Most players don’t warm-up their poker minds prior to playing a session. And why not? My guess is it’s because most of us play for small stakes and we probably see poker as “just a game”. You don’t warm-up prior to playing Monopoly or Connect 4, right?
However, I would argue that for those of us taking it seriously — even if we’re not pros — poker is more than just a game. You have money on the line and your decisions directly impact how much you earn or lose in every session you play. The more you earn, the more you’ll enjoy this game and the longer you’ll remain a player. The more you lose, the more mentally and financially difficult it is to stick around with any sort of longevity in poker.
Anybody who takes their performance seriously warms up prior to the “big game”:
- NASCAR drivers visualize every twist and turn of a race before the starter flag is waved
- Presentation speakers go through their slideshow and ensure their cue cards are in order
- Basketball players take shots and run passing drills to get their muscle memory fired up
- Comedians run through their sets in their minds
If we want to excel in this game, we must do the same. Warm-ups get you in a positive poker mindset, focus you on the strategies you’re currently working on, help you control your emotions and tilt, and allow you to play longer sessions more effectively and profitably.
There are only 2 parts to this warm-up, and #1 is a non-negotiable. #2 is your choice between a few items that put you in a poker frame of mind.
#1: Ditch the Distractions
Distractions hurt your ability to focus on the action and make good, money-making decisions. You know what distracts you the most, so turn ‘em off or put ‘em away ahead of your session. Maybe it’s Facebook, Instagram, YouTube videos on woodworking, bingeing your favorite show, alcohol or Sports Center. Whatever it is… turn it off!
#2: Strategy Review
If you’re dedicated to improving your skills, there must be some form of strategy you’re working on. Maybe you want to be a more effective 3-bet bluffer, so you’ve been watching videos and taking notes. Maybe you want to pull the trigger on double-barrel bluffs, so you’ve been reviewing turn bluffing opportunities and looking for mistakes. Or, maybe you want to fold more often on the river when you know you’re beat and you found the perfect video that gives you strategies to do this.
Whatever your current strategy focus, choose one of the following three tasks to prime your mind for great strategical decisions.
A. Review Your Notes
Great studies have three parts: consuming a useful piece of content, taking notes and then taking action. Spend a few minutes looking over your notes to refresh yourself on the strategies you should be employing. Turn your notes into action steps that you can do as you play.
Maybe a video taught you the four variables that make 3-bet bluffs more likely to succeed. Write those down on a sticky note. Have a game plan of looking for those four variables for every 3-bet bluffing opportunity. When they’re all present, take action on the strategy and pull the trigger on your 3-bet bluff.
B. Hand Reading Exercise
Poker’s #1 skill is hand reading, and this is my favorite way to warm-up. Choose a hand from your database or your notes that pertains to your current strategy focus. Review the hand and assign your opponent a pre-flop range, then narrow that range through the streets. This article on hand reading teaches you the entire process. Read it and take notes, then take action!
Maybe you’re working on double-barrel bluffs. Find a double-barreling hand, either successful or not, and take it through the hand reading process. Pay particular attention to the point of the hand that involves your current strategy focus.
C. Consume and Visualize
Maybe you’ve found the perfect video, podcast or article that teaches you great strategies. You’ve already consumed and taken notes on it, so consuming it in your warm-up will be a great refresher. But don’t just mindlessly consume it. Re-watch/listen/read as you visualize yourself employing the strategies.
Maybe you’re working to find the fold when necessary, and you discovered this great video on folding AA when it’s obvious you’re beat. As you re-watch it, visualize yourself ranging your opponent. Visualize yourself looking at their stats, gauging their player type and making a read on their play and bet size. Visualize yourself folding when necessary, but also raising when you’ve got the goods and they should be the one trying to find a fold.