A huge congrats if you are already able to do this. But in my experience there are probably about 1% of poker players who can make this claim.
The truth is that we all tilt, make poor decisions, play when in a bad mood and so on. And the worst part is that a lot of the time we don't even realize it. We also don't realize just how much it is costing us at the poker tables.
So in this article I am going to discuss some ways to help you stay on your A-game more often when playing poker.
HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)
You may have heard of the acronym "HALT" before. Well, it definitely applies to poker. If you want to play solid poker at all times, then you need to take care of your basic needs first.
Always make sure that you have eaten something before sitting down for a long session. I prefer something on the lighter side (e.g., NOT a huge plate of pasta). The reason why is because if you try to play poker after having a big dinner you might feel lethargic or "slow".
When I am playing poker I want to be as fresh and alert as possible. So sipping on a protein shake (even while playing), or snacking on something healthy like apple slices and almonds might be a better idea.
Next, don't play when you are in a bad mood. If you are angry (or depressed, stressed etc.) this is likely going to spill over to the poker tables and affect your play as well.
If you aren't feeling your best, then take this time to do a study session instead. There are many ways to improve your poker game with hand history reviews, reading books, watching training videos and so on. Don't play poker if you are in a bad mood.
This game, especially if you play it professionally, is a fairly solitary endeavor already. So normally I would expect that most poker players are already pretty good at being by themselves. If social interaction is something that you crave though, then the answer is easy, play more live poker.
Lastly, don't play when tired. This is why I actually prefer to play poker first thing in the morning. I usually feel at my sharpest overall just after I wake up. I also live in Asia so the games are typically the best for me during these hours.
I realize that this is not ideal for many other people though who have work or school commitments in the morning and where the games are better at night.
In this case, I would suggest just simply avoiding playing during the times when you slept poorly or you know that you are tried from a long day. Once again, use this time to work on your game away from the tables instead. It is not worth playing when you are clearly not in your best state of mind.
Never Play Poker When Intoxicated
This one might be a bit controversial. I understand that some people like to smoke some of that good stuff to help them with their concentration or nerves or whatever. Hey, not my thing, but if that works for you, then go ahead.
I am also not really talking about caffeine, over the counter medications or energy drinks here. If any of this stuff helps you concentrate and play better, then by all means, go ahead.
What I am really talking about here is alcohol.
Lot's of people like to kick back and relax with a few drinks especially at night. The problem is that this can often quickly lead to poor decision making at the poker tables.
It can cause you to be overly aggressive in spots where you shouldn't be and it can also cause you to lose concentration. Also, if you cross that fine line of being just "buzzed" to being drunk, then the results can be disastrous.
If you are running bad you might even turn into a LAGtard ATM at the tables trying to bluff everybody in terrible spots. Some people also decide to throw bankroll management out the window if they are drunk and chase losses against far superior (and sober competition) at higher stakes.
If you are always disciplined and simply enjoy having a single drink or two when playing poker, then perhaps this is ok for you. But for the most part I would simply suggest avoiding alcohol altogether when playing poker.
If you take this game seriously and treat it like a business then it is pretty easy to separate the two. Poker is not play time, it is work time.
Mental Focus at the Poker Tables
So now that you have all of your basic needs taken care of. You aren't hungry, tired, drunk etc. how do we focus on actually playing solid at all times? How do we stay on our "A-game" as many people like to put it?
Well first off, the biggest key to staying focused at the poker tables is surprisingly simple. You only play poker.
Research has shown again and again that if we stick to doing just one thing, then we are better decision makers, more focused, more adaptive and so on.
So what does this mean in practice?
Well it means no Facebook, no TV, no Reddit, no Skype, no forums and so on. It also means that your phone is muted. You can return calls or texts after your poker session is over.
Furthermore, if you live with others, I would suggest finding a quiet room and even closing the door if you can. You can politely let the others know that poker is important for you and that you are not to be disturbed for a hour or two unless it is an emergency.
The bottom line is this:
When you are playing poker, make it all about playing poker! Don't allow other distractions to cloud your focus. Give this game the respect that it deserves and it will respect you back.
If you find yourself getting bored while playing then try adding some more poker tables. For many, many years I was a hardcore mass multi-tabling grinder. Believe me when you are playing 24 tables at once, you won't have time for any distractions.
Please note that I am not advocating that you play this many tables. I don't even do that anymore. But you should play enough tables so that you are constantly kept busy and you aren't sitting around waiting for the action to get to you.
Know When to Quit a Poker Session
The last thing that you need to do in order to play solid poker all the time is to know when to quit.
If you have played any amount of poker before, then you will know what an utterly crazy game this can be. The ups and downs are endless.
In fact: The whole goal of the game is to simply have more ups than downs.
Furthermore, nobody likes going through the downswing periods. We all want to run well (or at least average) when playing this game.
But this just isn't the reality some of the time. And it can be downright maddening and frustrating when it feels like you can't win a hand no matter what.
But this is really what separates the best players in this game from everybody else. The vast majority of people go on some form of tilt (from minor to major) and end up spewing off tons of chips during these periods.
This is why it is so important to be able to gauge your mental state when things are going bad at the tables and make an informed decision on whether you are able to continue playing or not.
If you notice yourself:
- Playing more hands than usual
- Cursing under your breath
- Thinking negatively about outcomes before they happen
- Feeling "hot under the collar"
- Making bad calls "just to see it"
- Feeling hopeless
Then these are all clear signs that you need to quit playing for the day. These are all common signs of tilt and there is no way that you are going to be playing your A-game anymore.
You need to view poker like a business in this moment and understand that you are no longer in your best shape to perform. In fact, you are probably playing well below your actual capabilities at this point.
Since you take this game seriously and you have put in tons of hours improving your game both at the tables and away from them, then you simply owe it to yourself during these periods to stop yourself from playing.
You owe it to yourself to always give yourself the best shot to win at the poker tables and apply all of your knowledge of the game to the best of your ability.
When you allow yourself to continue playing poker while in the irrational state of mind known as tilt you are knowingly permitting yourself to play badly and harm your results.
Playing your A-game all the time isn't going to guarantee that you have success in poker. You still need to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals.
However, for many people these days, their technical knowledge of the game is sufficient enough to at least be a small long term winner. But the reason why so many fail to achieve this is because they spend too much time at the tables playing well below their actual capabilities.
This is why it is extremely important to take care of your basic needs before sitting down to play poker. Don't play when you are hungry, in a bad mood, tired or inebriated.
Also, make sure that when you are playing poker you are giving it your full 100% undivided attention.
Lastly, it is very important to know the signs of tilt and be able to call it a day when you feel it coming on. The games aren't going anywhere. You can come back tomorrow with a clear head.
I want to hear what you guys do to play solid poker all the time. How often are you on your A-game at the poker tables?
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