Have you ever had an ‘off’ day—a day filled with hesitation and second-guessing of every move you make? You probably have.
Days like that come naturally with being a successful poker player, and we’re only human, after all, so we can’t expect to operate at peak performance all the time.
That said, we can take steps to ensure we play close to our best most of the time. One of those steps is to develop and implement a warm up routine.
There is no ‘perfect’ routine, however, since every person is different. But a poker warm up routine should accomplish three primary goals:
Help you to reflect on what you’ve learned recently
Steady your mental state
We’re going to discuss ways to structure a routine around each of these goals, and then take a look at the routines of some expert poker pros.
Let’s get started.
Poker warm up routine for more winning sessions
1. Eliminate distractions
Poker is a complex game. It therefore demands our full attention (especially if we’re playing several tables at once).
Isolating yourself from distractions is essential if you want to maximize your win-rate. Here how to go about it:
Use the restroom. Taking breaks is good, but ideally you wouldn’t have to abruptly pause right in the middle of a session. That may set you off kilter.
Put your phone away. You don’t have to turn it off—just make sure it’s out of sight so that you’re not constantly distracted by messages and notifications.
Sign out of social media. There’s no need to be checking news feeds and chatting with friends while playing.
Have a snack if you’re hungry. Playing on an empty stomach can cloud your judgement.
Make sure your partner/family/housemates won’t disturb you. You don’t have to be overly assertive, here: a friendly reminder or a sign on the door will do.
Have water on hand. Staying hydrated is crucial for keeping your brain operating effectively. Having plenty of water nearby means you won’t have to get up to get some mid-session.
Shut out the noise. This one is for those of you living/playing in urban areas—car horns, police sirens, etc., can easily break your focus. Close your windows, listen to music, or find some other way to shut out noise that could distract you.
2. Reflect on recent study sessions
Studying is crucial for poker success. Doug recommends dedicating an hour to studying for every two hours spent on the felt. But studying is pointless if you fail to apply what you’ve learned. So, you should make sure what you’ve studied is fresh in your mind by spending a few minutes reflecting on it before playing.
The easiest way to accomplish this is by applying what you’ve learned to scenarios you’ve actually experienced. For instance, let’s say you’ve struggled with playing post-flop after defending the big blind with a weak hand, but that you recently read a great Upswing article on that topic, did some range work, and now want to apply what you learned during an upcoming session. You should take some time to think about recent hands you may have over-folded or over-called in the big blind. Try to recall your thought processes, and ask yourself how you might have play those hands differently in light of what you’ve recently studied. You might discover that you need to make just a small adjustment to your playstyle, for example. Or maybe a more significant change is needed.
In any case, by bringing recently gained knowledge to bear on past experiences you’ll be much better equipped to deal with spots that were previously troublesome. After all, problems you’ve prepared for are the best problems you can have.
3. Steady your mental state
As I said in the introduction, we’re only human. That means we should expect our play to be affected by human factors, such fatigue and emotional states.
Before a session, take a few moments to assess your mental state to eliminate factors that could significantly affect your play. If you’re feeling tired, for example, it might be best to take a nap or wait until tomorrow to play. Are you feeling unusually stressed or irritable or sad? Poker is emotionally challenging enough as it is, without bringing emotional baggage to the table. Take some time to address what’s troubling you before you start playing.
Even when you’re feeling good it’s important to take a few minutes to enter a neutral state of mind. To this end, do something relaxing before you play—listen to music, meditate, etc.
Even a brief period of relaxation will help you mentally prepare for variance. You might bust a tournament in the first hand, or lose two buy-ins in the first five minutes of playing. That’s okay. What isn’t okay is letting short-term results dictate the rest of your session.