'The Mental Game' #2 - pre-game poker strategy

'The Mental Game' #2 - Pre-Game Strategy

'The Mental Game' is a superb five-part series written by a very talented MTT player, Tim Klingenberg. In these poker articles, Tim breaks down the key skills in terms of self-management. These are all must-reads for any serious poker player.

There are several things that we have control over prior to even loading up a set of poker games that can have a direct relationship to how well we will perform.  This includes rest, exercise, study habits, removing distractions, and having a plan/goal.

We all need rest

Everybody/everything needs rest!  Too much stress can break you down; some examples include: over use of a tool wears it out faster;  over use a light bulb it burns out faster; and stay awake or overtly focused for long periods of time will cause burnout/bad judgments.   Athletes use rest so their bodies can recoup and recover; likewise poker players need to use rest to allow their minds to fully recover from a marathon session.  According to Harvard Medical school, lack of rest/sleep impacts learning, memory, and mood.  Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation.  In these studies people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.  Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.  (http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health) As you can see learning, memory, and mood are HUGE aspects in playing good optimal poker; and each person has direct CONTROL over this!

The importance of exercise

Another aspect that we have direct control over, and that will assist in the mental aspect of poker is exercise.  Exercise is essential to remain healthy and tip-top shape (physically & mentally).  The grind of the game may require hours of sitting around, thinking, late hours, etc.  Usually the person with the best endurance with the sharpest mind will prevail over the long run (aside from bad beats, etc).  Exercise has many additional positive side effects such as the release of endorphins, testosterone, good posture, longevity, weight control, etc.  I know sometimes exercise may seem like a drag, but a quick 20-40 minute jog/run or a few laps in the pool will pay off in long run in poker & life.  According to the Mayo Clinic website (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676)  exercise will boost your energy levels, improve your mood (helps dealing w/ bad beats), and ADDS SPARK to the sex life (woot-woot)!

Remember to study!

Once you have your physiological poker mind/body ready now it’s time to study, study, STUDY! The game is constantly changing and each player needs to stay ahead of the curve. Many people learn in different ways be it auditory, tactile, etc… regardless you need to find what works for you and set aside that time.  Only reviewing your game in Universal replayer is not going to get you there without a firm understanding what went right (or wrong).  Nor will SnGWiz alone explain why shoving 97os is profitable play (at times).  Police, military, firemen and others train constantly so when they must act their actions are like second nature--this is where we need to be. Pick a topic or two and really dissect it (3-betting, poker math, bet sizing, ICM, etc). It is important to only focus on smaller segments because the game is too complex to jam it all in on a single training session.  It allows your mind to fully understand the topic (knowledge based), use it (application level), and be able to predict the outcome of certain aspects of the game (comprehension level).

Ditch the distractions

Removing distractions is key to fully focusing on your poker play. You must determine what is considered a distraction to you. Got screaming kids? Lights too bright? Upset stomach? Something lingering on your mind? Too warm/too cold? Try to resolve these distractions before you begin your session (short of stuffing the wife and kids in the closet), so you can perform optimally. I like to have music in the background when I play so it blocks other distracters out and it helps keep me relaxed (love the reggae music in the early stages of MTT—very mellow & helps with my patience). Clearing your mind and schedule will allow you to focus on the task at hand—winning poker games! If you don’t have time to play with full concentration, err on the side of skipping the session. Your BR will thank you later.

Formulate a plan

Once your schedule is clear, distractions are removed or mitigated, it is time to develop a plan before you go into the session and determine your goal. An effective goal should be specific, measurable, accurate, realistic, and time-framed (SMART). Example of this is… my session will be for XX 18-man games (specific), the $6 game will cost me $XXX for the session (measurable), DON’T DEVIATE (accurate), given my current ROI at this stake I should effectively make $XXX this session (realistic), and I have cleared XXhrs on my schedule to accomplish this (time-framed). By having a plan and a goal, you’ll be able evaluate fairly easily your success rate with the given conditions. You can adjust for the next session as you determine (maybe you were 6-tabling and crushing, now you want to add games or maybe the time wasn’t enough to reach your goal). Keeping your goals/objectives in clear focus (visualized) will assist your mind in achieving the desired state.
Mentally, if all the above is met, I think we are ready for some pokerz!

Back to Part #1 - Bankroll Management

Also check out Part 3 - in-game strategy and Part 4 - Goals

(Big thanks to Tim 'The Chimp' for this excellent series of articles)