Live games

Don’t be afraid of intimidating live games, a manageable level of stress will actually improve performance

Don’t be put off playing a live game simply because it intimidates you. Embrace it!

Novice and intermediate poker players are usually kept happy playing on the internet and getting involved in friendly home games, but the more they play, the more likely it is that they wonder how their newfound skills would fare in a casino or specialist cardroom.

Playing live for the first time is seen by many as a daunting experience, and an internal cost-benefit analysis (for example, the anticipated stress of the occasion versus the amount of pleasure and money that will be derived) usually means that the risks outweigh the rewards. As a result many players end up never graduating to a bricks- and-mortar game.

However, you really shouldn’t be put off by the perceived levels of anxiety and pressure that you believe playing in a casino might bring. Believe it or not, being stressed will actually be good for your game – so long as you can keep it within manageable levels, which the majority of us are actually more than capable of doing.

There’s a lovely psychological idea called the ‘Yerkes- Dodson Inverted “U” Law’ which proposes that being somewhat stressed will actually lead to a much better performance than not being put under any pressure. Picture a graph in your head: the horizontal axis represents levels of stress, from none (on the left hand side) to a lot (on the right hand side); the vertical axis represents your levels of performance, from poor at the bottom to optimal at the top. Now place an upside-down ‘U’ on the graph and stretch it slightly sideways.

This graph now shows how stress can help your game. A lack of stress (which is at the point where the two axes meet) means a poor performance, as does a lot of stress; but the point in the middle, which represents moderate stress, actually indicates the best levels of performance. So, don’t be put off playing a live game simply because it intimidates you. Embrace it! A reasonable amount of stress is actually good for you.

All right on the night

Another thing that players often worry about is whether they can handle the pressure of having to shuffle and deal in front of strangers, even though they know that they’re more than capable of doing it at their home games. Well, again psychology tells us that everything will actually work out okay because of something called social facilitation (SF) – this can be used to predict how well we will perform in front of an audience. If we spend a lot of time practising a skill, and get to a level where we are very good at it, SF tells us that we will actually perform well, often much better, in front of a crowd of people.

However, if our skill is unrehearsed and of a generally poor level, then SF says that we will perform the task badly in front of other people. Therefore, if you can shuffle and deal well in your home games, you will really have nothing to worry about in a casino: but if you can’t, then it’s worth putting in a good level of practice before making the trip.

Swimming with sharks

Players new to live poker may also see the casino as a threatening environment, populated by card sharks just waiting to pick them up for transgressing the cardroom’s etiquette. Well, these worries can also easily be bypassed.

For example, if you’re planning on playing your first tournament in two weeks time, it would be beneficial to take a trip to the cardroom the week before in order to get used to the layout of the place. It will give you a chance to soak up the atmosphere, gauge the type of people who frequent the place and, if possible, get your registration taken care of well in advance.

Visiting a place for the second time is so much less threatening than it is the first time and this will help to take away some of the stress from your first game. It will also be a good opportunity to familiarise yourself with the rules of the poker room and this will reduce the likelihood of you getting harangued or penalised for any errant behaviour.

Numbers game

And if you’re still worried about the intimidating locals, it might be an idea to persuade a friend to go with you – there’s always safety in numbers. Just knowing there is a friendly face or two to ‘watch your back’ and to whom you can turn to for a reassuring chat, will help to reduce your stress levels no end. However, you will quickly realise that 99 percent of the people in the casino are actually very friendly and that you really had nothing to worry about in the first place.

Ultimately, familiarity and practice can reduce just about all of your excess levels of stress: the more you go and play live, the more comfortable you will feel. However, remember not to get rid of the stress altogether, as your performance at the table may well suffer!

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