How to Focus on Playing Poker


Being a more thoughtful poker player than your opponents can help you win more money. If you’re paying more attention to the game than your opponents are, you give yourself an edge And all those edges add up, no matter how small.

Luckily, learning how to concentrate is something anyone can do. Here are some tips regarding concentration and poker.

When You’re Playing Poker, Think About Poker – And Nothing Else

If you’re paying attention to distractions at the poker table – which is anything OTHER than the poker game – you’re more likely to lose. Winning poker players are focused on one thing – poker. You don’t need to be listening to music or podcasts on your headphones. You don’t need to be watching television. And you don’t need to be involved in conversations with the other players – unless doing so helps you get a better insight into their playing tendencies.

Unfortunately, modern society and technology have done little to help people develop their skills at concentrating. Television programs have spent years convincing us that the subject needs to be changed every 5 to 10 minutes for a commercial break. Cell phones have made things even worse.

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Some younger people are in complete denial about how bad these devices are for their concentration. But let me tell you – denial ain’t just a river in South America.

If you want to win at poker, you need to focus on every card and every action every opponent takes at the table or online. Who’s betting? What did they do on other hands? How did they bet? The more information that informs each poker decision, the more likely that decision is to be correct.

What Aspects of Poker You Focus on Can Vary

I have a friend who focuses almost exclusively on the math going on at the table. He can tell you exactly how much money and exactly how many players are involved in each flop. He can tell you how many outs he has, what his odds are of making a better hand, and what kind of odds the pot is offering him.

And he can do this on every hand he plays.

I have another friend who focuses almost exclusively on the other players at the table. He can tell you which players are loose and which players are tight. He call tell you who is likely to fold in the face of a scare card even when it’s a mistake to do so and which player is willing to call you down to the river to keep you honest no matter what.

Notice I use the words “almost exclusively.” Obviously, if you ignore all the other aspects of the game other than what I just mentioned, you aren’t likely to be a well-rounded or winning player.

Concentrating Isn’t Likely to Win You Any Popularity Contests

I’ll admit it. I enjoy socializing at the poker table. It’s probably a weakness in my game that I need to shore up.

I’m one of the players who likes to tell jokes and share anecdotes and stories while I’m playing. I talk entirely too much at the poker table. I’m also an incorrigible flirt, so the cocktail waitresses love me. (I’m also a big tipper, though, so that probably has more to do with my popularity with the cocktail waitresses than anything else.)

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I don’t take it personally when other players at the table don’t have the same gregarious nature, though. I get it. They’re playing a game with real money on the line, and they’re treating it as such. I don’t blame them.

But not everyone who’s a social poker player like myself enjoys playing with serious players who are concentrating. Some of them get mad. Maybe they have issues with rejection. It doesn’t matter much, though – you should concentrate on your poker game as intensely as you can anyway. You’re not there to make friends. You’re there to win money.

Concentrating While Looking Like You’re Not Is the Real Meta-Skill

I remember reading an interview with or an article by Mike Caro where he explained that he liked playing at a poker table where people are laughing and having fun more than one where everyone seems dour. He said he’s more likely to win money in a friendly game. If you’re so focused on what’s going on that other people notice, it might change the tenor of the game in such a way that it’s no longer profitable. It might be good idea to give up some edge by appearing to have fun while paying close attention anyway.

If your opponents start playing better poker because you’re concentrating so hard, you’re probably losing more than you gain by being so serious. As with anything else in poker, it’s often a game of inches and a tightrope walk. Your goal is concentrate and focus intently, but without being obvious about it.

How to Become More Focused at the Poker Table

I’m going to avoid suggesting that you use any kind of drugs to improve your concentration unless you have a prescription for them. But, if you have ADHD, and you’re able to get a prescription for Adderall or Vyvanse, that might help you stay focused at the table. Getting plenty of rest and avoiding too much food can help with your focus, too. It’s hard to concentrate if you’re tired. Obviously, you should also avoid any kinds of medications with sedative effects while you’re at the table.

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Most people who aren’t focused on the present moment are either thinking about things that happened in the past or are stressing out about something that might happen in the future. This lack of mindfulness of the present can not only interfere with your poker game, it can also affect your mental health. Dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future troubles can cause and/or exacerbate both anxiety and depression.

Meditation can help you with all of this by literally changing the physical makeup of your brain. It’s documented scientifically. The benefits of meditation are almost too numerous to count, and they’re almost all relevant to poker. Meditation reduces anxiety, depression, and stress. It also help you concentrate better even when you’re not meditating. It can improve your attention span. Your memory will improve.

There’s even evidence that suggest you’ll sleep better and get sick less often because of the improvements in your immune system.

How to Meditate (For Poker Players)

You can learn to meditate from books, from classes, or from YouTube videos. The techniques for meditating don’t change much. In many schools of meditation, your only task is to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. You’re supposed to pay attention to your thoughts as they come and go. Don’t react to these thoughts, and you’ll eventually see these thoughts die down.

Another similar way to meditate is by focusing on something specific. In Western religious meditation traditions, you might think about a specific prayer or piece of scripture. In other traditions, you might focus on a candle flame or on a word or phrase (a “mantra.”) Moving meditation is also one way to improve your ability to stay present. This kind of movement usually involves something rhythmic like walking or sweeping a floor. Yoga, tai chi, and other martial arts are additional examples of moving meditation techniques.

How to Stay Focused at the Table

Decide you’re going to pay attention to the game and the players. When your attention wanders, gently bring your attention back to the game without judgment or stress. If you let yourself get frustrated when your mind wanders, you’ll create more distraction for yourself. You should also think about your environment. Some cardrooms are just noisier and harder to concentrate in than others. Some tables have louder, more obnoxious players. Some seats face the television. Do what you can to make it easier to focus.

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I’m also a fan of taking notes. You can do this while you play, or you can take mental notes that you plan to write down later. By focusing on keeping a written record of what’s going on, you’ll force your mind to pay more attention than it normally would.

Conclusion

Concentration is a critical meta-skill that aspiring poker winners should actively cultivate. Meditating can improve your attention span and ability to focus. Other low-key common sense tips, like getting enough rest and just deciding to pay attention can also help. Managing your environment is also a good idea.



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