Hey look! You didn’t have to wait another 6 month to a year for my next rant! Let me start this one by saying what a year this has turned into! There are so many milestones that have been met, and so much loss to deal with. As a parent of special needs children, the struggle of surviving through each day can really get to you. The excitement each new day brings allows us the ability to move on. My guess is that you’re wondering how this relates to poker. Well if you think of poker as a special needs child you will understand 100%.
Every moment in poker is filled with problems, losses, gains, answers, confusion, and emotions. Think of a child with ADD and how many things they have to deal with mentally from moment to moment. I learned a great lesson from my eight year old son this week. After having a rough day at school, his frustration had hit a peak in his music class. He was trying so hard to pay attention to the grumpy teacher, but the distractions all around were overwhelming him. It was really hot in the music room and the kid behind him was kicking his chair, and his friends next to him were talking. The noises from the room next to them were really loud, and interesting. The Lego Character in his pocket was begging him to come out and play, and he had to go to the bathroom. With all this going on, he decided to stand up and walk over to the teacher and politely ask if he could take a break. He explained the problems he was experiencing to her, and she smiled down to him and said “I think we all need a little break today.” She allowed him to go to the bathroom but told him to hurry back. When he returned, the class had moved to the hallway. They were all lined up and headed to the front of the building where they sang their songs outside on the grass in the quiet breeze. When faced with problems, sometimes you just have to think outside the box. This is what I learned from his rough day at school.
There will always be distractions in poker. How do you mitigate them and be the best possible player you can be? Between the constant chip noise, and the conversations at the other tables you’re not supposed to hear. Watching a player across the table doing a chip trick you’ve never seen before, and then a yell of excitement from across the room. All of these things and more are going on as you’re looking down at pocket jacks and are facing down a preflop 3 bet… How do you isolate the moment? How do you harness yourself, and focus on what’s in front of you? The truth is, I have no clue.
Some of the things I use to focus during these long grueling poker grinds are pretty simple. If I’m at a table where the mood isn’t dead, I like to start conversations; I like to become part of the noise. I shuffle my chips a lot. It’s not only soothing but it seems to drown out the other chip noise in the room. When I’m at a table that’s dull and boring I like to wear my sunglasses. I don’t do this for deception, or to hide tells. I wear them for focus. If I’m finding it hard to ignore the constant distractions, I try to find something close that I consider a constant. When I say “constant”, what I mean is something that’s unchanging. Like a spot on the wall. It doesn’t move, it doesn’t make noise… It doesn’t change. The purpose for the glasses is to keep my opponents for seeing my problem with focus.
In all distracting situations I like to practice deep breathing. Taking a deep breath, and saying to myself “Breathe in”… Then exhaling, saying “Breathe out”. After 3 or 4 minutes of this, I find that I’ve calmed down, and in some cases I’m ready for a nap… Adding soothing music to this helps a lot. I know many people who will bring noise cancelling headphones. I don’t really like these. There are many situations in poker where you actually need to hear what’s going on or what’s being said, and these will absolutely hinder that. I use just you’re regular out of the box Iphone headphones. In a lot of cases I will have these in my ears to present the image that I’m listening to something, but I don’t have anything on at all. It’s pretty interesting what people will say when they thing you’re not listening.
There are a lot of different things that you can do to calm yourself, and help you focus. The real key is finding what’s specifically right for you.
A few years ago I was playing in one of the Daily Deepstacks at the WSOP. I was sitting with a few familiar faces. While I was a local grinder I got to know a lot of the locals and became friendly with many them. This particular day I was sitting in the 6 seat directly to the left of Eddy. I’ve known and played cards with Eddy for a long time. We were in about the 3rd or 4th hour of the event and there was something different about Eddy’s game. He’s normally your typical aggressive player. He plays a lot of pots. Today however, he’s being very inactive. Folding preflop 8 out of 10 hands… I think he’d raised 4 total times the entire tournament. Completely contradictory to the style of play I’m used to seeing from him. To the point that I was ready to ask him if everything was okay…
Our first break came and off he went. I noticed him calling someone as we left the table. Not thinking anything of it I went about my “break business.” When we returned near the end of break he was near the table, still on his phone. 6 or 8 hands go by and he’s still on his phone. Then his big blind comes, and he finally sets his phone down, only to fold to a raise. He picks up his phone and continues. The conversation he’s having seemed to be intensifying but I’m not one to eavesdrop so I mind my own business. The next had is his small blind. He repeats the action of the last hand… The very next had with him on the button, he walks back to the table and on his turn he looks at his cards, doesn’t spend much time thinking and angrily announces “I’m all in!” From the small blind I look down at pocket Aces… In 99.9% of cases this is the greatest moment in poker. Knowing Eddy, and the way today has gone, I know he’s not right in the head. He’s been distracted the entire day. These are the days where I tell people you’re better off not playing on days like this. In saying that, it is a tournament, and you’re supposed to exploit people in situations like this, friend or not. So I call, showing him the bad news… He turns over 7-2 of diamonds… And my aces hold up. He walks away, back on his phone.
A couple hours later during another break I run into him near the cash games. He tries explaining to me the situation, and told him I knew. I also told him that I was 50/50 on calling him knowing he was on life tilt… He looked at me and told me he would have called had the situation been reversed. I shook his hand and walked away.
Distraction can change everything in the blink of an eye. Find your humble place. Find your calming methods. Do everything you can to eliminate the distractions…
I hope that I’ve help in some little way here! Again, I’m headed to Las Vegas in 3 days! I hope to see many of you there! Good luck to those that are going and may many pots be pushed in your direction!