Mental Exercises to Maximize Your Poker Play

4 years ago
Mental Exercises For Poker Players
25 Jul

Poker is the ultimate battle of wits and in order to achieve victory, you have to constantly improve your mental performance. Just like you need to regularly perform a set of physical exercises in order to increase your strength, you have to choose appropriate mental exercises in order to improve your mental capabilities. We all know how to learn poker strategy via watching coaching videos, studying hands, getting private coaching, or performing a database analysis, but we rarely go beyond that into the realm of non-poker related activities that can make a real difference to the quality of our game and help us increase our edge at the tables.


Meditation is to mental exercises what deadlifting is to physical ones. It's the one thing that will have the highest impact on your mental performance if you choose to include it in your routine. Meditation causes an increase in alpha brain waves which can improve your creativity and help with depression. Studies show that meditation can also increase neuroplasticity, enabling you to create new neural pathways and literally change the way you think. Other than that, it can also boost your immune system, help you concentrate, help you sleep better, improve your metabolism, and aid your overall quality of life. Meditation is a surprisingly well researched topic and all those benefits that might sound like "too good to be true pitches from a snake-oil salesman" are actually all but confirmed.

How do you go about meditation and what's the recommended dose? It's as easy as sitting with your spine straight, closing your eyes (that's optional though it's an easy way of reducing the number of stimuli you're subjected to) and focusing on the inhale-exhale pattern for 5-10 minutes. While it sounds incredibly easy on paper, you might find the whole process challenging - especially at the beginning of your journey - since we're conditioned to constantly seek novelty in our lives and every time we try to stop for a second our minds are still racing. It's important to remember that meditation isn't about "controlling your mind", but rather observing and calming it.

Don't try to quash the thoughts that course through your mind, instead, acknowledge them and let them pass. You'll become better and better at focusing on your breathing patterns with time. As for the recommended dose, start slow with 5 minutes of meditation every morning. You can also consider adding 5-10 minute session before you start playing poker.

Learn a New Language

If you've ever played a sweat session with a study partner or private coach, you probably noticed that being forced to voice your reasoning is difficult, but also beneficial to your game. It's hard to autopilot when you have to consider your reasons for playing every hand. Turns out that voicing your reasoning in a language other than your native one can be even better. One of the Psychological Science studies at the University of Chicago suggests that human reasoning is shaped by two distinct modes of thought: one that's systematic and cognition intense, and another that's faster and driven by emotions.

The cognitive demand of speaking in another language makes us far less likely to use the second mode and therefore ensures that our decision making in a foreign language will be more rational. If you're not fluent in another language and you can't really use it to talk yourself through a poker session, the act of learning a new language is still beneficial in and of itself and can help you tremendously by opening all sorts of mental pathways and exercising the part of brain that's responsible for storing information.

Play Some Games!

According to the study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, 30min of playing Super Mario 64 for 2 months can actually increase the amount of gray matter in the areas of the brain associated with memory, strategic planning, and even fine motor skills of the hands. It turns out that playing video games - which is still considered by some people to be a waste of time - can actually be a viable way of improving our mental performance.

Other studies seem to suggest that playing video games can slow the brain aging process, and improve our attention to detail and eyesight. While it might be a bit dangerous to add video gaming sessions to the sedentary poker player routine, as long as you remember to stay physically active, you can play short video game sessions guilt free as a way of both relaxing after a long day of work and boosting your mental capacity. Alternatively, consider an active video game like Pokemon Go or Just Dance.

The Rubber Band Technique

We are creatures of habit. According to the famous quote by F. M. Alexander:

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures."

One of the most effective ways of hacking your habits is so-called "rubber band technique" commonly used in psychotherapy as a way of reducing anxiety. Here's how it works, the only thing you need is a rubber band around your wrist and a bit of self-awareness. Every time you catch yourself thinking something that might be detrimental to your mindset or mental performance, snap the rubber band. After a while, you'll start to associate those negative thoughts with physical pain and subconsciously try to avoid them.

Here's a short list of poker related thoughts you might want to "snap out" of:

"Why do they always have the nuts!?"

"I'm not going to watch this coaching video, I'll watch two tomorrow instead."

"That was a stupid play!"

"This fish won't last two more orbits."

"I deserve better results!"

"This software is rigged." etc.

Consider including some of all of the mental exercises mentioned above into your routine and you'll improve your poker game in no time!

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Mateusz has been writing about poker for the better part of the last decade. He's deeply interested in many poker related subjects like psychology, game theory, fitness, nutritional science etc.Read more


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