For professional poker players, the mental side of the game is especially important. Being able to stay focused and concentrate on making good decisions as much as possible is crucial, even when the cards aren’t running our way.
One way I have been able to stay focused while playing is to follow the approach taken by a famous Polish ski jumper, Adam Małysz. He retired from ski jumping in 2011 after winning several Olympic medals and four World Championship titles and instantly took up rally driving – that’s some incredible competition focus. His accomplishments are well regarded all over the world and he’s still very popular in Poland today.
Poker and ski jumping are similar in some ways. In both if you aren’t thinking correctly and your mind isn’t focused on the task at hand, things can go wrong very quickly.
During his career Małysz worked with sports psychologists and learned that the best approach when competing was not to think about results, but to think solely about the jumps he had to make. He accomplished this by always eating a banana and a roll of bread before jumping.
When eating he’d focus only on eating. Then he’d turn his thoughts to the jump only, and not look ahead to consider winning or losing. Then he’d compete and very often at the end he would be the winner.
His pre-jump routine became well known, and in Polish people refer to it by the short phrase “bułka z bananem.” It’s well known enough that many people know what is meant when someone refers to the phrase “bun and banana.”
For me when I play poker I try to do something similar. When playing a tournament, I don’t think about the first prize, and when playing cash games I don’t think about the money I might win or lose. I instead focus on each decision, hand by hand, and try to play each as well as possible — kind of like Małysz focusing on each jump, one jump at a time.
There are other ways I try to maintain a clear mind so my mental game is strong when I play. I play sports and try to remain physically healthy, which makes it easier to think clearly. I try also not to have too many distractions or anything happening away from the table that might cause me to lose focus, if can help it. I make sure to settle everything before I sit down to play so I can concentrate completely on playing my best.
So far these efforts have proven fruitful for me in terms of my results. Even when things aren’t going my way, I still feel good that I’m playing my best and focusing on each decision as it comes. I’ve even met with one of the same sports psychologists with whom Małysz worked, having a few good sessions with him that have been helpful.
Everyone is different, of course, and so it may be you need some other routine or way of helping you focus when trying to accomplish a goal or be successful when competing. But work on it, and perhaps you can find your own bułka z bananem.
Marcin Horecki is a member of Team PokerStars Pro