Is poker a game, or is it a mind sport like chess? People who argue in favor of the latter often point out how mentally grueling it can be to participate in live or online poker tournaments.
You can come and go as you please in cash games, but tournaments require you to sit at poker tables or at your desk for anything from 60 minutes to 12 hours at a time, depending on the format. Throughout this period, you must focus on making the right decisions while opponents attempt to bluff, bully, and outwit you.
This situation can produce a tremendous amount of emotional stress that could derail your game if you let it get to you — especially if you have a few bad beats or your stack begins visibly shrinking. Well, as they say, if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Stress is part of the game, and handling stress should be part of your strategy. Keep on reading for ideas on how best to prepare yourself mentally for a lengthy session of online poker.
Take Control of Stress
The first step in your mental preparation should be to put aside all the stress of your everyday existence. The last thing you need when facing a three-bet on the river with a short stack at the final table is to think about your job, unpaid bills, family matters, relationships, and similar problems. You need to be able to walk away from the daily grind, bring yourself down to earth, and center yourself. You want to be relaxed yet alert when you log in, prepared for any eventuality at the table.
How exactly you do this is up to you. All players are different, with individual methods of calming down. Many swear by meditation; others will go for a jog or sweat it out at the gym. For some, a simple, focused activity like washing dishes, folding laundry, or other household chores is enough of a warm-up.
By the way, stress is much easier to deal with if you remove its causes. If social, business, health, and other issues are bringing you down, make a point of sorting them out. Apart from the practical convenience of having less to worry about, it’ll increase your self-confidence, which is a great way to cultivate a winning attitude.
Balance Your Schedule
There’s an art to poker, and there’s an art to life, and balance is the key to them both. If you spend every moment of your free time running hands through poker solvers and watching poker videos on YouTube, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Torturing your body and mind with constant training won’t get you ahead. Sure, you need to dedicate yourself to a certain amount of practice daily, but make sure your poker schedule doesn’t conflict with your other responsibilities and interests.
Speaking of interests, it’s good for your mental health to have a broad range of them. The ideal is a mixture of physical activity (healthy body, healthy mind) and mental stimulation. Sports are good for this, and so are strategic video games and other mind sports.
Prepare the Space
It goes without saying that you should have a suitable environment to play poker in. When it comes to online poker, you want an ergonomic chair, a good-sized monitor, a desk the right height to avoid eye strain, access to a bathroom, and healthy snacks and drinks within reach. Eliminate all distractions from the area. Switch your phone to silent and turn off the TV. If you have a dog, ensure it’s fed, or the barking will get on your nerves. The atmosphere where you play should be as serene as a Zen monastery. Your body should be calm, too, so get a good night’s sleep and avoid caffeine and other stimulants.
Have the Right Focus
Once you’ve grounded yourself and achieved a state of calm, it’s time to get focused. Think about how you’re going to beat the other players. Run through your game plan and remind yourself of what mistakes you’d like to avoid. Obviously, this assumes you have a game plan and that you’ve been keeping a poker journal. If you haven’t, you have your work cut out for you.
In addition, think about any mental mistakes you may be prone to. You know yourself best, so you should have a good idea of how you can sabotage yourself. What puts you on tilt? Do you avoid variance with passive play, so you lose your balance between risk and reward? Does your mind drift off into daydreams of landing a full house? What kind of behavior from your opponents puts you off or distracts you? Does your ego inflate when you win a few big pots? What size pot makes you lose your nerve?
You should be aware of all these bugbears and have a plan to deal with them. It may take time to shake them off completely, but the more you try, the further ahead you’ll get in your self-development. Ultimately, conquering your demons (and exploiting your opponents’ demons) will enable you to dominate during long sessions at the online poker table. Incidentally, they’ll also stand you in good stead if you play casino table games.
The Longest Poker Session Ever
Fun fact: The unofficial world record for the longest poker session is held by Zach Gensler, who reportedly played for 124 hours without stopping from 27 October to 1 November 2021. However, Guinness World Records states that “the longest time an individual has continuously played poker is 115 hours.” The individual was Phil Laak, who played from 2 to 7 June 2010 at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, observed by an audience of more than 117,000 people.
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