Have you ever heard the phrase, “Set yourself up for success”? By incorporating a thoughtful warm-up before each session, you’ll do just that and be more likely to have a good, profitable A-Game session.
Every sport or game requires warming up. You’ll never see long distance runners start a race cold. Nascar drivers always visualize every twist and turn of a race before the starter flag is waved. Football teams go over the plays on the sidelines while they’re warming up their bodies. Basketball players are taking shot after shot pre-game, getting their muscle memory fired up.
Poker players often don’t incorporate warm-ups into their games, and their play suffers for it. Warm-ups get you in a positive poker mindset, focus you on your current strategy training, prepare you to handle the inevitable beats without tilting and allow you to play longer sessions more effectively.
One of the most important things I learned from reading The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler, is to incorporate warm-ups as a pre-session necessity. Here’s how you can, too.
Simple and Effective 3 to 5 minute Poker Warm-up
Warm-ups don’t need to be long, just 3-5 minutes. Here are 5 steps to a simple and effective warm-up:
#1 Ditch the Distractions
You know what these are: internet browsers, phones/texting/social media, television/movies/podcasts/training videos, alcohol, Instant Messenger, other people, etc.
#2 Review your current strategy focus
Whether this week’s focus is trying to improve your cbet game, value betting or better pre-flop hand selection, review your notes on the subject. Write down your focus on a piece of paper that you’ll keep in front of you, and use this to mark relevant hands to review later. TIP: include one part of your HUD to focus on, as well as a “Combo Stat” to look for each session. These are stats that looking at them in conjunction can give you insights into opponent weaknesses. For example, if a player’s Flop Cbet % is 30%, and his Flop C/F % is at 60%, you know you’ve found a very “flop honest” player. Feel free to Cbet bluff and ditch the hand if he shows interest by calling or raising. Conversely, if you flop a strong hand, check behind as he’s very unlikely to give you value lightly.
#3 Control poker tilt and know that variance will occur, and accept it before it happens
You experience bad beats and other tilt inducing scenarios in every session, so prepare your mind for it now. Use logic statements like: I’m grateful that there are bad players out there that cold call my 3bet OOP w/ 95s, as they’re the ones that make poker profitable. Preparing yourself now means you can play longer sessions without a tilting blow-up ruining them. Visualize a calm reaction to tilt-inducing scenarios.
#4 Fire up your screen capture software and pull that mic up close
I use Bandicam to record at least the first 30 minutes of each session. Often, talking through your plays while you make them really helps to focus your mind on the task of making the best decisions possible. When reviewing the game tape later, what was your mindset at the beginning of the session? Were you focused and raring to go, speaking with clarity all of your thoughts? Or did you start with a bad attitude, didn’t say a word and just played robotically? This will give you insight into the effectiveness of your warm-ups.
#5 Get your attitude in check
If there’s one thing we have control over in our lives, it’s our attitude. Starting your session with the correct attitude and mindset (patient, calculating, non-emotional, striving for good decisions) is key to attaining A-game success. Take some deep breaths or meditate on and visualize the results you want from your session.
Quick Cool Down
As a quick cool down after your session, assess your play. A-game, B or C-game? Ask yourself “Why?”
Take a look at the piece of paper you used to track the hands relevant to your poker strategy focus. Are there at least 10 hands for you to review? If you’re working on something as narrow as your 5-bet game, there would necessarily be less hands. Alternatively, if your focus is cbetting, there should be at least one full study sessions worth of hands to review. If not, were you really focused on the strategy you had intended to focus on?
Now You’re Ready!
Put the above into action, and you’ll be on your way to more A-game play, increased skill development and bigger profits. Put some reflection into the effectiveness of your warm-ups, and if it isn’t working for you, adjust and fine tune it to suit your needs.
Want More Warm-up Tactics?
Add one or more of the following to give you even more fantastic results (in order of personal preference).
- Review what motivates your poker career. What drives you to play and improve your game?
- Exercise and get that blood pumping.
- Start playing with fewer tables than your normal sessions. If you play 10 tables, start with just 4 for a bit, paying utmost attention to your opponents and how you can take advantage of their weaknesses.
- Review hand histories that go along with your current strategy focus.
- Review a training video that focuses on the strategies you’re working on this session.
This is the first in a series of posts organized around Smart Poker Skill Development. The next post in the series will be How to Improve Your Poker Game with FOCUS Sessions.
Make your next session the best one yet!
Photo courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald.
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