Maintaining Your Focus at the Poker Tables

Guest Post by Ivan Potocki, , April 17, 2014

If there is one thing that all poker players can agree with, it's the maxim stating that poker is a very exciting game. There is good reason why so many millionaires make their way to the tables - the adrenaline rush found in a game of poker can hardly be achieved anywhere else, save for substance abuse. But along with the excitement, poker can also be very dull at times.

Part of what gives players such a powerful rush is the suspenseful build-up to the exciting moments, big bluffs, and crucial pots. Despite being such a great game, poker, much like everything else in life, has both good sides and bad sides. You have to be able to take it all in as it comes along - the thrills along with the near boredom. Maintaining a concentrated poker focus on the game through its ups and downs can be quite a challenge.


keep your poker focus


Keep Your Thoughts from Wandering

Have you ever found yourself so bored at the table that you just did not know what to do? Cards aren't coming your way, the action is slow, and it seems that every hand takes forever to complete. Don't worry; you are not the only one dismayed by this situation. It is human nature that helps us achieve good results in any walk of life – our brain is looking for something to be preoccupied with, and if the current activity is not satisfying that need, it will either start looking for something else or go into sort of a "hibernation" mode.

When you notice the first signs of this happening, you need to remember why you are sitting at that table in the first place. You want to win, right? And even if you are there just to have fun (and, also remember winning is fun), there are things you can do to keep your thoughts from wandering away from the poker table.

No matter how dull or uneventful the action may seem at any given point, there are always small things on which you can focus your attention. This requires some mental practice, as it is not something that you necessarily would want to do in the first place. That soccer game showing on the television looks so much more appealing, but you are here to play poker. If playing poker wasn't the main objective, you could have stayed home, grabbed a beer, and watched that game without any distractions.

So what can you do to keep your thoughts from straying?

To start with, try to find the one player at the table who you find the most interesting, for whatever reason. Perhaps it's because of his playing style, or his demeanor, or even his attire. It doesn't matter, as every piece of information can become useful at a later point in time. Focus all your attention on that one player. How often does he enter the pots? Is he aggressive or passive? Does he look timid? Is he drinking? Is he watching that game on the television?

The other players at the poker table are your adversaries. They are not your friends when you are playing a pot against them. If they are, I'm sorry but you are not doing it right. You want to develop shark-like mentality if your goal is to be the best player you can be. And for that, you need all of your attention focused on the game you are playing. So focus on that one player as if he were your greatest enemy.

Sometimes you will realize that there is not much that your intense concentration can reveal about your primary target. That's okay, as there are four or eight more players at your table. Move your focus to the next one and ask yourself the same questions about him. You can, and should, study every single one of the other players until your brain starts to hurt. Or, at least, enough to keep it from wandering away to some other place.


stay focused on poker


The Guessing Game

Another good way to keep your attention and also develop your poker skills is playing the “guessing game”. Most pots may be small and uneventful, but they are not irrelevant. If you start realizing that your focus is shifting away, move it back to the table and for the next half an hour or so, try and guess what cards the opponents involved in the hand are holding. (Keep this to yourself, of course, your fellow players might not appreciate your insights).

Apart from helping you keep your head in the game, this little exercise will help you become a better player as well. Sure, you will be getting the answers wrong most of the time in the beginning. But with time, you will become better at it. Even though guessing someone's hand is often hard, you will start realizing that your mind is becoming more poker-oriented. As a result, you will be playing at fewer "boring" tables. You will always be challenging yourself to gather as much of information from what is happening around you.


keep your poker focus


Keeping Your Poker Focus While Playing Online

Online poker is quite a different animal when it comes to your attention span. In a casino environment, distractions are limited, but when you are playing from within your home, there is so much else you could be doing while playing. You could be listening to music, or watching a video on YouTube, or even writing the college assignment that's due tomorrow. All at the same time while emerged in a game, or many games, of poker.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be working to finish your assignment. I'm just saying you shouldn't be playing poker at the same time, as your game will be affected. Even though the game starts to seem simple and decisions trivial after awhile, it's a trap! By not paying attention, your results will start to suffer (or, in some cases, will lead you to miss out on results altogether).

Even watching poker training videos is distraction. You may think that you are learning, but your attention is divided between two different things - learning and applying what you know. Doing the two simultaneously will ensure that neither of them will get the appropriate amount of your brain power.

If you are not busy enough with the game you're playing, online poker offers a simple solution - load more tables. And once you reach the point where it's difficult for you to keep up with the multi-table action, cut back on one or two. Shortly you will get to your real comfort zone - a balance where your brain is busy enough not to get bored, but not burdened so much that you can't keep up.

Listening to music while playing is common and generally speaking there is nothing wrong with it, but you need to find the right kind of music. If something relaxes you too much, you will get into your comfort zone, but, it will be the wrong kind of comfort. You may end up so relaxed that you will not care enough about what happens on the table. It's the same (just the opposite) with music that can agitate you to the point where you will start playing too recklessly or too aggressively.

Keeping your head in the game at all times is certainly not the easiest thing to do, and it requires a decent amount of effort on your part. I can promise you that your results will improve as you start employing some of this advice. Good luck at the tables and, until next entry, stay focused!

stay focused on your game

Ivan PotockiIvan Potocki is a veteran Titan Poker player who was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and spent part of his childhood under war conditions. He studied English language and literature and discovered Texas Hold’em while in college. After working different jobs he turned to poker full time and this serves as his main source of income.


Further Reading:  

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Texas Hold'em Poker Guide

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