Approaching poker like a runner approaches a marathon
I just got home after a three-week trip to the PCA and traveling a bit around the US. While the whole trip was fantastic (and a proper trip report is in order), I'd like to hone in on one particular part. Every year at the PCA we have our Team Pokerstars Online meeting where we discuss our plans amongst one another and our team manager, and also get some great talks by professionals in the industry. This year one of the talks we received was by poker mental game coach Jared Tendler, and boy, was it great.
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I have gotten some 1-on-1 coaching from Jared in the past, so I was a little weary as to whether or not I'd learn anything new from his talk. However any worries were quickly dismissed, and although there was some inevitable overlap between what I'd learnt from him and his books and what he spoke about, there was also no shortage of new nuggets of wisdom to take away from the day. Something that hit home the hardest was when he spoke about taking a slow and steady approach to poker playing and learning - similar to the approach a runner would take to training for a marathon. If you want to go from playing 4 tables to 12, you can't do that over night. If you want to go from being able to run 5 kilometres to completing a half marathon you're going to need weeks and months of slowly increasing your distance until you hit your goal. After a bad 2014 I knew that I needed to apply this approach to my poker playing and learning.
So that's exactly what I have done. I created a chart just like a runner might have where each week and day is broken down with goals to hit. I segmented each day down into three parts - the number of hands I want to play, and the hours of study and minutes of meditating I want to do. As you can see from the chart there are no sudden jumps - it's all slow progress. There is an ~10 day period in a couple of weeks where I will be going to India for my brother's wedding, so I planned for that. I won't be playing any poker but I will still meditate and put in a little bit of study so my game doesn't become stale. I have decided to take Sunday's off from playing poker. I put in one hour of study a day there which is likely to be watching a training video rather than intense study using software - but there's a chance I will cut that out and take a complete day off from poker to give my brain a rest. In the past I have had issues with burn out where I focus too intensely on poker for too long a period and rest days are (again, just like with running) paramount, especially in staving off burnout for me.
You might notice the amount of work on my game I intend to do and think it's a lot. Historically for me it certainly is. I have never placed this high an importance on poker study and have always been able to just sit down and play hands and be successful. As the games get tougher though I am quickly learning how crucial it is to put in the hours away from the table. That's another thing I learnt while at PCA and while hanging out with players far more successful than I - just how much they work on their game. It makes sense now why some people are crushing the highest stakes and others like me have had trouble breaking into them. I hope to overcome that hurdle this year and get back to the higher stakes PLO games - and with my plan in place I think I am putting myself in the best position I can to achieve my goals.
Roy Bhasin is a member of Team PokerStars Pro Online