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  4. Poker focus 

Poker focus: tips to improve your concentration at the table

Staying alert and focused when playing online poker is crucial to success. The elite-level professionals can maintain concentration for long periods, allowing them to follow the action, process the information in front of them, and act optimally.

Continually scanning your opponents for tells, watching how everyone acts, and then mentally calculating pot odds, reverse pot odds, implied pot odds, and other poker-related nuances is mentally draining and tiring. You may find that you start a cash game session well or play some incredible poker at the start of a tournament, but you find yourself making silly mistakes later in the session or even when you need high concentration levels the most. Don't worry because you are not alone!


What External Factors Affect Concentration Levels?

You must understand what actors affect your concentration levels and focus before you can think about improving this area of your game. Many factors you are about to read about will be obvious when you see them written down, but others not so much. Let us get the more obvious ones out of the way first.

Scientists call anything that causes distraction to someone "external stimuli." These stimuli come in all forms, shapes, and sizes and are different for everyone. However, there are many everyday stimuli that we guarantee have distracted you from playing your A-game at PartyPoker.


Common, Every-Day Distractions

Raise your hand if you play at PartyPoker from a laptop or computer and have a movie playing in the background or on a second screen. Keep your hand in the air if you ever check your emails or social media accounts while playing online poker. Wave that raised hand around if you play online poker in a room where people are walking in and out or with the television blaring out. How many of you now have an aching arm?

It is easy to get distracted by outside influences when playing online poker because you have a plethora of possible distractions at your fingertips. It is easy to look on social media channels or fire up a video streaming service when you are card dead or when your concentration levels naturally wane, but these only make matters worse.



Boredom is a concentration killer, which, ironically, often stems from a drop in concentration; talk about a vicious circle! It is easy for boredom to set in while playing poker because most players only play approximately 25% of the hands dealt to them, and many of those hands are settled without seeing a flop.

The situation is exacerbated in a live poker setting where the number of hands dealt is far less than the online poker equivalent. You may only see 25-30 hands per hour in a brick-and-mortar casino, so playing 25% of your hands means you will only be active seven times per hour!


Your Emotions

Emotions are powerful mental states, more potent than many of us give them credit for. They can make us experience immense pleasure but also deep displeasure. Positive emotions tend to aid a poker player's concentration. Conversely, negative emotions have the opposite effect.

It is no coincidence that PartyPoker strongly suggests you do not play poker if you are feeling stressed or angry or have a negative mindset for whatever reason. The negative emotions can lead to you playing poker sub-optimally, causing you to lose or strongly react to losing, thus triggering a downward spiral.

You have heard of players going on tilt, right? Emotions have overpowered a tilting player's rational mind, and there is zero chance that someone on tilt can concentrate on anything meaningful, never mind playing top-level poker.


Health, Nutrition, and Sleep

One of poker's best features is that anyone can play it regardless of age, gender, or anything else. However, more physically fit people naturally have longer attention spans and can keep a laser-like focus for longer than those with lower fitness levels.

Playing poker while under the weather or suffering from illness is a recipe for low concentration levels. Feeling ill often comes with negative emotions and thoughts, which we have already touched on above. Furthermore, your body is more interested in fighting off an infection than allowing you to figure out if a triple barrel bluff will work right now!

Your diet can also influence how long you can focus properly while playing poker. Eating a large meal before the poker grind will see your brain divert blood and other resources to your digestive system, leaving you feeling sluggish and unable to concentrate, which is far from ideal from a poker standpoint.

Last, a lack of sleep is often the number one reason concentration levels decrease. Tiredness saps energy levels and, therefore, the ability to focus. Scientific studies show that someone tired reacts similarly to someone under the influence of alcohol.


How to Improve Your Focus

There are ways to improve your ability to remain focused and to increase your attention span. The most obvious one for an online poker player is to reduce the potential distractions around you. Do not turn on the television or have a movie playing in the background, and try to set up in a room where you can play poker away from high-traffic areas. Not checking social media and firing up YouTube is down to you and your willpower!

Finding yourself suffering from boredom because of the slow pace of a game you are in or the fact you are card dead? Play a little game with yourself to keep your mind occupied. Make it your mission to have notes on every player at your table, such as how often they limp or raise, what hands they are showing down, and other facets of their game. You can also predict what hole cards each opponent will show down.

Keep yourself hydrated because even the slightest drop in your body's water levels can cause tiredness and confusion. Water is your best option because it contains no stimulants, depressants, or sugars. The occasional energy drink or coffee can stimulate your concentration, but such drinks almost always come with a crash once they wear off. Oh, avoid alcoholic beverages at all costs for obvious reasons!

Try to avoid eating a large, heavy meal before you plan to play poker. A lighter meal or even a snack that keeps your sugar levels stable and hunger at bay is ideal. Try to have some healthy snacks available during longer sessions, such as fruit and nuts.

Know your body, and avoid playing poker if you are ill or feel you are becoming ill. Your mind and bankroll will thank you for not putting them under undue stress!

Controlling your emotions is a much more difficult task. Not playing any poker when angry, upset, or in a negative mindset is highly recommended. While playing, learn to recognize the signs that you are slipping into the darkness of tilt, and take a break for as long as necessary to recompose yourself, even if that means packing up and calling it a day. It is practically impossible to focus and concentrate while your emotions pull you in a different direction from the one you are facing.

Last, make full use of regular breaks. Online cash game players can click the sit-out button anytime, miss an orbit or two, and sit back in. You can also leave the table and find a new one after your break.

Tournament players' breaks are more restrictive. Online MTT grinders should make the most of the five-minute break that happens on all tables at 55 minutes past the hour. Stand up, walk around, make yourself a drink, go to the bathroom, or have a snack. Just make sure you leave your computer or laptop and move around.