Improving your concentration at the poker table

In this section you’ll learn how to stay alert at the tables by:

How to stay focused at the table

On top of deciding which game to play, one of the biggest problems you'll face as a poker player is maintaining concentration.

Analysing situations and assessing opponents for hours at a time can really take it out of you and studies suggest that humans can only concentrate fully for about 30 to 60 minutes at a time. This can hamper your ability to go deep in tournaments, or to come out winning from a long cash session.

There are a few key things to avoid:

  • Boredom
    If you're getting a bad run of cards or you're playing tight due to the number of maniacs at your table, you won't be playing many hands and very soon you may not be paying as close attention to your opponents as you should be.
  • Distractions
    Distractions in your poker-playing environment pull your attention away from the task at hand. These can include kids, email and the internet when playing online to noise, passers-by or even a mouthy opponent in a cardroom.
  • Feeling ill
    If you eat a big meal before playing, your digestive system will divert resources away from your brain to aid digestion. Not sleeping well, feeling ill or not being as physically fit as you should be may also contribute to a deficit in your concentration levels.
  • Mental state
    Make sure you're in the right frame of mind to play. If you're not mentally focused, lacking the motivation to play or not feeling good about yourself, then it's probably best not to play.

How to improve your focus

The good news is that it's possible to improve your powers of concentration. And we’ve got 3 ways for you to try out right here:

  • Make notes
    This is a simple way to stay focused on the task in hand. Keeping track of anything from your opponents' starting hands and where they play them from, to whether they limp in a lot or always come in with a raise will all help you in the long run.
  • Narrow your focus
    Don’t focus on all of your opponents at once. Your head will be in a spin and you’ll have far too much to think about. Start off by concentrating on two players. Do they always raise you or do they vigorously defend their blind? Once this becomes an automatic process, add another factor to your focus of attention – but not until then. It’ll take time to achieve this, but if you work at it your concentration will improve and you'll eventually be able to process enough information about all of your opponents to make you a winning poker player.
  • Self-talk
    Talk to yourself after every hand (it’s not a sign of madness – honest). Analyse the hand you've just seen or played. Tell yourself what was good and bad about it. Mentally reward yourself when you've done something good (like spotting a tell). A reward is the surest way to get someone to repeat something and you want to get into the habit of doing good things at the poker table.