The edges in poker are getting smaller and smaller, but there’s still a big advantage for those players who know how to consistently reach their mental peak. Having a good warm up routine helps you get in the zone and play your A-game.
What is the Zone? The zone is a state of heightened mental functioning, endless energy, clarity, awareness and concentration that allows poker players achieve exceptional levels of performance.
A good warm up routine helps you approach your poker session with calm, confidence and awareness. If you’re playing unprepared, you are preparing to fail.
In this article I collected some quotes from world class poker players about their own way of preparing for a session or for a tournament. I also made a list of things you can do before starting a session to improve your performance. There is no such thing as “perfect” routine, because every person is different, so in my opinion the key is to experiment and create habits with the things that helped.
Quotes from the world class players about their warm up routines and about the importance of having one
Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt: “The warm-up is essential. No matter what, I always warm up now.”
Sofia Lövgren: “I make sure to be well rested and eat a good dinner before. Always load up with fruits and almonds.”
Kristen Bicknell: “Often I will think about specific spots that I want to work on. Spots of my game that I either have problems with and want to focus on, and have been trying to play more optimally. Especially when I would play a cash game session, I would typically pick three things to think about or goals for the session. This can be from a mental game or theoretical standpoint. I’m a big believer in positive visualization and I think it is something that is almost by nature for me as I don’t make a conscious effort to do it, but the time leading up towards playing, I am usually visualizing the session ahead.”
Elky: “I try to meditate in the morning and go to the gym before the tournament.”
Elliot Roe: “The consistency of your poker performance is only as random as you allow it to be. There are systems & routines that will take you from accidental & unpredictable to consistently bringing your A-Game.”
Fedor Holz: “I would prefer to have a better routine, like always go to the gym 30 minutes before I play, more consistency to help train my mind so with this routine I know I’m ready to play poker, and maybe I’ll play better. It makes you feel much healthier and more relaxed. I would like to try to always have some good food before I play, because when you don’t, you’re usually very rushed eating during the tournament, and you order take-out or food at the table, which is not really good for you. So I want to work on those types of simple things. Also, I would like to try taking like 15 minutes after I’ve played to just think about the things I did well or some mistakes I made and try to be more honest about it. Some people think very results-oriented, and I try not to think like this and be more open-minded, but if I can have this consistency every time I play, I think it would make me a way better poker player.”
Jonathan Little: “Turning off or otherwise silencing my phone during play helps me stay focused. I strive to put my phone in my backpack while I am playing and only address it during breaks. Even then, I still find myself mildly distracted by it. In the ideal world, I would leave my phone at home or in my car, making it easier to give my complete and total focus to poker.”
Jared Tendler’s Zone Routine from The Mental Game of Poker 2
“In poker, you can increase your chances of getting into the zone by developing and maintaining consistent routines. When you get into the zone more frequently as a result of your routine, a causal relationship can grow between them. When this association becomes strong enough, you’ll begin to anticipate playing in the zone just by starting your routine. So, even when your energy isn’t ideal before you begin your routine, that association alone can act as a spark. However, it is important to not depend on this association as the sole catalyst for getting you into the zone. That dependence compromises your mental edge and practically guarantees that you will not play in the zone. Instead, make executing your routine a high priority and remain committed to keeping it up to date. While you want a routine that is consistent, that does not mean it should be static. As soon as your routine becomes stale, it starts to lose its effectiveness.
Look at any successful athlete, amateurs and professionals alike—they all have structured routines. One major reason is that their routine puts their minds in a bubble where nothing can distract them from focusing on their performance. Your poker routine serves the same purpose, and allows you to become completely immersed in the action. Once inside that bubble, only allow things inside that help you to play at your absolute best. Playing in the zone is tough enough under ideal circumstances, so it’s worth removing all activities from your routine that compromise your performance.”
