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7 Lessons on How to Stay Focused During Your Poker Career

By Randy Ray
Published on January 09, 2018
Man Playing Poker

Playing poker isn’t all fun and games—at least, not if you want to consistently make money at it. To be a successful poker player, you need to be successful at staying focused.

Poker is a game of the mind, so you have to learn how to have complete control over your mind in order to truly master the game. Learn how to stay focused, and you’ll learn all the tricks the poker pros have already figured out.

1. Maintain Tournament Focus

Almost nothing is continuously entertaining for four hours—and that’s exactly why the Oscars are struggling to continue being a thing. Even the greatest movies ever made aren’t so great when you’re heading into hour four of Scarlett’s struggles with herself, or Michael’s messy family problems.

And the problem with poker tournaments is that they often last much longer than four hours at a time. At least, you hope they’ll last that long for you.

Maintaining focus during tournaments is one of the biggest challenges any poker player will ever face, and it’s something you must learn how to master if you want to keep on being a poker player. After hours of watching flops and turns and searching for tells, your brain is going to want to zone out, drift away, and start turning toward other matters.

You won’t be as focused on the action at the table, and that’s where tournaments are won and lost.

Somewhere around hour three or four is where many poker players begin to lose their focus. Champions can be sharp and stay in control of their minds, but it’s not by accident. They’ve learned how to stay focused during tournament play, and it’s something you’ll need to learn to have a successful poker career as well.

Stay in the moment. This is one of the most important things to remember during tournament play, and it has been the downfall of many a poker player. After you lose a few hands, you may begin to think about losing the entire tournament. Your play could become more cautious or otherwise change as a result, and that’s not what you want.

The opposite is also true. After you win a few hands, you may begin to feel invincible or over-confident, and that can lead to mistakes. Stay focused on the hand you’re playing in the moment you’re playing it. Don’t think about hands you’ve already played or how many hands are coming. Stay in the moment, and stay focused on the hand that’s in front of you right now.

Keep yourself comfortable while you’re playing. Spending hours sitting at a table is harder than people think. Make sure you stay comfortable. Take advantage of breaks, and stand up and stretch whenever you have the chance to do so. Wear comfortable clothing and make sure your body feels at ease. When you’re focusing on physical discomfort, you aren’t focusing on the tournament.

Always keep your eye on the prize. You want your mind to stay focused only on the hand in front of you, but don’t ever forget what you’re playing for. Poker tournaments may offer huge rewards, and you don’t want to lose sight of your goal of getting rewarded. Keep this in mind to keep your focus sharp.

Having a successful poker career often means being able to win poker tournaments. Learn how to maintain your focus while you’re competing in tournaments, and you’ll be learning some of the skills you need to become a successful career poker player.

2. Learn the Virtue of Patience

The secret to maintaining focus is maintaining a steady pace. Be patient. This is often the hardest thing to be, particularly in today’s world, where everything is instant.

But being a great poker player means mastering the art of patience. You will have to wait for other players to make mistakes, and they will. You will have to wait for others to get tired, to give up, to lose focus—and they will. Be patient, and you will have the ability to be successful at playing poker.

Practice being patient by noticing times in your life when you aren’t so patient. If you find yourself getting annoyed while sitting in traffic or feeling frustrated while standing in line, you can take that moment to start working on waiting more calmly.

Practice deep breathing, happy visualizations, or anything else you need to do internally that will help you stay calm and relaxed instead of feeling impatient. If you can stay poised while stuck in traffic, you can learn how to stay patient around the poker table.

Successful poker players know the trick to being a success at cards: waiting. You have to know how to wait for that right moment. You can’t force it; you just have to let it happen. And if that right moment is going to happen at all, you’re going to need to wait for it.

3. Be Emotionless

There is no room for emotion in the game of poker. You can’t get emotional about hands you win or lose, about players who may be gathered around the table near you, or about how badly you need to win the money.

Learn how to turn off your emotions when you play poker, or your emotions are going to get in the way of your playing. Being blank-faced is the challenge of every gambler, and it’s the thing that every successful player knows how to do.

Keep your mind focused on the cards and on the game, not on anything else. Always do your best to leave your emotions at the door when you enter the room to play cards. Remember that you can always go back to thinking about that other stuff when the game is over.

When the game is over, you can tell everyone how much you hated the guy at the table and what a shame it was when you lost after flopping those trip queens. But wait until the game is over. Leave all your emotions on the shelf while you play.

