Keys to Maintaining Your Focus in Longer Sessions


Poker players need to follow these tips to avoid losing focus easily over longer sessions.

Staying Focused During Long Live Sessions

With the 2016 World Series of Poker currently in full flow, many poker players are spending a lot of time at the poker table this summer. With the average day’s play in a WSOP event lasting anywhere between eight and 12 hours, this can be a gruelling schedule, especially for professionals grinding five to seven days a week throughout most of June and July.

A lot of recreational players might be unaccustomed to playing sessions of that length, and as a result they will find themselves flagging during the last two to three hours of each day. It’s not uncommon to see certain tables get a lot tighter as the day goes on, and players start looking to lock up their spot for Day 2, rather than put themselves in difficult spots when they’re feeling tired. Here’s how to avoid becoming one of those players, and keep your edge as high as possible throughout the day.

Eat right and drink lots of water

It’s most likely fairly obvious to you, no matter which country you live in, that modern society is displaying an increasing tendency towards producing people who have simply adapted to being extremely unhealthy on a physical level. Most people’s default state is to be lacking the right kinds of nutrients in their diet, and to be dehydrated on a daily basis.

This almost constant state of poor health leads many people to believe that the way their brain operates most of the time, is the way it has to operate all the time. This is simply factually incorrect, and if you were to compare a sample of poker sessions played after eating McDonald’s and drinking four Starbucks coffees with a sample played after eating chicken salad and drinking four bottles of water, the results would shock you. Your brain is significantly more efficient when it gets what it needs.

If you want to make those last 2-3 hours of your session more profitable, take multiple bottles of water with you to the casino (don’t just rely on the tiny ones they’ll give you for free), and either pack your lunch in advance, or have somewhere healthy in mind to eat from. Consider lowering your caffeine intake and switching to green tea instead of coffee – this has the added benefit of making you more relaxed, instead of more anxious.

Keep yourself in good physical condition

This is another one that almost goes without saying – if you looked at a sample of the 100 best poker players in the world right now, I would imagine that only a handful would have a higher-than-average body fat percentage, and none of them would be significantly overweight. That’s not really about weight, and it’s definitely not about body image (since poker is very accepting of all kinds of people, no matter what they look like) – it’s about conditioning, and the simple fact that people who are in extremely good physical shape are significantly more likely to be in extremely good mental shape, and people who are in extremely good mental shape are significantly more likely to be able to play better poker, for longer.

If you’re a professional poker player who doesn’t have a personal trainer, you’re probably making a mistake. If you’re a recreational player who doesn’t believe that becoming a healthier person physically would make you a better poker player, you’re incorrect. There’s an old saying that “success leaves a trail”, and the trail left by almost everyone succeeding in poker these days suggests that physical fitness is becoming increasingly essential for long-term poker success. It is certainly essential if you want to still be mentally sharp after eight hours sitting at a poker table.

Sleep, sleep, and sleep some more

This one might seem less obvious to some people, given that the ‘grinder’ mentality seems to be fairly common these days – after all, who wants to think about sleep when you could be playing more poker? The reality, though, is that if you’re so focused on putting in volume that you’re always doing it at 70% effectiveness because you’re always one or two hours short on sleep, then you’d be doing equally well putting in 70% of that volume at 100% effectiveness, since the increase in your ROI would most likely greatly offset the decrease in volume.

With that in mind, if you’re going to be playing long sessions at the WSOP or elsewhere, you need to be getting enough sleep beforehand. What that amount is varies for each person, but there’s almost nobody for whom it’s less than seven hours. You’ll find that when you’re well-rested going into a day’s play, you’re less prone to tilt, less prone to passive play, and less prone to missing out on information given away by your opponents. You’re also more apt to notice the moments late on in a day’s play where your opponents are slacking off, and that means more EV for you.

Relax, be sociable and disconnect between hands

Finally, I think your attitude at the table needs to be part of your approach, but I’m going to suggest the opposite to what many people do. Some players throw on the headphones, disappear into their own little bubble and try to maintain 100% focus on the action at all times. Personally, I’m not a fan of this approach – you might think you’re giving away less information this way, but in reality you’re probably missing out on a lot of info from your opponents, and you’re draining your focus a lot more quickly. Your brain can’t concentrate for 10 hours straight.

The guys with the headphones on will be finding things a lot more difficult towards the end of the day, when they simply can’t maintain 100% focus for long enough – it’s important to give yourself the opportunity to disconnect in between hands, whether by conversing with other players or just simply thinking about other things while the dealer is shuffling the deck. Being conversational will allow you to pick up more information by knowing your opponents on a personal level, keep you alert and awake, and most likely keep you relaxed – and above all, poker is a lot more fun this way! With this approach, you’ll increase both your EV, and your enjoyment of the game.


    • Reminding players about seemingly obvious yet critical approaches as above is a great service, Matthew. Thanks!

    • Reminding players about seemingly obvious yet critical approaches as above is a great service, Matthew. Thanks for the generous, free coaching!