Many people play online poker as a form of entertainment. Therefore, they don’t always care what mindset they’re in while playing.
But anyone who wants to make real money with poker needs to be in the right mind frame in order to win consistently. After all, nobody should worry about what’s happening elsewhere when they’re in a serious game.
The goal is to play your “A-game” as much as possible. But how do you bring your best to the table and keep yourself in a good mindset?
Everything begins with knowing more about how to maintain your poker A-game. Once you thoroughly understand this concept, then you can figure out ways to give yourself the mental edge.
What Is Your Poker A-Game?
Your A-game is the point where you’re playing your best poker. In this zone, you make good decisions with hands, focus intently on opponents, and avoid any inclination to tilt.
If everybody played this way all the time, then poker would be a much more difficult game. Realistically, though, you and every other player will have down moments at the table.
Poker is a mentally draining game and can also be frustrating, too. If you’re at the table for hours and experience a couple of poker bad beats, then you could devolve into your C-game.
Unfortunately, you can’t always maintain your top form naturally. Instead, you need to make a concentrated effort at playing your best.
How Can You Get Into Your A-Game?
Many professional athletes talk about being “in the zone” when they’re playing at peak performance and everything is going right. Your poker A-game is essentially the same thing.
However, unlike being in the zone in an athletic sport, you can work to maintain your poker A-game on a more consistent basis. You don’t need to rely on subconsciously shooting a basketball perfectly, for example, to get into the poker zone.
Poker is a mind sport. If you come into each session properly prepared, then you have a strong chance of bringing your A-game to the table. The only question is, how do you do this?
At a very basic level, you need to know proper strategy. When you learn the fundamentals, you have a stronger chance at elevating your play.
Another aspect that’ll help you maintain your poker A-game is to eliminate leaks from your play. Leaks are consistent mistakes that cost you money over time.
When you consciously work to get rid of these problems, you can play better poker on a regular basis. That said, you should analyze your play after each session and figure out what you could have done better in tough situations.
Finally, you should look to play against tougher competition at your given stakes. I’m not saying you should always seek out skilled grinders, because you make money by being at tables with worse players.
Dan “Jungleman” Cates, one of the world’s best high-stakes poker players, once struggled to master online $0.50/$1 No Limit Texas hold’em games.
He changed his fortunes by applying “reverse game selection,” where one seeks out the toughest competition at their stakes. After doing this, he set on the path to becoming one of the best poker players ever.
Your A-game is likely nowhere near Cates’ peak. But the key is to bring out the best in yourself from time to time, even if you’re only playing micro-stakes poker.
Tips for Prolonging Your A-Game
Again, you can’t expect to play at your peak level during every minute of every session. But you can maintain your poker A-game more often by using the following tips.
1 – Get Enough Sleep
I’m sure that you know sleep is important to perform your best every day. But do you get enough?
If you’re like many adults, you probably forego sleep so you can get more done during the day. But skipping out on sleep isn’t going to help your poker skills. In fact, it will make things much tougher on you.
You may need even more rest after a lengthy session so that you can come back refreshed the next day.
2 – Maintain a Healthy Diet
Poker is a sedentary game that can involve long hours. If you’re highly focused on becoming a better player, chances are you have less time to prepare healthy meals.
But taking just 20 to 30 minutes per day to make healthy food can have a huge effect on your poker game. According to research, a good diet helps you focus better and have more mental energy.
In contrast, surviving on fast food and energy drinks is a recipe for disaster. You’ll experience more crashes and mental fog at the poker table as a result.
3 – Slowly Increase Your Playing Volume
You may dream of playing 10 hours of winning poker per day. At the right stakes, this volume can make you a lot of money.
However, you don’t want to force going from 300 hands per day to 3,000. Otherwise, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes and this quick jump certainly won’t help you maintain your poker a-game.
You can set short-term goals, such as playing 100 extra hands each day for an entire week (e.g. increase from 300 to 400).
4 – Eliminate Distractions
You can’t play your best poker when constantly talking to friends and/or scrolling through your phone every few seconds. Instead, you have to reduce the number of distractions around you.
Regardless of whether you’re in a land-based casino or playing on an online casino at home, turn your phone off during a session. You should only check your phone during short breaks.
Unfortunately, some elements will be out of your hands in a casino setting. For example, you can’t turn off annoying players at the table.
But you can do plenty to control your setting at home. You should block out anything that doesn’t have to do with poker before playing online.
5 – Consider Meditating
Many people stereotype meditation as a simple means of calming oneself. However, it has more benefits than just developing a calming presence.
It can also help you ignore distractions and have a longer attention span. The more you meditate, the better you’ll be able to focus during a poker session.
Plenty of pros have adopted this practice. Therefore, you should consider trying meditation at least once or twice to see if it helps your game.
6 – Have an Adequate Bankroll
You can’t play your best poker if you’re worried about being on your last bullet. Having an adequate bankroll management plan for your given stakes can ease your mind.
The size of the bankroll you need depends upon what stakes you’re playing. You should have at least 25 cash-game buy-ins and 75-125 tournament buy-ins.
The discrepancy in tourney buy-ins is based on whether you’re playing large or small multi-table tournaments (MTTs). You need more buy-ins for larger MTTs, because they involve more variance.
Make Your A-Game Better Over Time
Your A-game can only go so far as an amateur player. You should strive to boost your poker performance by continually learning strategy and bettering your skills.
As discussed before, the basics are a great place to begin. I personally recommend watching training videos and/or pro players’ Twitch streams.
The only downside to training videos is that you have to pay $30 (or so) per month as a subscription fee. But you may find it worth joining a training site for a few months to learn various concepts.
The nice thing about learning poker strategy through Twitch streams is that they’re completely free. You can look over a pro’s shoulder while they play online sessions and get into their mindset.
Strategy articles are yet another great source for tips. These are excellent resources if you’re a beginner who’s looking to develop a solid strategy foundation.
With enough time and experience, you’ll notice patterns on how opponents handle given situations. You can then take advantage of these patterns and win on a more-consistent basis.
One of your biggest poker goals should be to maintain your poker A-game in every session. After all, your A-game represents the peak of your current poker skills.
Of course, accomplishing this feat is easier said than done. You can’t just expect to naturally play your best every single time out.
Instead, you should make a concentrated effort to be prepared before each session. Your sleep, diet, playing volume, environment, and bankroll all have an impact in this matter.
Other factors relate specifically to the game itself. These include steadily increasing your playing volume, setting up a distraction-free area at home, and having an adequate bankroll.
You might also consider adding meditation to your daily activities. Meditating can gradually increase your attention span over time.
You may not always maintain your poker A-game in every moment. But you’ll have a better chance at doing so by following the tips in this post.