Being impassive while you play is always going to be a constant battle, but it’s one you can learn how to win if you keep working on it and keep reminding yourself to put your feelings off to the side. Practice really does make perfect when it comes to being emotionless.

4. Don’t Forget Your Physical Health

You can’t stay focused on poker if you’re spending your nights partying instead of sleeping, and if you shovel fast food into your mouth instead of eating actual meals. Take care of yourself physically to keep your mind focused. Your entire body really does need to work together to keep your mind as sharp and energized as possible.

After all, you can hardly be a success at poker if your brain is tired, hungover, or filled with saturated fat. Always make sure to get a good night’s sleep before a tournament or a day of play. Eat and drink healthily as a regular rule, and save the fatty foods for rare occasions only.

Try to eat a balanced diet so your body and your brain are operating at peak efficiency. This will keep your thoughts clearer and sharper and keep your mind working more quickly, so that you’re making better decisions and enjoying much more success at the poker table.

Avoid drugs and alcohol. Both impair judgment and wreck your memory. You need your mind to be as sharp as possible, so it’s a given that you should avoid the stuff that’s ultimately going to negatively impact your brain.

Make room for physical activity, and get regular and frequent exercise. Playing poker isn’t great for your body health-wise, because there’s really nothing good about sitting down for hours and hours at a time. Counterbalance this unhealthy activity with plenty of exercise. Get your body moving, and stay active when you’re not sitting down at the poker table. If your body is healthy, your mind will be healthy, too.

6. Pay Attention to How You Think

Improve your focus by spending some time getting to know your own mind. Make the effort to truly pay attention to times that your mind wanders or that you become distracted. Notice when you’ve strayed from a task to pick up your cell phone, for example, or when you stop doing something productive on the internet to go browse around on a site for fun.

Start writing down times that you notice your attention has wandered. Write down what distracted you and why, and if possible, write down how much time you lost to the distraction.

The first step to improving focus is noticing where you are lacking in focus, and what is breaking your focus.

Once you become aware of these distractions and focus-breakers, they are already beginning to lose their power over you.

You may start to notice a pattern. Maybe you become less attentive at certain times of day, or you lose focus because you are hungry. Spend time writing down your focus-breakers for a week or two, and you will start spotting your patterns. When you see them, you can figure out what to do to avoid them to always maintain sharp, clear focus.

6. Go on a Fast

A short-term fast can be beneficial to you in some ways. If you’re playing poker, fasting is a much smarter option than eating a big, heavy meal before you go to the table. When your stomach is full, blood is diverted to this area to help you digest, and this can slow down your reflexes and make you feel sleepy. You aren’t thinking sharp when you’re sleepy.

But when you fast for a brief time, your metabolism speeds up. This keeps you more alert and more mentally aware. You react quicker, you’re primed for action, and your senses begin to feel sharper. On the day of a tournament or an important poker game, try not eating. Go on a mini juice fast for the day, or at least until the gameplay is over, and see if you don’t feel more aware, more alert, and more ready for anything that might happen at the table. After you win big, treat yourself to a nice, big dinner—and don’t forget to include some vegetables on the plate!

7. Exercise Your Mind

Taking a total-body approach will help anyone be more successful in any career they choose. It’s always good to get regular physical exercise and eat healthily, and everybody knows it.

But lots of people don’t take the time to exercise their minds as well. Work on improving your focus by keeping your brain muscles sharp. The more you work out your brain, the better your brain will work. That means that you will be able to make decisions more clearly and quickly and think more logically.

In your free time, work on crossword puzzles, logic puzzles, and strategy games—anything that will get your mind engaged. Working on some type of puzzle or problem regularly will keep your mind sharp, and that will help you improve your focus. Keep working out your mind, and treat your brain like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it’s going to be.

Be sure to give your mind a break occasionally, too. After a workout, your mind may need a rest. Spend a little time daydreaming at the end of the day, or have some fun doing some mindless task or playing some no-brainer game. Tension and stress can impede your thought processes as well, so give your brain some regular rest time, too.

Conclusion

Work on improving your focus every day, and in a short amount of time, your concentration will be epic. Stay aware of yourself and your mind, and notice when your thoughts are beginning to wander. You’ll be more focused, you’ll think more quickly, and you’ll end up being a much better poker player as a result.

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