Most players don’t warm-up their poker minds before playing their sessions. But 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?
Plus, we don’t have coaches pushing us to play our best, no team of players to warm-up with nor do we have fans or a boss to disappoint. We’re just playing the game of poker.
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However, I would argue that for those of us taking it seriously, 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 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 and their teamwork on point.
- Comedians run through their sets in their mind.
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 want to develop, help you control your emotions and avoid tilt, and allow you to play longer sessions more effectively and profitably.
A Simple and Effective 2-part Warm-up
There are only 2 parts to this warm-up and it takes at most 10 minutes. #1 is a non-negotiable. #2 is your choice between 3 different ways to put yourself in an A-game poker mindset.
#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!
And, if there are any urgent things on your to-do or honey-do list, get them done first so they're not dragging your mind down.
#2: Strategy Review
If you’re dedicated to improving your skills, there must be some piece of strategy you’re working on. Maybe you want to make more successful 3bet bluffs, so you’ve been watching videos and taking notes. Maybe you want to learn to raise donk bettors and bluff them off the hand, so you’ve been reviewing hands where you faced a donk bet and got to showdown. 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 3 tasks to prime your mind for great strategical decisions.
1. Review Your Notes
Great studies have 3 parts: consuming a useful piece of training (videos, podcasts, books, articles), taking notes and then taking action. Spend a few minutes looking over your notes to refresh yourself on the strategies you're working on. Turn your notes into action steps that you can do as you play.
Maybe you learned the 6 aspects of the perfect 3bet bluff. Write those down on a sticky note. Have a game plan of looking for those 6 aspects with every opportunity to bluff 3bet. When they’re all present, take action and pull the trigger. You can also use a tick sheet related to your strategy to help you stay focused throughout the entire session.
2. Hand Reading Exercise
Poker’s #1 skill is hand reading, and this is my favorite way to warm-up. Choose a hand that went to showdown that pertains to your current strategy focus. Review the hand and assign your opponent a preflop range, then narrow that range through the streets.
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.
This article on hand reading teaches you the entire process. Read it and take notes, then take action!
3. Re-Study and Visualize
Maybe you’ve found the perfect training video, podcast or article that teaches you great strategies. You’ve already studied and taken notes on it, so re-studying it as a warm-up can be a great refresher. But don’t just mindlessly restudy it. Re-watch/listen/read as you visualize yourself using the strategies, and edit or add to your notes as necessary.
Maybe you’re working to find the fold on the river, 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 you know you're beat.
Now the ball’s in your court and it’s time for you to take action. Prior to each of your next 5 play sessions, do a the 2-part warm-up here to play your best poker. I hope you find success with this 2-part warm-up and continue using it for the rest of your poker journey.
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