What is it that separates the good from the great? Why do some poker pros consistently win tournaments and scoop huge pots? Up to a certain level, statistical knowledge, skill and experience are the most crucial factors that define a top player. At the higher stakes, most players know all the math and have seen most situations before. Emotional control and mental preparation become the factors that determine success.
Online poker sessions require a lot of mental effort. Very often poker pros play multiple tables at once, for many hours during the day, with only a few short minutes every hour to take breaks. Long-term profitability depends not only on poker ability, but also on mental strength.
Relaxation is one of the keys to mental preparation. There’s nothing worse for decision-making than stress. A worried mind cannot make a clear call based on logic. The first task for any player before an online poker session is to reduce feelings of frustration and anger that could lead to tilt.
Meditation is an excellent way to clear the mind. Enjoying a hot bath, taking a short stroll around the park or neighbourhood, or partaking in enjoyable activities like reading may work for you. It’s important that you find your own ways to keep calm and stress-free before hitting the tables.
It can also help to deal with other responsibilities before you start. Once you fire up those tables, you probably won’t have much time to feed the dog, talk to your partner, or deal with your daily chores. Take care of your tasks first, and then you can enter your session with a clear conscience, knowing that you can focus on the tables and the action. You also might want to set boundaries with loved ones — like your partner or housemates — especially if you play poker for a living. A simple ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign may suffice.
There is an intrinsic relationship between the mind and the body. Taking care of your thoughts and feelings is one aspect of mental strength, but physically looking after yourself is a huge part of the picture when it comes to overall well-being and clarity. Poker pro Jeff Gross is a big believer in looking after the body to help the mind stay clear, and he plays a lot of soccer to keep himself in top form at the tables.
Exercise and proper diet are crucial to mental performance, and, again, it is really up to you to find out what works. For some it might be a short jog or swim, while for others it could be a long walk or gym routines. You should also take care to avoid unhealthy habits that can make you mentally slow and sluggish, whether immediately before an online poker session or in life generally.
As a general rule, if you are healthy and happy, you are more likely to bring your A-game to the table and be able to play consistently well during a lengthy session.
Just before you fire up your tables for the session, set up your ‘office’ space. Declutter your desk, yet personalize it to your taste. Put everything you will need within reach so that you don’t have to flap around looking for anything mid-play. Bring light snacks and drinks to your desk. You can warm up by watching a few poker videos or reading strategy articles or a chapter of a book—anything to get your mind ready for poker.