How to Maintain Your Focus During a Long Poker Session

Pile of Poker Cards, Tired Guy with Hand on His Face
Focus is one of the most overlooked aspects of poker. Maintaining concentration allows you to play better later into sessions.

Unfortunately, most players don’t pay much attention to their focus. They make bad decisions and lose more money as a result. That said, you stand to be more successful in poker if you can concentrate for a longer time period. But how exactly do you accomplish this?

I’m going to discuss several ways you can better maintain your focus while playing poker for hours. These tips, including everything from sleeping well to limiting smartphone use, will help you play your A-game for longer.

Eat Well Before Playing Poker

Most people don’t drink enough water or eat right. They walk around dehydrated and with little energy as a result.

The average poker player is no different in this regard. They spend hours at the computer eating fast food and snacks.

This lifestyle leads to sluggish play and poor performance. After all, one can’t expect to do their best after eating a Burger King value meal and chugging energy drinks.

Even with these handicaps, a player can still do decent for a short while. However, they have no chance of playing their best with a poor diet.

A good way to approach each poker session is much like a professional athlete approaches an upcoming game. The athlete will eat a healthy meal and properly hydrate themselves beforehand.

Poker grinders need to do the same by consuming lean meats and leafy vegetables before playing. Research shows that a healthy diet can result in increased energy throughout the day.

Get Enough Rest

Some poker pros are lauded for their ability to grind for long hours with little to no sleep. In fact, Phil Laak made poker news headlines for playing a record-115 straight hours.

Guy Sleeping on Couch

Of course, Laak’s efforts are the absolute extreme. But plenty of players still log 10 to 12 hours at live or online tables before turning in for the night.

Marathon sessions like these are possible with enough rest. However, performance declines without proper sleep.

It’s been proven that poor sleep leads to bad performance. That said, you definitely want to catch your z’s before sitting down at the poker table.

Take Quality Breaks in Between Poker Sessions

The common tendency among many poker players is to only take breaks when they absolutely feel that it’s necessary. This practice is especially common among skilled players who don’t want to give up a seat at a good table.

The latter scenario is fine when you have a huge edge and want to stay in a juicy game. But for general purposes, you should consider taking regularly scheduled breaks.

Just like most places of work, you should enjoy a break after around an hour of playing. Research shows that the optimal routine is to take a 17-minute break after 52 minutes of work (or poker).

Ditch Your Phone

Chances are that you have a smartphone. After all, most people these days own either an Android or an iPhone.

You likely spend a great deal of time checking your phone. This practice can actually become a habit, where you can’t go 10 minutes without looking to see if there are any notifications.

Checking your phone frequently is fine when you’re relaxing at home. However, you don’t want this distraction to throw you off during a serious poker session.

When observing the table, the last thing you should worry about is what your significant other is eating for lunch or your buddies are doing that night. Instead, you want to turn your phone off until breaktime.

Play Poker in the Right Environment

You can’t really do much about the environment in a live poker room. However, you can definitely control the setting you play in at home.

Unfortunately, the common tendency is to revel in distractions, rather than avoid them. Far too many players log sessions when they have friends over, are watching TV, and or/are surfing the internet.

These habits are all perfectly fine if you’re just a casual low-stakes player. But you can’t expect a high win rate when you’re constantly drawn away from the game.

Ideally, you’ll take steps before every session to ensure you can play distraction-free. This means keeping the TV off, playing in a room by yourself, and using some kind of blocker (e.g. StayFocused) to temporarily drown out the internet.

Have Your Music Playlist Planned out Beforehand

If you’re like most poker players, you listen to music during online and/or live sessions. Doing so is perfectly fine as long as the music isn’t too disruptive.

Phone Displaying Music Playlists

However, the last thing you want to do is waste time fiddling with playlists during a session. This scenario creates another distraction that can draw you away from the game.

You should have your songs mapped out before a poker session begins. When you have some free time, make several playlists so that you don’t need to worry about doing so during a game.

Consider Meditation

More and more people are adopting meditation every day. Many poker players are included in this crowd, including Daniel Negreanu and Andrew “LuckyChewy” Lichtenberger.

Meditating isn’t just something that’s done to calm your spirit. Instead, it can also increase your focus and help you concentrate on difficult situations.

For example, you may have suffered a bad beat and are struggling to concentrate on the next hand. But if you’ve been meditating for a while, then you’ll be better able to deal with this situation and remain calm.

Drink Coffee or Tea

I don’t recommend consuming a lot of caffeine during every poker session. Developing a reliance on caffeine forces you to use more and more of this drug just to stay alert.

Of course, you’ll experience plenty of times where you don’t have a good night’s sleep and need help concentrating. One to two cups of coffee or even the occasional energy drinks can help in this regard.

But again, the key is that you use caffeine in moderation, rather than relying on it just to function.

Stay Engaged With the Game

Watching other people play poker while you sit with folded cards isn’t the most-exciting thing in the world. However, these observations will help you later in a game.

Every piece of information you pick up on an opponent can be the difference between winning and losing a big pot. Therefore, you want to watch every hand, even when you’re no longer involved in the action.

Aside from giving you more information, intently watching games also keeps you engaged. You will be less likely to wander when you’re observing hands and looking for any little advantage over the casino house edge.

Try a New Poker Game Every Now and Then

You’ll find it natural to focus on the poker variation you started with, such as Texas holdem or Omaha. But you should also consider trying a new variant every now and then.

People Gathered Around Poker Table, Casino Chips

The poker world is filled with plenty of games, such as 8-game, Badugi, Crazy Pineapple, and Razz. Any one of these variations can give you a fresh perspective on poker.

Of course, you’re unlikely to be very good at any new game. Therefore, I suggest playing for low stakes until you feel like learning more strategy for a new variant.

Set Short and Long-Term Goals

With clearly defined goals, you’ll have a much better chance at improving in poker. Goals give you something to shoot for and also motivate you to learn more strategy.

You want to set both short-term and long-term goals.

A short-term goal can be something that you wish to accomplish within a few hours to a few months. An example would be if you wanted to play 1,000 hands within a two-hour span.

Long-term goals are based on becoming the player you wish to be. For instance, you might dream of moving from $0.50/$1 online NL holdem to $50/$100 one day.

Such a lofty goal isn’t going to happen within the span of three months. However, you might be able to pull this off with enough practice and dedication.


Poker offers mentally stimulating strategy and the chance to win lots of money. But even with these benefits, it can leave you tired and unfocused after hours.

Therefore, you want to adopt habits that’ll help you concentrate on the game for longer. Some of these habits are basic things that you should do anyways, such as eating right, sleeping enough, and taking regular breaks.

Others are more poker specific, like putting your phone away during sessions, choosing the right environment, and setting relevant goals.

If you really want to go the extra mile, you can start meditating. This practice increases your capacity to focus when done on a consistent basis.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to boost your concentration in poker. Assuming you can increase your focus, then you’ll stay on your A-game longer.