Monday, July 11, 2016

How to Play Solid Poker All the Time

play good poker all the time
Imagine what your winnings would look like if you were able to play solid poker all of the time. You know, tilt-free, thinking clearly and making good decisions at the tables.

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.

Final Thoughts

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?

If you found this article helpful, then please do me a favor and "Like" it or "Tweet" it below. Thanks!

play solid poker


  1. Speaking about playing when you're not on your best... I spewed 5 buy-ins yesterday before realizing I should quit, and to be honest most of them where my fault (was trying to outplay fish). Forced myself into quitting but still felt very bad (I only played 200 hands when that happened). Currently working on a warm up routine to help me focus before playing. Thanks for the tips, nice and easy to understand. Take care!

    PS: I see you finally joined Tiltbook, I assure you that on the very least you'll have some good laugh with some of the posts :)

    1. Sorry to hear that Jorge :( I still have to fight that stubborn urge to win it all back sometimes. In many of these posts I am actually talking to myself out loud :)

      Yes, I did join Tiltbook recently. Had to know what all the buzz was about haha.

  2. I did the add-a-table the other day. I was 4-tabling and making mistakes. I realized my mind was wandering because I had gotten so used to the 4 tables (yes, I'm still fairly new). I added the 5th table, tightened up, and with 1/2 an hour, I was up 3 buy-ins instead of down 2. Winning is much more fun!

  3. Buen artículo. Para mi especialmente lo referido a cuando dejar las mesas. Estimo que se debe trabajar para poder dominar las emociones y seguir con una estrategia sólida, estemos ganando o perdiendo. Es muy difícil, yo no lo logré todavía. Pero lo intento todos los días. Muchas gracias y éxito y gloria.

  4. Good thoughts. As a recreational player I admit listening to music while playing poker and maybe even sometimes watching some interesting poker video during poker session :) Now I cannot say that I feel utterly frustrated when losing in say set vs fd battle. Why so? 'Cause it's just a game where even royal flushes lose sometimes :) Poker is not the end of the world. However, some people do need some mental training (aka discipline) to quit smashing handy things at the wall. Your articles, Nathan, are real treat, I even learned a new word - 'inebriated' :) Good luck

    1. Haha Taras, I listen to music often also. I think that is fine. Watching a movie might be a problem though. Glad you enjoyed the article :)

  5. Really good article Nathan.

    I get 8 hours sleep the night before and I don't drink alcohol the day before I play(also no caffeine 3 hours before too) if I can't then I just don't play and I would put some overtime in later in week provided I am winning.

    I liked the touch on being 'lonely' and suggestion playing live, for me no issue here as I like to socialise and do enjoy it but I am also happy with my own company. Having said that if the UK bans online poker, I'll be at the casino putting the hours in.

    Do I like the way poker is going in 2016 ? Not exactly, but I do see the games as still beatable. Pokerstars is doing a really good job at bringing in recreational players, I mean $1 Million freerolls etc, great attractions !

  6. What's your take on listening to music while playing? Do you regard it as in any way negative or positive? Because I always listen to music and it honestly actually is a big part of the enjoyment I get out of online poker

    1. Ya I forgot to mention that. I think listening to music is fine. I do it as well.

  7. Another great article as always. That's what I've been trying to improve these days. It's hard to be a better player, but relatively easy to be playing better poker with proper set ups such as mentioned above. Great job Nathan.

    P.S. Just wondering, are you at Vegas(if so good luck)or still grinding at Thailand?

    1. Thanks MD! Not in Vegas. I live in Thailand pretty much year round :)

  8. Been reading your stuff for a while now Nathan. You have helped me improve my game more in the last two years than all the research and books I read prior. Thsnks to you I can honestly say ive became a winning player. Ive still been struggling with my discipline with my bankroll as ive blown it on sports bets or casino games from time to time as I feel my bankroll getting bigger then I feel like I got extra money to play with and give some away.

    As for programing, I like to eat, get an energy drink or coffee in me, usually will read one or two of your articles to get my mind thinking about the game the right way, then I also really enjoy listening to some motivational videos before and during when I play... they can be corny sometimes but, I find they really help get me in the right mindset.

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