Why Warm Up?
Every time you sit at the poker table you can win or you can lose. What makes the difference?
Factor one - variance. When you move all-in preflop with Pocket Aces in NL Holdem and lose the hand, you are face to face with Her Royal Highness Variance. Variance is the mathematical certainty that even when you have the best hand, you will, often, lose. What can we do about this? Nothing. So accept it - in fact embrace it. Variance exists. This is a fact, and if a worse player did not win some of the time they would very quickly give up. Would you step into a boxing ring with a world champion fighter if every time you did you got beat up? How about if you won maybe 3/10 times? Perhaps you might start to think about it? This is what makes the games profitable. Do not let your experience of being on the wrong side of variance impact the quality of your play. Over time the best play will always win.
Factor two - how well you play, the quality of your game. You can play at your best or you can play below your best (in poker we call this playing outside of your a-game). If you were to plot the performance of your game over a large enough sample size, it would inevitably look something like this:
There are many factors aside from your technical poker skill that contribute to the quality of your game:
- Your focus
- Your motivation
- How aware you are of your weaknesses
- The extent to which distracting factors influence you
- and many other factors besides.
Poker Warm Up is a web based application that allows poker players to create a well-structured and individual poker warm up routine which prepares them to perform at the peak of their poker abilities. Nobody can play their a-game all the time, but by warming up you can increase the likelihood will start your session in the right mind-set and more often, while at the same time minimizing the chance that your terrible C-game occur! Another benefit of warming up and playing your best game is that learning in poker becomes a much easier and smoother process.
Why Set Poker Goals?
If you are taking the game seriously, it is likely that one of your goals is to improve your game as quickly as possible. Unfortunately improving in poker is a difficult and lengthy process. One of the reasons it takes longer than it actually should is that the goals most players set for themselves are not well defined, inappropriate or poorly-structured. Bad goals often lead to bad focus. The longer and more difficult the goal is to achieve, the more likely it is that the person will get frustrated; and if you become frustrated your natural reaction is either to quit or start to behave in ways that allow you to avoid further feelings of frustration..
Properly structured goals allow you to improve in a more consistent and timely fashion, by providing you with a set of benchmarks, so that you can measure your progress and feel a sense of achievement, which makes it easier to sustain motivation in the longer term. The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction you can obtain from having well-structured goals that are part of an action plan is truly empowering. Learning how to properly establish, structure and follow-through with your goals will increase the rate at which you improve your game and make the whole process of learning and improving smoother and more straight-forward. If your goals are well defined and well-structured it is much easier for you to stay focused on improving your game instead of being negatively impacted by the realisation that you are not studying as you should be or that it is taking you too long to improve. Sustained improvement and continually focused study give you a great edge over your opponents and help to sustain high motivation to play, study and continue to improve. Hopefully you are beginning to understand the importance of setting up solid, well-structured meaningful goals. Goals allow you to smoothly progress through the very rewarding project of continually improving your poker game and playing winning poker for sustained periods of time.
We are focussing on poker here, but the skills you learn and apply with Poker Warmup, can be equally applied to goal-setting in any lifearea of Key Question.
How do you know good goal from a bad goal? How do you know that your goal will lead you closer to your ultimate objectives?
The SMART goal setting framework provides an answer to this question.
What are S.M.A.R.T. Goals?
Each Letter in the S.M.A.R.T. acronym represents one of several characteristics of a great goal. As you read through you can start checking your goals (both poker related and more general) to ensure that they are SMART goals, that they satisfy each of of the following requirements. Your goals should be:
Your Goal must be personally Significant to you!
It's going to be extremely difficult to invest time and energy to pursue your Goal if it's not an important thing to you. If you don't really care about the goal, the odds that you will actually achieve it are not very high. It must be very Specific, not overly broad or generic. If your goal is too broad, you need to divide it into sub goals, which will allow you to plan your activities step by step. Because your goal is specific it will tell you exactly what you need to do in order to achieve your desired outcome.
Bad Example: become a winning player.
Good Example: increase winrate to Xbb/100 and sustain it for 100k hands, spend X amount of time studying hand histories. Discussing specific lines or poker theory with other poker players, or my coach, 3 times per week for 1 hour. Spend X hours playing in full concentration focusing on identifying leaks.
There must be a way to Measure the progress of your goal.
Goals that are difficult or impossible to measure often lead to failure, because you don't know where you are in the process or even what constitutes the success of your goal. Your goal must be Meaningful to you personally, otherwise likely become an issue, and it's hard to care about goals if you are not personally invested in their outcomes.
