game. Maybe hop into some affordable No Limit tournaments, where less than stellar starting hands can sometimes be played wisely to win pots. Basically, you need to get a better taste in your mouth for the game once again. Hit up a fun local home game with some buddies. When you think of poker, a smile should come to your face and a positive feeling should envelop you. As this poor run continues, poker starts to sour and it enacts a negative reaction. When you get that better feeling for the game once again, it will be easier to outlast a poor run. Get your energy level up and expect the cards to start to even out for you soon. Be mentally prepared for success, and success should come to you.
Keep those questions coming!! Carlisle14@hotmail.com
Ed note: Success will come to you when you play at Hollywood Poker