Note: I think Jared Tendler’s books: The Mental Game of Poker 1 and The Mental Game of Poker 2 are must read books for any poker player, who wants to become successful at this game. They are useful, practical and easy to read. These books will give you insights that can truly take your game to the next level. If you are playing poker and have been stuck at the same level for a while or want to read a book that can help you dramatically improve your game then these are for you.
For more information about the two books by Jared Tendler read the 5 Life-Changing Books That Will Improve Your Poker Mindset – Part 2 article.
Warm Up Routine Examples/ Ideas
- Eliminate all distractions: use the restroom; put your phone away or at least silence it and turn off notifications; have water, a snack or some fruits prepared; clean your desk; make sure housemates, friends and family won’t disturb you during playing. Did you know? Studies show that having your smartphone within sight, even if it’s switched off, has a negative effect on your focus, because part of your brain is working to not pick up or check the phone. It’s even worse, if you get a notification or a message. It can throw you off your A-game! Remember, in a world of distraction single-tasking is a superpower. Minimize distractions, make sure you keep your phone out of your way and have a clean working environment.
- Review some hands.
- Revise your notes of a recent study session: write down on a piece of paper the subject you focus on and keep that in front of you. Also, use this to mark relevant hands to review later.
- Watch a poker training video.
- Review long-term goals and set short-term goals for your day or poker session. These goals can be tactical, mental or other poker-related goals. I write down a “TO-BE” list to, in which I note things like: confident, motivated, focused, disciplined, etc.
- Play some quick brain games.
- Make sure you had enough sleep: Being well rested and nourished may be more important to your poker performance than you think.
- Take a walk or exercise: it reduces stress, boosts your brain power, balances your mood and reduces fatigue.
- Cold showers.
- Read a book or an article.
- Listen to some good music.
- Mindfulness meditation, deep breathing or visualization: When you focus on your breath during mindfulness meditation, you are training your mind to be aware, steady and consistent, so that you can begin to display these qualities when facing tough poker decisions. Benefits of mindfulness meditation: Increased self awareness; Strengthened concentration; Higher function of brain; Reduced anxiety and stress; Enhanced cognitive thinking; and It helps you deal with tilt. “I’ve been consistently meditating for about two years. There are a lot of studies that show it has positive effects, and physically changes the structure of the brain.” (Stephen Chidwick)
- Read ThePokerMindset posts. 😊
Elliot Roe’s A.G.A.M.E. Pre-Session Protocol
A pre-game warm-up is a consistent routine you perform before starting a session, designed to prepare you for peak performance. From Olympic athletes to Hollywood-level talent, the best of the best use pre-game rituals to prime themselves for ultimate success. Here’s the routine that hundreds of poker players are using to reach peak performance in their game:
- Attend to physical needs (2-3 mins): Make sure your body is prepared to serve your mind. This means getting nutritious snacks, having water on hand and making sure you go to the bathroom before sitting at the table. This will allow you to focus on the game without physical interruptions.
- Goals for the session (5 mins): Go over strategic goals and possible challenges for your session. Having specific areas of the game you will focus on during your session will help boost motivation and focus, so it’s smart to review them before you play.
- Activate your mind (5mins): Pull up a few hands to go over and prep your mind for poker. It’s even better if these hands relate to your session’s focus – imagine this is your “warm up set” before a very heavy bench press.
- Mindfulness meditation (15mins): This is where you clear your mind and transition from a “preparation” mindset to a “performance” mindset. Elliot Roe’s warm up MP3s are designed specially for poker players to create the ultimate mental environment for you to get in the zone and reach your A-Game. If you don’t have Elliot’s MP3s available to you, you can use mindfulness meditation videos from YouTube for this.
- Eliminate distractions (2-3 mins): Shut off your cell phone, ask your friends and family members to respect your time and only interrupt if it’s an emergency, close out all your social media channels, and ruthlessly eliminate all distractions that could disrupt your concentration.
Note: If you want to learn more about pre-session warm up routines and improve your poker mindset check out Elliot Roe’s A-Game Masterclass by clicking here.