You might have mad poker skillz but if your mental game of poker isn’t at 100% then you’ve got leaks that can be plugged
The mental game has been talked about a lot in recent years but it’s very important to always keep it in the forefront of your mind. Every time you start to play badly or run bad it’s somehow connected to how you are playing mentally. And it could be a lot of things – you might be surfing the internet too much, have too many Skype conversations open at the same time or even just playing too many tables at once. Everyone, including me, goes through phases where you are not actively focusing on poker and are just trying to coast through. If you can cut this out it’s going to do you a lot of good.
I think this is the most important aspect of your mental game, but it’s the one I have the hardest time with. It’s so easy to wake up and jump on the computer. Yet, as you may have heard before, think about this like an athlete would. If an athlete was going to play a game they wouldn’t run out onto the pitch and immediately start kicking a football – they’d stretch, warm up and get ready! That’s also really important in poker. Your cognitive abilities really aren’t going to be at their peak when you just start playing. You have to take it step by step. Can you remember ever trying to write a big essay for school at 8am? It feels nearly impossible, but later in the day these type of tasks are much easier.
Take stock of yourself before playing. It can be as simple as sitting down for two minutes before you play and telling yourself certain things that you want to do in this session. How about focusing on playing a volume rather than what the results are, or paying more attention to people’s three-bet ranges before making certain plays? Take a walk around the block, do some push-ups or anything. It will pay due dividends!
Blogs, journals or even just a few words written down on a piece of paper can all be very helpful. Everything that you can verbalise out loud could be written down. It’s been psychologically proven that writing things down allows you to remember them more. It helps develop a plan every day that is pretty helpful too. You do X to get to Y to get to Z.
These will really help you to focus. Breathe in deep for thirty seconds to a minute, especially if you are tilted mid-game. It will help re-centre your body and get you back into the right frame of mind.
Eating right and working out
This is key and it’s not even just for poker but life in general. Being healthy allows you to absorb things so much better. When I have been eating badly or not working out for a long time it clearly affects my ability to think when playing poker.
Be comfortable! I’m probably more OCD than the majority, but I hate to have anything on my desk when I am playing except for my mouse, keyboard and monitor. Not even drinks! I put my phone in another room, turn it off and sit upright in my chair. Close your door and be as productive as possible. Your environment is a big part of this.
It’s crucial to pay attention to refocusing your mind. A lot of people that sit on the computer for a long period of time develop different forms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Our minds tend to float, whereas the best poker players are those that can play sessions for a long time without getting distracted. Something like surfing the internet or playing robotically against an opponent may set you off on losing your focus.
Whenever I feel as though this is going to happen to me I always sit back and stare at a point different to my computer screen. It helps me find my emotional and mental centre – it’s like hitting the reset button on a computer. On old computer consoles like the Super Nintendo the game would start acting funny sometimes, blurred lines would appear and you’d have to blow on it and hit ‘reset’ to get it working again. The mind can be like that!
Taking time between plays
It’s so easy every time that you have A-A to three-bet or to just fold K-2 suited in the cutoff but there are so many factors that come into play with each decision. Also, with the ability to use HUDs these days I feel like you should really take time before making a decision. Even if you only change your mind on a decision one out of every twenty times that is still a little bit of extra value that you are putting into your game – which can only be a good thing!
Utilising given information
I try to keep a simple HUD – there are lots of advanced options you can use but beware that you don’t become victim to information overload. This could actually stop the HUD from being useful. You may end up ignoring it altogether as too many stats will stop you from absorbing any of them at all. Pay attention to game flow, basic HUD stats and how the game is developing. Are your opponents checking to you all the time once you call on the flop? Is someone three-betting you specifically a lot more because you aren’t defending enough? These are all easy to gloss over if you are not focusing but they can all be important. If somebody is doing something bizarre – like never betting the turn – you must pick up on it and exploit it!
Adjusting on the proper level
It’s important to work on both your mental game and poker skills so that you are not really being reactionary but are instead analytical in your approach when you play. For example, just because someone is three-betting you a lot does not mean that you should always be four-betting the next time you get dealt A-x. Try to maintain a neutral mindset where you really take all effects into account. In this certain situation, a good player will know that you are waiting to react and so they are more likely to play back at you. Don’t just react to what is happening but instead make sure all the important factors are in play to make it a good move first.
Once you have finished a session your routine should be pretty similar to the one you ran through just before the session. It’s time to take stock again. This can involve writing in your journal – what happened in that poker day? Be honest with yourself. If you played like garbage that day say it out loud, and write it down. Note the reasons why you played badly – maybe you didn’t take the proper amount of time when you were playing, or you were trying to go through the motions like a robot. Writing it down makes you review it before your next session and can help cut out a lot of errors and motivate you to play better.
Cooling down is also important at the end of a session. Again, you could go for a walk or listen to some soothing music before you ‘re-enter society’! There’s nothing worse than having a bad day at poker then going to see your girlfriend or family and letting that poker loss affect your real life. Don’t let poker affect your life negatively! Do everything you can to play poker correctly when you’re in the midst of a session but when you are done try to leave it right there. Remember, poker is always around to come back to.
A rational mind
Staying rational may sound generic but it’s really good advice. Most people’s tilt is centred around irrationality. You may think, ‘well, I’m not going to continuation bet this board because I have been check-raised the last five times I have done it.’ Instead, just maintaining a strong aggressive game no matter what has happened before is going to pay dividends. Be honest with your strengths and weaknesses and try to reach your natural equilibrium at the end of the session so that your poker life and your real life are kept separate.
This article is an extract from The Quickie: Mental Game Check Up by expert coach Faarcyde on CardRunners.
To watch the full video go to www.cardrunners.com.