Athletes in all sports spend anywhere from 30-60 minutes (or more) warming up their body for competition. They do this for many reasons, but two of the most important are preventing injury and starting the competition at 100% of their ability. Now injury prevention is not a big concern in the poker world, but I am a strong believer that the second reason applies directly to poker and is often ignored. The one key difference is that poker players don’t need to warm up their body, they need to warm up their BRAIN.
After 10 years of traveling the poker circuit and playing for a living, I have noticed some trends in my game when I do my full warm up routine compared no warmup and jumping straight into the game. It is not uncommon to see fellow professionals’ roll out of bed at 11:50 for a noon start in a $5,000 main event. I personally think that these players are putting themselves at a disadvantage in the tournament. I understand that some players late register tournaments because it gives them a better hourly rate. However, most players use this as a crutch and excuse to show up unprepared for tournaments.
Before we look into my pregame routine, lets look at a few benefits and reasons you would want to implement this into your poker game. First, the most important decision of your day may come in your first hand dealt. Rolling into the session unprepared leads to a slower thought process, less precise decision making, and general unpreparedness for the situation. This could lead to you starting from behind in your session. I want to use my warmup routine to help get the neurons firing in my brain. I want to come out ready to fight at the beginning of my session to maximize hourly rate. I don’t want to use the first 30 minutes of my session to warm up, just like a basketball team doesn’t want to use the first 30 minutes of a game to warm up.
Second thing I like to get from my warmup routine is developing a game plan for the session. This is not necessarily just strategic concepts to focus on for the session. I like to review points of emphasizes in my game, areas I have been looking to improve. I like to make goals in terms of both my strategic and mental game that I need to put extra focus on to perform at my peak. I would relate this to an NFL team emphasizing eliminating the big play, or reducing turnovers in a game. They put extra emphasis on things that may have extra emphasis on the outcome. For me, this may be simple things like remaining patient, or look closely for extra spots to check-raise flops.
Finally, a good warmup routine helps me get into the Zone during my session. Jared Tendler has two great poker books “The Mental Game of Poker” one and two where he discusses Zone play in depth. I recommend checking both books out if you haven’t. The key point is that playing in the Zone is not random. There are specific events and reasons why you play in the Zone sometimes, while other times you struggle. Learning what reasons help you get into the Zone and reviewing them prior to sessions will increase your chances of getting into the Zone for that session.
1) Lumosity.com – I like to play 10 minutes on Lumosity.com prior to sessions to help warm up my brain. They describe themselves as a brain training app. Thru various games they help train your brain in memory, focus, attention and cognitive function. I find this as a great way to get my brain to transition into critical thinking mode to help with decision making processes later.
2) Review hands of your own or on PokerCoaching.com – Transition your mind into poker mode. I will review hands from my previous sessions and visit important spots I had. My goal is to get my mind fully into poker mode.
3) Write down my to-do list – This is a simple step that helps me focus a ton. I simply write down everything I must do outside of poker. This gets it out of my mind, so I don’t have to think about what I am forgetting while playing. I want all my attention on poker while playing.
4) Goals – I will review my own goals for the year, month, and make goals for this session. I will take a second to deeply think and visualize every goal. This helps me build motivation and excitement for my upcoming session.
Sometimes I have more time and will expand some of these, but this is a nice warmup that I can do in 30-45 minutes prior to playing. Personally, I noticed a huge difference in the quality of my play when I take the time to warm up in this way prior to playing.
Remember, just like athletes, we need to warm up our BRAINS prior to playing to help play our best and gives us the best chance of success.