Poker is so ubiquitous that we often play poker in new venues.
Way back in the dark ages, except for pros, most of us would have to go to Las Vegas a couple of times a year to play. Now, there’s usually a poker room within driving distance.
Some common scenarios are when you’re on vacation and can get away a couple of hours, in a new city for a conference or business and take a cab to the poker room or you’re on a road trip with some buddies.
Sports psychology teaches athletes the importance of acclimating to new surroundings. Teams arrive early to a new venue and some even replicate fan noise during home practices. They try to get an edge, so why shouldn’t we?
Many of us get to a new poker room, sign up for a game and then play. This is less than optimal. If you want an edge, you need to work it, a little. You shouldn’t just get GPS directions, park and play.
If you want to play optimally, I suggest actually walking around the room to get a feel for it, much like racehorses run a track. I call this “taking a lap.” Be intentional by getting used to the sights and sounds; absorb the ambiance. Check out the tables to see how they’re playing and see if the stacks are in your comfort level.
Stop the brush or floor and ask about the food. Can you eat tableside? Are drinks comped? Take about five minutes to get a feel for the room and atmosphere. Maybe even sit at the counter or bar and have a soda or coffee.
Once you sit, spot the regulars, the grinders. When you hear the dealer and a player talking about their last time on the golf course together, you can be assured that player has been there before, and often.
Remember, what is a disadvantage also is an advantage. They don’t know how you play and you don’t know how they play, so if you want to get an edge, notice the non-poker tells.
Among other times, I play every Sunday morning, starting about 7.
Usually, I’m playing against overnighters and about half are out-of-towners. I sit and the same server comes over and says, “Doc, I just brewed a new pot of coffee, ready?”
Anyone observing my Sunday morning would realize the staff knows me. If I don’t recognize someone, I know they are from out of town so I chat them up and see if they’re on vacation or did they come to grind out the weekend playing poker. Use the information.
And, of course, keep your head in the game.
— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.