Bad Example: Become a better player.
How do you measure that? If you say in terms of "amount of money won" then short term variance can often mean you will not achieve this goal.
Good Example: focusing on something that can be controlled at all times. Like making +EV decisions. For example if you know in what spots you are losing money, and then you set a goal to decrease the number of those spots, say from 5 per session to only 2 per session.
Your goals may be challenging, but they must be also be realistic and Attainable. If you set the bar too high, you might discover that your goal is unreachable in a reasonable time frame which could lead to you becoming discouraged. Goals must also be capable of being Acted on upon, your goal must require you to put in some sort of effort. It should not be a wish or a hope, it must be something that you can get control of.
Bad Example: Maintain win rate of 10ptbb on limits NL600-NL2k over 100k hands.
Even if this is possible, there are only few people in the world who can do this. And if you are not one of them yet, you better change your goal to something you can be more sure of accomplishing.
Your goals must be Relevant to what you are attempting to achieve. This is also important to consider when breaking down larger goals into smaller, intermediate goals, that will allow you to continually track your progress, maintain your motivation and increase your skills. Make sure your goals are relevant to you personally, so you have motivation to work on them, and that your smaller goals are relevant to your bigger picture goals.
Bad Example: In order to improve, you set up a goal to read your favourite poker forum. But you need to understand that most of the forum topics are just for fun and for communication, (unless it's strictly a hand review section for the game and stakes you play), so while on the surface this activity would be would like become a huge waste of time in terms of achieving goals.
Good Example: Post a minimum of 10 hands per week with comments to the relevant poker forum section where one of the top regulars of your game will evaluate it.
Time oriented and Trackable, otherwise you may struggle to commit yourself to work on yout goal, or it won't be clear when or what you have accomplished. To reach a larger goal, it's better to split it into small goals that you can easily measure and track through time. Those small goals provide milestones for you ,which will provide you with a sense of completion and pride. You can actually see on the way to a big goal, that you have already completed these smaller goals, and you get to see your progress along the way. This greatly helps to maintain motivation and keeps you on the track to success with your larger goals. Often for Goals to be trackable, they should be time oriented, and that means you should have a specific time frame to meet your goals. People are very good at finding excuses to not to do things unless there is a deadline attached to the task. If you remember your college study, you could easy find things to occupy your time with. But when the teacher gives you a deadline, that some course work must be done in 2 days it suddenly becomes a lot easier for you to find motivation and time to sit down and complete the task. Failure to set a specific time frame for your goals usually leads to procrastination and little to no movement towards the goal.
Example: In order to become a better player you set a goal of studying hand histories, but you do not specify how often or for how long you will study. How do you know you have reached the goal? If you do it once a week, is that enough?
What are Leaks?
A Leak is a recurring flaw in a poker player's strategy or a style of play that consistently makes him less profitable than he could be or causes him to lose. It is usually caused by a lack of technical knowledge, discipline or emotional control (known as Tilt). The main reason some poker players also known as -sharks- can be so profitable is that they are not only good at identifying and constantly using the leaks of their opponents, but also able to identify their own leaks which makes them lose less money even when cards run bad for them.
Leaks can be Technical meaning that they are caused by a lack of technical or statistical knowledge or Mental (Mind Leaks), causing a player to make wrong decisions even when they technically know the correct course of action.
Being able to Identify and fix leaks should be a primary goal for any serious poker player.
Leak identification is a huge topic and to successfully pinpoint your leaks and correct them will require a lot of hard work. Some good starting points and general ideas are outlined in the How to Identify Leaks? section below.
Every time you run Poker Warm Up you can:
Just before you start playing, One by one, recollect each of your leaks. By doing this you force your brain to recognize situations preceding the particular leak in your game.
For every leak there is a correct way of thinking (solution) which will help you to make a correct decision when you encounter a similar situation again. Once you have identified a leak and the corresponding solution (the correct way of thinking) you can enter this into Poker Warm Up.
When you enter a leak you can also enter a corresponding example hand which reminds you what happened last time and what should not happen next time, this is an important tool that will help you to recollect the solution to the leak when you are playing live.
By using these tools you bring this information to the very front of your brain allowing you to recognize the forthcoming problem quicker and more often and adjust accordingly. By recurring repetition of this process (ideally every day before your session, or even several times a day) you are making a new habit of recognizing, fighting and eliminating your leaks. Essentially it makes your "learn while you play" process far more effective.
