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November 24th, 2009
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Poker Lesson: Being Focused
Author: Huckleberry Seed
In the world of Full Tilt Poker avatars there are no bad hair days.
Not the type of thought I want to be having at an FTOPS final table. I want my mind absorbing and processing just the right information the best it can to put my creative mind in position to "play Mozart" to the ears of my opponents who I deem capable of appreciating it. I want to be focused. In the moment. In the flow of the game. In the "Zone".
A great way to enhance one’s ability to focus in my opinion is fasting. On a 15 minute break early in a 500 player field NLH tournament at Foxwoods several years back, I walked to the food court, in a conversation with an old school player from my table. I procured a calorie laden sandwich. "Want anything?" I asked. "A hungry dog hunts best" the wise old man replied. I took the saying to heart. I didn't eat the sandwich or anything else the rest of the tournament. I played very well, especially near the end (it was a one day tournament that lasted 22 hours) and won the tournament.
David Williams didn't need a wise old poker player to teach him the value of fasting for poker focus – he figured it out on his own. I was not surprised after his tournament successes to hear him tell me that he would eat nothing during his tournaments and just drink a bit of tomato juice here and there throughout the tournament to ensure his brain was getting sufficient glucose to function at its best.
Yoga and meditation can also be great ways to clear your mind and get you ready to focus on the game. Weeding through a yoga class that was just starting on our way out of the gym after a hoops session, we decided to jump in. We then headed to the casino and after that night’s poker session, my friend Joe said he had never played with such clear-minded focus, and accredited that to yoga. David Hayden, a Seven-Card Stud poker pro, swears by yoga to improve your poker game, golf game and most aspects of your life.
Dan Harrington attributes much of his ability to stay focused down the stretch of a poker tournament to his competitive chess career before he became a poker player. A competitive chess match can be quite long, six or even eight hours sometimes. In chess, one mistake can cost you the game, just as in NLH where one mistake can cost you your whole stack.
If the mental toughness Dan developed that kept him from making blunders in chess was transferred over to poker, your skills and mental focus developed at other endeavors may too. Try to be aware of any mental focus related skills you have and see how they relate to poker. Perhaps you’re just not too mentally tough yet. If something bad happens at the poker table you usually crumple immediately, and after an hour or two your mind always starts to wander. Maybe you need to try standing on your head for an hour while staring at a dot on the wall (I did it for a bet once).
As for meditation, I was first introduced to the world of Zen Buddhism by well rounded intellectual Howard Lederer. I really think practicing various forms of meditation will greatly help your ability to focus at the poker table. After experimenting a bit with various forms of meditation you could try to make poker your form of meditation! Personally, I enjoy the writing of Vietnamese Buddhist monk poet and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, as well as contemporary spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle (author of the bestseller "The Power of Now") and I would like to thank them for improving the quality of my life as well as the focus of my poker game.
I think simple desire and motivation go hand in hand with focus. Young players who have a strong desire to win or compete or improve their game are super focused without realizing it and probably don’t know what it means to be unfocused. It just comes naturally when you want it badly enough.
Well let’s leave it at that before I say "focus" more times than Alan Iverson can say "talkin’ about practice". I hope my writing has lead you on the path to be more focused in your poker and in so doing find that place deep in the flow of the game where plays that amaze are made and the joy of the game is found
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