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Poker Mental Game & Planning

Creating An Off-Table Plan For Poker

7,589 Views on 14/5/15

Poker planning away from the tables is very important for your long-term success at the tables. Figuring out your schedule, your bankroll, setting up your poker goals and life goals will help you be the best you can be. While it can sometimes be hard to align all these things, putting in extra effort to do it will be well worth it.

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Successpoker plan in poker is not necessarily easy. But a common reason why people fail is not necessarily because they are bad players. It's because they have not managed their affairs correctly while off the table. We can use this guide to help us create an off-table plan.

1. Poker Planning: Grinding Schedule

The more specific we can be with this, the more likely we are to stick to it. Some people have no volume plan at all, while others have a rather vague plan which is subject to heavy change.

The first step is to decide what kind of volume we'd like to play on a monthly or weekly basis. This will be dependent on -
  • How much time can we realistically dedicate to poker?
  • How many hands can we play per hour?
You can always check statistics about your hands at Weaktight

Let's imagine we choose a monthly goal of 100k hands. Most people have a similar looking weekly schedule, so it's possible to distribute this evenly across all 4 weeks, making the goal 25k hands a week. If we have a strange schedule (perhaps we work 2 weeks and then take 2 weeks off) then we need to adjust our plan for this accordingly.

The next step is then to divide those 25k hands up into a daily schedule. It's important to not skip this step – the extra detail we will now include is what really causes us to generate good long-term habits.

Most of us do not have 7 similar days. Our schedule needs to accommodate this. If we are a professional player we can possibly split up our volume evenly, playing just over 3.5k hands a day, but not always. Many players have 9-5 jobs or other family obligations, meaning certain days are going to be more free than others. 

The next step is to open an excel document (or even an online calendar) and make a daily schedule. This should include the number of hours we intend to play and when we intend to play them. Sometimes players even reach this step of planning, but since they don't plan exactly when they will grind, they often end up procrastinating early during the day and then missing their daily volume targets.
Many players have 9-5 jobs or other family obligations, meaning certain days are going to be more free than others.
The next step is to try out our new grinding schedule for a period of two weeks. At the end of this stage we can evaluate how well we have managed to stick to our grinding schedule. If we have fallen short there are two possible things we need to do
  • Evaluate why we have fallen short and take the necessary steps to increase our efficiency
  • Evaluate whether the schedule was realistic. If our schedule has turned out to be unrealistic it is OK to make adjustments to the schedule. It is better to have a realistic schedule that we can stick to rather than an unrealistic schedule where we fall short every time. Missing our volume goals on a routine basis can be demotivating and actually cause us to grind even less or abandon the schedule entirely.

2. Poker Planning: Bankroll  Management

Similar to our grinding schedule, this should be committed to paper and followed religiously. Having a bankroll management plan in place can help us to avoid going broke and should also simultaneously strengthen our mindset.

Our bankroll management plan should include the following -

1. Number of buyins necessary to play each limit. Keep in mind that the higher the limits the steeper the bankroll requirements. So while 20 buyins might be sufficient for 5nl, having the same BRM for  200nl is likely playing under-rolled.

2. Number of buyins we will shoot each limit before moving down and rebuilding to the BRM requirements specified in step 1. Again this should be different for each limit. The smaller our shots the shallower our bankroll requirement can be for step 1. Assuming we are just taking a 2-3 buyin shot, we don't necessarily need a huge roll. If we plan on taking 10-20 buyin shots we'd obviously need a much steeper BRM specified in part 1. If after moving down a limit we run bad, we should also again have specified at which bankroll-amount we will move down a further limit.

3. For professional players who need to withdraw part of their roll on a regular basis – it's recommended to also include a withdrawal plan. This could either be a set amount of $ or it could be a % of earnings for that period. Having a set amount in place will help to keep chances of going broke low.

3. Poker Planning: Mindset Goals

Mindset poker planningis an increasingly important part of playing winning poker and needs to be monitored closely if we wish to succeed. 

We can open an excel document and give ourself a rating for each day we play at the table between 1 and 10. 10 being perfect mindset, 1 being a total tilt-fest. On any day where we score less than 7 we can make notes on the following.

1. How did your tilt manifest itself? (Different for different people. Did you start playing hyper-aggressively, or did you start playing like a nit? Did you smash any household objects or did you simply feel a mild underlying resentment as you played?)

2.What in particular caused your tilt? (Again different for different people. Did you take a bad beat? Were you card dead? Did a bad player stack you? Were you unsure if you made the correct play in a certain hand?

3.How do you feel that you could have improved your mindset? 
Mindset is an increasingly important part of playing winning poker and needs to be monitored closely if we wish to succeed.

Some suggestions for this:
  • Repeat a logical statement we have memorized and believe. For example if we take a bad beat - “if there was no luck in poker – the fish wouldn't play – it wouldn't be as profitable”
  • Put on some music which replaces our negative emotion with positive emotion
  • Take a short break. Go for a walk, tidy our desk, watch a motivational video etc
  • Set a stop loss limit. If we lose 5 buyins we quit for the day (or something similar)
  • Move down limits for a period of time
  • Quit playing for the day entirely. (This will prevent us from spewing additional money but is also a crutch. If we are playing professionally this kind of action will mess up our grinding schedule and as such should be considered a last resort rather than a long-term solution.)
These are just suggestions. We need to do what works for us personally. Keep in mind that identifying that we are tilted and understanding what causes tilt are just as important as dealing with the tilt itself. In fact, if we have a strong understanding of the first two we may never need to deal with tilt again.

4. Poker Planning: Study Goals

Alongside our grinding schedule we should also include a schedule for improvement. While volume remains the most important factor in improving as a player, volume on its own is not enough. We need to dedicate some time to studying. 

We should decide how many hours we will study per week. This should generally be a percentage of the hours spent grinding. As a rough guide 80% of our time should be spent playing while 20% of it should be used for study. This ratio should change on an individual basis though. As a new player it may make sense to spend 80% of the time studying and only 20% grinding at the tables.

It's good to be specific and decide exactly how we will spend our study time in a given week. Hand-evaluations, training videos, DB analysis etc. We should decide in advance and add it to our schedule.

5. Poker Planning: Life Goals

We likely do not pokerimagewant to play poker at the expense of other important things in our life. If we have other goals it might make sense to include these when creating a grinding schedule. It will help us to find balance and also insure that our grinding schedule is realistic.

It's no good if we have a sick grinding schedule but we have no time for our family or other important issues. Having pending tasks that we know need to be accomplished will potentially distract us at the tables. It's good to get these out of the way and focus on the game with a clear head. But in order to find time for these other tasks it may be necessary to include them in our schedule.
We likely do not want to play poker at the expense of other important things in our life. If we have other goals it might make sense to include these when creating a grinding schedule.
We should also be careful that we don't waste time procrastinating. Facebook, Instagram, computer-games, etc. While these activities have their place and are not discouraged – we wouldn't want for them to have a negative impact on our overall schedule. These things should generally take second priority.



I am of British nationality and go by the online alias w34z3l. I am considered one of the top consultants in the field for technical analysis (i.e. database work) and application of game theory concepts to various card games. I make a ... Read More


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