How to Identify Leaks?
There are many resources that help you to identify Technical Leaks. For instance stats and filters in Holdem Manager or Poker Tracker, tools like Leak Buster, poker forums and poker strategy sites or personal Coaches. A friend who plays a couple of stakes higher than you would be highly beneficial too. There is also a list of predefined Technical Leaks to choose from in the Poker Warm Up software itself.
The general Idea is to find situations that make you lose money on a regular basis, day after day and plug that leak. Sometimes players are even aware about a leak in their game but they are just not disciplined enough to put in some work to fix it.
Mind leaks are a bit more complex. Unfortunately there is no tracking software for our mind and mental, leaks can be very subjective. Mind leaks are not necessarily something that lead to immediate tilt. They can just as easily provoke subtle emotions that are overly negative or overly positive smaller emotions can accumulate over time. Soon emotions will flood your mind and put you on tilt.
To start: Remember situations which make you feel like something is unfair or should not be this way. Or a particular kind of thought you have at the table that leads to you feeling uncomfortable. For example take the classic coin flip...you moved all in preflop with QQ, got called by AK and lost. For many players, even professional players this outcome brings negative emotions. Why? Partly because they don't accept the mathematics of poker and variance and partly because they measure their results and success by things that are outside of their control.
Every time you resist reality even just by thinking that it should be different than it is now you are making a very great mental mistake. The idea is to notice what kinds of reality you don't accept, and then try to understand why you resist that particular aspect. The reasons can vary from improper understanding of technical fundamentals like variance and poker math or mental issues like irrelevant goals you have for your game or a wrong understanding of what constitutes a mistake and how the learning process works.
For more details and a deeper understanding of Mind Leaks and the Mental Game of Poker I highly recommend the books, videos and forum articles of Jared Tendler.
PS: Interpretation of most common mind leaks as forms of tilt illustrated here.
What is Concentration in Poker?
One of the biggest problems that poker players face at the table is maintaining concentration. In order to correctly analyse your opponents, keep engaged in what everyone is doing and avoid making mistakes you should stay focused at all times during your play.
Outside factors that can harm your concentration are:
Internet: e-mail, Skype, Facebook, Youtube, etc
Around you: TV, loud music, your cat
People: your family members, neighbours, unexpected telephone calls
Being serious about making money in Poker and entertaining yourself while playing are two completely incompatible ideas! Being approached by people who might not even know what you are doing can add some distraction too. These external factors are addressed in the Around The Table section of Poker Warm Up and the main idea is to proactively remove the cause of any distruction prior to start of the game.
Another side of the concentration coin is your inner state. Boredom, lack of motivation, personal life problems or just not feeling good can turn you from a winning player to a tilt monkey and cost you a lot of money, time and confidence. What's worse is that a lack of concentration reduces your ability to learn from your play and in the long run this can cost you hundreds of precious hours of skill improvement.
You can think of your concentration as a muscle and to strengthen you must exercise it with time and effort. Ways you might do this are:
Meditation means bringing your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment, usually your own breathing. Breathing in. Breathing out. Nothing happens next. This is it.
Historically meditation is usually viewed as a religious practise and mostly related to Buddhism. The truth is that meditation itself has nothing to do with any religion. It's just a mental exercise for you mind which helps to clear away unwanted thoughts and emotions. For those who still doubt that meditation can create some extra edge for you in poker and life in general, here is the scientific proof.
Meditation will: Increases your focus & attention, improve your ability to multitask, improve your memory, decrease depression, decreases anxiety and more benefits aside.
There is an old saying...- "a healthy mind requires a healthy body". The old sayings are old... because... well, they stand the test of time. Stay physically fit and you will enhance your mental fitness. Create your very own Poker Mantra as an affirmation, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmations_(New_Age). A word or phrase that comprises why you play or how you want to play. Something very specific (not as broad as "I am a good poker player") instead a mantra that is relevant to your specific leaks(s) and that makes a huge deal of sense to you personally and motivates you to play your best.
In the Concentration Section of Poker Warm Up you can create a list of exercises or meditative practises which work best for you and to quickly increase your focus during your warm up and throughout your play. Later by performing these exercises during Warm UP on a regular basis, you will create a habit of preparing your mind ready for any tough situations that you might encounter while you are performing. So, what are you waiting for? Let's get started!
As a bonus, Poker Tips from Mike Gano.
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