A 3-Step Plan to Overcome Your Fear of Playing Live Poker

By Shannon Mack
January 04, 2017

I really like Robbie’s idea about setting poker goals to help stay focused. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” As it pertains to goal setting, I take this as encouragement to write down our goals so that we are reminded of our objectives, inspired by our achievements, and emboldened to strive to obtain our full potential.

conquer fear

So what are my goals; what do I want to accomplish in 2017? Yes, I want to learn the discipline to fold top pair–top kicker or two pair when I am bet into by a nit after the board pairs or a draw gets there, or even to hero fold a set correctly. Yes, I want to learn the boldness of being aggressive and going for that second barrel bluff to that turn overcard or the art of 3-betting light into that loose-aggressive player. However, my poker goal for this year does not involve a higher level of game theory necessarily (although I will be hoping to develop that throughout the year). My primary focus will be overcoming a psychological roadblock I suspect a lot of us introverts may have: the dreaded face-to-face live game!

Social Anxiety Can Be a Big Issue

No doubt many of us introverted online recreational players deal with social anxiety to one degree or another. Of course, many poker players simply prefer the convenience of online play, while others have no real alternative to that because there aren’t many regular live games in their area.

social anxiety

For some of us, however, we dread even the thought of sitting down in a brick and mortar casino or home game with real live human beings who may try to establish eye contact and engage in friendly banter without the anonymity a computer screen provides.

So how are we to slay this beast?

Step 1: Develop Your Confidence

Being confident in our game goes a long way toward our goal of being less apprehensive about playing live.


Why do we feel anxious going into a social situation to begin with? The truth, if we are honest with ourselves, is that we are worried we are going to do or say something that makes us feel like that awkward kid we once were on the yard at recess back in grade school. The other players are going to laugh and tease us, right? Sorry to say, but “speech play” is a legit strategy. We all got a good schooling in the art of table talk by Alex Keating and William Kassouf at the 2016 WSOP Main Event. #9highlikeaboss! If you can’t build your confidence and develop thick skin, you may just end up wanting to go cry home to Mommy and never come out to play again.

Step 2: Get in Shape, Physically and Emotionally

If your chief objective is to be a better overall poker player in all aspects of the game, there are some less obvious facets to consider. Being physically healthy is one of them. Being emotionally healthy is another. Both will improve your game and they go hand-in-hand.

get in shape

Being isolated and sedentary is going to limit you from reaching your full potential by decreasing your emotional and physical health. We need to have clear and focused minds to play level 3 poker. There is no doubt that being active contributes to a sound mind, and clearly poker is all about out-thinking the next guy.

Plus, you need tons of stamina to play poker. It isn’t an accident that we don’t see more players 55+ make deep runs in the WSOP Main Event. Most people in that age bracket just can’t sit and play focused poker all day long for six consecutive days because they are simply not in good enough physical shape. The ones who do break through, like 2015 November Niners Pierre Neuville and Neil Blumenfield (who were 72 and 61 at the time, respectively), both looked pretty great. If getting to live games more is a goal of yours and playing to your full potential is a priority, then get active.

Step 3: Just Do It!

Nike slogans aren’t just empty sayings…

just do it

You studied, you practiced online, you know the mechanics of the game, and you’re feeling confident. When you daydream of walking into new casinos, you can vividly see your hair blowing in the wind with fireball explosions all around like you are Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven ready to pull off a live action casino heist. Yet, as Queen’s We Will Rock You soundtrack plays in the background, all of a sudden the needle scratches off the record as you trip and fall entering the building; a crowd gathers around pointing and erupting in hysterical laughter.

Who cares?! Get up and take your seat at the table!

Just accept that you are going to be imperfect. That’s OK, it means you are human! You are going to fall down and be laughed at! You are going to bet or fold out of turn. You are going to be nervous and say something cringeworthy. You’re going to do a lot of dumb things at the table, but most of the time the ladies and gentlemen at the table (especially in a home game) are going to understand and they will help you out and make you feel at home.

To have a well-rounded game, you need live experience. You can’t learn to pick up on physical tells and make those reads unless you have that live experience. You also can’t give off false tells and misdirection if you aren’t personally familiar with physical and verbal poker tells.

The second you sit down for a few orbits you will realize that you were terrified of a monster under the bed that was not there.


So, to recap my three-step plan:

  1. Develop Your Confidence
  2. Get in Shape, Physically and Emotionally
  3. Just Do It!

If you’re a poker playing introvert, like me, I firmly believe that following the aforementioned plan of action will enable you to transition well from the realm of online poker to the live poker tables.

The better you prepare to follow that plan of action, the more likely you are to conquer your social anxiety and be able to play your A-game at the felt.



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Shannon Mack poker author
Written By.

Shannon Mack

Born in the Midwest in Bemidji, Minnesota, first city on the Mississippi, in 1978 in the disco era. Shannon has fond memories of playing poker during Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays with family as a child in the 80s; everybody was bluffing and nobody was folding! After getting his degree in Mechanical Design from St. Cloud […]


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