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Poker Grinding Motivation


Sky Matsuhashi

on October 15, 2015

I was asked by a reader the following questions:

“… My goal is to be able to steadily cash out on both sites (he plays online poker on ACR and BetOnline) to feed my live roll and help me play higher staked games for more profit. My main problem is having the motivation to play the smallest stakes online day in and day out. Especially when there are losing and breakeven sessions. Any suggestions? What has helped you to grind from the starting point knowing you will not be cashing out your winnings for months?”

Here are my answers to his questions, but expanded a bit for this blog post:

Poker Grinding Motivation

Yeah, it's a tough row to hoe, but it's doable if you've got some great motivators to play.  Decide what motivates you (never having a job again, traveling the poker circuit, winning a bracelet and making millions at the WSOP, etc.) and always keep that goal in mind as you play.

One thing that's really helped me is setting my goals down in writing and making them public.  I've posted them next to my monitor and I read them almost daily as I'm doing work online, studying or before I start a poker session.  The goals I've made are achievable and track-able.  One example is I want my bankroll at $2,500 by December  8th, 2015.

I've made them public by posting them on the blog and telling my friends and family about them.  Letting others down (instead of just yourself) when you fail to achieve is extra motivation.  The occasional question from a friend like, “How's the bankroll?” or “How much did you play this week?” can really get you focused.

Remember that what you do today will effect what you become tomorrow and every day after that.  Eric Thomas said it best:

Eric Thomas grind quote

Decide on How You Will Improve Your Game

Having goals is one thing, but figuring out how to attain them is another thing entirely.  You need to come up with your own poker plan for achieving your goals.  It's just like anything else in life.  If you want to learn Spanish, what's going to help you the most?  Just going out and finding people to speak with ain't good enough.  You've got to:

  1. Buy books, CD's or find online resources
  2. Learn vocabulary
  3. Learn sentence structure
  4. Actively look for places/people to practice with
  5. Get feedback on mistakes you make, fix those issues
  6. Practice some more
  7. Rinse and repeat

Well, poker learning follows the same path:

  1. Get books, video training, read blogs, participate in forums, talk to poker friends
  2. Learn new skills and plays
  3. Study how to make money off of the different opponents you've got
  4. Put in the requisite time playing and using the skills you're learning
  5. Study to research mistakes made so you can learn from them
  6. Play some more with focus on what you've learned to overcome those mistakes
  7. Rinse and repeat

But, poker is a little bit different in that you need to keep trying to learn and get better as the game is ever-changing (the Spanish language isn't).  So I guess maybe you can equate it to being a doctor or surgeon where the field is always developing and new procedures/techniques/technology are constantly introduced, so the more you know the better doctor you'll be.

Poker Tilt and its Effects on Your Game

Tilt was (and still is) a huge factor that has curtailed my grinding and efforts to improve plenty of times.  So I picked up Jared Tendler's book, ‘The Mental Game of Poker.'  If you haven't read this yet, you've got to get it ASAP.  This really gives awesome perspective and great insights into the mental game of poker, and having a greater understanding of why I tilt has helped me to control it and now I experience about 25% as often on a weekly basis.

Just reading the book helps, but creating your own poker tilt journal and having your own logic statements at hand really helps you to track, diagnose and resolve tilt issues.  One of the biggest things that's helped is developing my own warm-up strategies.  Before every session I make sure I follow a set list of items that helps me to get mentally in the right space to play my best poker, my A-game.

Keeping Your Poker (& Life) Bankrolls Separate

Also, please do your best to separate your rolls: 1) online bankroll  2) live bankroll  and the ever important 3) LIFE roll.  Not only does this make recording and tracking results easier, it's just good organizational sense.  If you commingle rolls, it'll be harder for you to look back and determine what's the most profitable aspects of your game/life.

As long as your job is paying enough to live off of, then you should consider growing your bankroll as your poker education.  Don't look at it as income you can withdraw until you're clearly making $500-$1000 per month.  This is kind of like going to a career education school to be a mechanic: a nine month program where you're paying to learn.  Once complete, you can get out and make money doing what you've learned.  Well, this time grinding is your education.  You're not making money, but you're growing your roll so you can play higher stakes and eventually withdraw money.

You're better off not withdrawing for 9 months while you move up through the levels and get to 100NL making $500 per month in profit, than withdrawing $100 each month over those same 9 months but be stuck at 25nl.

How to Best Improve Your Poker Skills

I would recommend sticking with just online games for now.  Use this as your testing ground at the lower stakes to try out strategies you're learning at a fraction of the cost of playing $1/2 no limit at your local card room.  If you love playing live and don't want to give it up, that's fine, but just realize it takes a greater roll for live play.

Figure out at what level you think online play and live play are equivalent.  Is the skill of the players at your $1/2 NLHE live card room the same as the 10NL or the 25NL games online?  Find this out and stick with that level online while you study and figure out how to extract the most value from the fist at that level.

One interesting thing is that in a live game, you're lucky to get in 30 hands per hour.  In that same hour online you can play 400 hands easily, then spend the next hour studying the important hands that occurred.  So, in 2 hours live you can play 60 hands, but 2 hours online (1 hour play, 1 hour study) you can play 400 hands and learn a heck of a lot from those hands you played.  Your learning curve online (assuming you're applying your time to play and study – doesn't have to be equal, but study is still essential) is much smaller than live games.

Good luck everyone out there, and once you set specific goals with timelines and decide what you'll do to achieve them, please let me know as I'd like to follow your progress.

Make your next session the best yet!


Sky Matsuhashi

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