We all know poker is a game that typically rewards patience. Winning players don’t play every hand they are dealt. Often they don’t even play most of them.
As a result, there is often a lot of “down time” at the poker table. Those times when you fold and have to wait out a long hand played between your opponents can sometimes make it hard to maintain your focus and play your best when you finally do get involved again.
Players who are able to keep concentrating at the poker table consistently even during long cash game sessions or tournaments are generally more successful than those who slip and lose their focus. Furthermore, if you can learn to stay focused online poker can be a lot more fun to play.
Here are five tips to help you stay focused at the poker table. These tips are primarily for those who play poker online, although some of them apply to live games as well.
One way to keep your mind from drifting between hands is to make a conscious effort to follow the action in hands after you have folded. Even better, try to analyze your opponents’ actions as they continue to play, even making a private game out of trying to narrow their hand ranges as the hand progresses.
You don’t always have to keep challenging yourself every time you fold a hand. Sometimes it’s useful just to take a mental break and pace yourself, especially if you’ve been working your brain hard over the most recent sequence of hands.
But even if you aren’t engaging in studious analysis, just paying attention to the details of the action can be useful and help keep yourself alert. Note how much the player on your right is betting as a continuation bet, or what that guy across the table showed down after making a river overbet. Mentally noting such info can be useful to you later, but can also be more generally beneficial as a way to keep your focus.
Of course, if you’re playing online, you don’t have to just make “mental notes” — you can type out your observations about players and save them right there in the PokerStars client.
Constructive note-taking is a skill all on its own, actually. Some players fall into a trap of simply venting rather than taking genuinely useful notes about opponents. There’s not much use in a note that simply labels a player as unskillful (perhaps putting it in a less-nice way).
Give yourself something concrete you can really use later. Even a note that says “calls preflop too often from out of position” is more useful than one that says “bad player.” When taking a note, think about what your note suggests about a player’s tendencies or playing style.
You can take notes while playing live, too, either about your opponents or even your own play. Doing so can help keep you engaged with the game and improve your focus.
Here is another online-specific recommendation. Being able to play multiple tables at once is one of the great benefits of online poker. It also can help prevent boredom from setting in as you play. If you’ve got several games going at once, you won’t face as much of that “down time” described above. Most of the time the action will be on you.
That said, such constant action can dull your decision-making ability, causing you to switch on “auto-pilot” much of the time. You might be focused enough to comprehend each individual situation before you act, but you’re not going to be able to concentrate much on what other players are doing.
In fact, if those other players are concentrating better than you are, they’ll soon pick up on your “auto-pilot” style of play. Learning your patterns, they’ll exploit you.
If you find the game becoming too much of a “blur,” cut down the number of tables you play at once. Find that “sweet spot” number of tables that keeps you from getting bored but doesn’t keep you from being able to pay attention to your opponents’ tendencies and playing styles.
Many of us spend hours and hours on our phones every day. We’ve all been in live poker games in which some players around the table seem physically unable to avoid checking their phone every single time they fold a hand.
See if you can play without checking your phone. If you are playing online, we can add the further tip of closing Twitter or Facebook while you play. Close your browsers, too. Learn to play mental focus poker as opposed to constant distraction poker.
Online poker can be so absorbing, it can be easy to lose track of time and put in many consecutive hours. Even the most mentally strong players wear down eventually and can let fatigue force them into unthinking or even sloppy play.
Taking breaks to focus can go a long way toward improving your results. If you’re a cash game player, plan on sitting out a certain number of minutes every couple of hours. If you prefer tourneys, get up and get away from the computer during those five-minute breaks each hour.
On a broader scale, consider taking a day off now and then, too. You don’t have to play every day, and in fact taking days off can make it much easier to focus when you return.
When you learn to focus playing poker not only becomes more fun, it becomes much more interesting, too, not to mention a game in which your chances of success increase considerably.