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Poker : Minimizing Distractions

It can’t be overstated how important paying close attention at the tables is.  In this day and age of poker, most everyone knows how to play decent ABC poker.  As a result, it’s become increasingly difficult to be a long term winner by only paying attention when you pick up a good hand or a huge pot occurs.  The real edge is developed by close observation in small pots and pots not involved in.

The main reason people lose focus isn’t due to boredom, but to distractions.  Would millions upon millions of people love playing poker if it were a boring game?  People may claim boredom when they aren’t in a hand, but that’s because it’s hard work to pay attention all the time.  The game is amazingly complex and interesting to those who dive in deep.  Distractions that keep us from reaching our full potential are abundant in the places poker is most often played, in our homes and in casinos.

Internet poker might be better than sliced bread.  However, as with all good things, it is not without it’s cons.  One of these cons is the plethora of distractions that can be found on the internet and in the comfort of ones home.  It’s very easy to get lost in e-mail, instant messaging, or surfing the web.  Add to the fact that most people play multiple tables at the same time and the attention gets divided even further.  It’s hard enough to have a good feel for each player at one table, it’s near impossible to have a good read with eight tables going while responding to an e-mail.  Other distractions can be roommates, family, visitors, television, pets, and phone calls.  Music seems to be more player dependent, as it helps some players zone in while others get lost in it.  The best advice when it comes to distractions is to do your best to minimize them.

Turn off the TV and make sure any living mates know that you’re planning to play poker and would appreciate being left alone to focus.  Close the e-mail program, web browser, and instant messenger.  If you would rather be doing these things, that fine, do those instead and enjoy them.  Leave the poker for when that’s what you really want to do and do it well.  It’s easy to pretend things like TV and instant messaging don’t affect play, but test it out.  Track your win/loss record over a large sample size of play, half with these distractions and half without.  The results should be convincing.  It’s also important to see distractions coming down the road.  Multitable tournaments can take several hours.  If it’s 8pm and you’re tempted to go out later with your friends, try a cash game or sit’n’go instead.  From personal experience, you will subconsciously play poorly on purpose or gamble too much when part of you wants to be somewhere else.

Live distractions are an entirely different beast.  Obviously only one table can be played at a time.  The pace is also much slower, which gives the mind plenty of time to wander.  The setting of a casino is more than happy to grab your attention in many different places.  Televisions are usually all over the poker room.  Use them to your advantage by ignoring them.  Notice which players at your table are watching them.  Find out if they have a sports bet and then notice if they are winning or losing at the current time.  If they are losing they are more likely to make bluffs or gamble in an attempt to get even.  If they are winning they might be more content to only play strong hands and sit back and enjoy their brilliant sports bet.  Alcohol can also be a distracting factor at the tables.  Most poker rooms serve free drinks.  It can be very tempting to join others that are drinking and enjoying themselves.  It can also be easy to deal with tilt or celebrate a big win by drinking.

Obviously having too many drinks will impair judgement at the table.  Attractive people are also another source of distraction in casinos.  From the women serving drinks to tourists dressed for the nightclub to professionals you don’t want your kids to know about, there’s rarely a lack of eye-candy in most casinos.  Other casino games can also be tempting.  Say you are down $500 on the session.  It can be difficult to continue playing well and grind that money back.  It’s ever more difficult when someone at your table’s buddy comes up bragging about winning $2000 in 30 minutes playing blackjack.  The temptation of the ‘quick hit’ to get even is abundant in casinos.  Avoid it like the plague.  Much like with online distractions, if there are other things you’d rather be doing, do them.  Just avoid playing poor poker because you’re wishing you were somewhere else.

Avoiding distractions can be very difficult and takes a lot of discipline.  Knowing when not to play is also an underrated skill.  The fact that these are difficult should not be discouraging, but instead the opposite.  With some practice and effort you will be able to stay focused at the table, laugh at the surrounding distractions, and stack the chips of the surrounding distracted players.


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