The Importance of Staying Focused

In this Juicy Stakes Poker review of how to stay focused, we will make some statements that will seem to be odd and even counter-intuitive.  We believe that there are both internal and external factors that make focusing hard and also contribute to improving focusing skill.

And How does One Stay Focused?

These are the basic ideas we are going to cover to help you stay focused:

  1. Watch YouTube clips without knowing the players’ hole cards.
  2. Teach yourself to play to win rather than playing not to lose.
  3. Play in a cold and calculating manner.
  4. Embrace and control the natural nervousness of playing for real money.
  5. See poker as an economic microcosm.
  6. Watch and see hands.
  7. Pay attention to the better players.

Now let's delve into each one of these points in more detail.

1. Watch YouTube without Seeing the Hole Cards

This is a great exercise for poker players of any skill level but especially for players who are developing as poker players.  We all acknowledge that the YouTube clips about poker are great entertainment.  They are a lot of fun to watch.

Of course, the people who put these clips together choose only the best highlights.  They know that most poker hands are not all that entertaining.  The exercise we propose here is to watch the hands and try to be one of the competitors in the hand.

If you don’t know what the hole cards are, it is a lot harder to determine mentally what your bets play might be!  We could call this phenomenon “getting lost in the hand” and it is possibly the most common occurrence for most poker players and especially for relatively new ones.

Staying focused on a single hand is a lot more difficult than it seems and to stay focused on hundreds of hands in a row is a Herculean challenge.

2. Playing to Win or Playing to not Lose

This is a concept common in sports.  When a young team reaches the championship level in their sport, observers often describe their style of play in the playoffs as playing not to lose.  We can apply the same idea to poker.  Staying focused is an overt act that signifiers playing to win while following “the book” is much more an act of playing not to lose.

3. Emotions and Tilt

Staying focused means eliminated emotion from your game.  We usually find discussions of emotion as the importance of avoiding tilt.  This is very important, to be sure.  But tilt usually occurs after a bad beat and the overwhelming number of hands do not involve a bad beat.

The other most common form of tilt occurs when a player simply loses slowly but inexorably over time.  These emotional players have actually made a foolhardy poker choice: they have chosen to be emotional in the game of poker rather than cold and calculating.  The cold and calculating player can focus much better on the hands than the emotional player can.

4. Embrace Nervousness in Order to Control It

To be cold and calculating means to play without any sense of nervousness.  People who give speeches professionally, actors who work in live theater, or professional singers and musicians often talk about “being nervous” before the speech or performance.  This is “controlled nervousness”. 

In reality, it is an acknowledgement that human nature calls for a certain measure of nervousness before a performance but they have enough experience to know that the nervousness will not affect their performance.  It “just is”.

In poker, being overcome by uncontrolled nervousness makes a player fear an undesirable outcome.  The fear clogs up their mind and makes it difficult to impossible to concentrate fully on the next decision.  So, the overt commitment to being cold and calculating is in fact an over commitment to playing with controlled nervousness.

You will always feel a bit uneasy but when you have it under control, you will be able to look the hand straight in the eyes and decide what to do without fear.

5. Money Circulates

It is important to look at a poker game at any stakes as a microcosm of an economy.  Just as in an economy, the value of money can be expressed as a function of how quickly and smoothly money circulates so in poker, the money moves around the table.  In essence, the money is circulating.

Just as in an economy where, if the money ends of in the same pocket too often, we have an imbalance of income and money distribution which governments are supposed to address.  In poker, if the money ends up in the same stack again and again it means that one player is either extremely lucky or head and shoulders better than her or his competition.

6. Kudos to You

If you are the superior player in a game, it means that you are far better focused than your opponents.  However, if you are one of the players whose money is moving steadily but surely into one single opponent’s stack, it means that you are playing above your head.

It might not be such a bad idea to play above your head if there is just one better player at the table. It could very well be an excellent learning experience.  Pay as close attention to the better player’s actions as you can because you might be able to learn a lot from her.

If you can accept losing some money to the better player, you can allow your mind to study that player’s actions.  This is a good way to exclude extraneous feelings and thoughts in favor of staying focused.  Remember, being focused has two aspects.  One is to eliminate unhelpful thoughts and feelings.  The other is to accept losing hands as much as we embrace winning hands.

Staying focused has actually nothing to do with the money!  It has to do with watching the game and seeing the game at the same time!  Do you remember the moment in the movie “White Men Can’t Jump” in which Wesley Snipes told Woody Harrelson that white people can listen to Jimi but they can’t hear him?  The same idea applies to poker: you need to be able to watch a poker hand and also to see the hand!

7. Pay Attention to the “Little” Hands

A lot of poker hands end up with a pair or less winning the pot.  Even though that is the case, it is still best strategy to fold most hands when you have poor hole cards.  Focusing in poker means paying as close attention to the small hands as to the more exciting pots because the small hands make up the bulk of both the hands played in a session of poker and also the bulk of the money won over time.

The concept of money circulating refers very directly to the small pots more than to the large pots.  We might call this the Walmart School of poker study in which small profits can come from many small hands rather than to count on large profits coming from a few large hands.

Focusing is an Art Form

Now you are ready to become much better at poker!  Join us at Juicy Stakes Poker for great poker with players from all over the world! 

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