Let’s discuss a topic I feel many “professionals” need help with, which is how to treat poker like a profession. One of my favorite quotes that comes up at the beginning of Elliot Roe’s Mental Game podcast is, “If you treat it like an amateur, you should expect amateur results.” This is one of the most applicable quotes to poker that I’ve heard in a long time regarding how many players treat their poker games. They don’t study, they are on their phone the entire session, and they fail to keep accurate records, among many other things. Let’s discuss a few key things that if you are an amateur will help you be more professional while playing, or if you are already a professional, hopefully will help you recognize areas you can improve in professionalism.
The first thing that has helped me the most in my career is having a set study and play schedule for the week. My favorite thing about poker is the freedom it provides me in my scheduling. This has also been my biggest downfall in poker. I have gone through spurts with low volume because of that lack of schedule that poker provides. Every Sunday night after my online session, I will make my “work” schedule for the week. I will set the times and days and know that I will have around 40-50 scheduled hours of work for the week. For example, as I write this, today was an off day from playing, but a work day for articles and webinar preparation for PokerCoaching.com. Tomorrow, I am playing an online tournament session from 1pm until approximately 11 pm, depending on when my last tournament finishes. With a 1pm start time, I know I need to start my warmup at noon. This includes watching 20-30 minutes of a training video, or reviewing hands to get into the poker mindset, 15 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes to get my food ready so just have to pop it in the microwave on breaks. Also, tomorrow I have a 2-hour study block set up from 8am until 10am to review the hand history from an online tournament. Having a set schedule like this is one of the most important aspects of my poker game. When I don’t have set hours and play “when it’s convenient” I am unprepared and my results suffer. Going to bed tomorrow knowing I have work at 1pm gets me in the correct mindset. I know that when I wake up, everything I do the first 6 hours of my day is so I can completely focus on my session.
The next topic is distractions while playing. Next time you play at a casino, take note of how much time the “regulars” in the game spend on their phone and not paying attention to the action. Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram etc. will cost you money while you play. I don’t feel there is any argument against this that you are simply costing yourself money while playing by being distracted. Ask yourself if any of these apply to you:
1) Have to be told the action was on you?
2) Misread your hand?
3) When playing online, not knowing what the action was that led to the turn in a hand?
4) Timed out in a hand when it was an easy decision?
5) In person, realized 5 minutes after the fact that a player busted and a new player arrived?
6) Noticed a big pot on the river and no idea what action occurred?
These are all signs to your focus being elsewhere while playing, and they all cost you little bits of expected value while playing.
For me, I try to eliminate all distractions before I start playing. In part of my pregame warmup, I make a to-do list of all things I need to do, in poker or outside poker. For example, booking a flight, cleaning my office or going to the grocery store may be on the list. I write down this “To Do List” before I play so I don’t have to think about it while I play. If something comes up while I play, I quickly write it down on the list and then forget about it until I finish playing. The next thing I do to limit distractions is turn my phone off and put it in my backpack or out of my office when I’m playing online. Forcing yourself to reach into your bag and turn on your phone will drastically limit your time on it while playing. It also serves as a reminder while playing that you don’t need this. It is a simple reminder of what is important at the moment.
This article can’t talk about everything in regard to being professional, but here are a few other important concepts I want to note here. Make sure you have consistent and accurate record keeping. Keep a simple spreadsheet online, so you always have access. In regard to record keeping, keep track of all debts and money owed to you in a mobile document. It amazes me how many times players don’t know how much they owe or are owed in situations, or don’t know if they paid or didn’t pay. In regard to travel, book in advance and take advantage of cheap flights. Flights are always more expensive inside the 2 weeks window of travel. Take advantage of Southwest’s free cancellation and book multiple flights. I typically book a return flight every day of a tournament and end up with 3-4 flights home. This reduces my travel time and saves on expenses by not having to stay away longer than necessary on a trip. Finally, health and fitness are important for energy levels while playing. Having the correct level of energy while playing is important for optimal performance. Find out what is required for you to have optimal energy and implement that in your warmup. For example, I can’t eat a heavy meal before playing because my energy level drops. I will never eat pasta or a hamburger on a dinner break for that reason.
Take action in your poker game and make sure you are being the most professional version of yourself. Are you doing everything to help ensure you have success in poker? Are there more things you can do prior to playing to increase the chances of success? Make a list of the most important professional traits in poker for you. What changes do you need to make? Where can you improve? Take action to become the best version of yourself.