3-Step Warm-Up Routine To Improve Your Poker Results

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One of the biggest mistakes poker players make is not treating their session like a sport. Poker doesn't seem to get the respect other sports like tennis or chess get, in part because some see it as a gambling game played online and in casinos. You wouldn't dream of running out onto the court to play a five-set match without warming up your body, so warm up your brain before you settle in for a poker session.

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By creating a personal poker warm-up, you put yourself in the right frame of mind to make optimal decisions from the very first hand. There's no accidentally punting off a couple of buy-ins because you weren't ready here. 

Eliminate All Distractions

As tempting as it is to scroll through Twitter in between hands, thinking that you're keeping your mind occupied during your downtime, you're actually doing a lot more harm than good. Poker is an incredibly complex game that requires your full attention - especially if you're playing multiple tables. Even if you're playing one table of live poker, your head shouldn't be buried in your phone in between hands, you should be studying how your opponents are playing to help your decision-making in future hands.

Remove as many distractions as possible before you sit down to play. Put your phone on silent. Turn the TV off. Put the pizza box down. Music is OK, as long as it helps calm rather than distract you, but if you find yourself singing along, turn it off. This may sound boring, but you cannot allow anything to distract you from making optimal decisions and perform at the top of your game

If you're trying to make a decision for all your chips facing a river jam, would you rather do it in complete silence, or with your phone ringing, the TV blaring, and half a donut hanging out of your mouth? Everyone thinks they can deal with distractions until they're in a tough situation requiring really deep thought. Most of the time when you're playing with distractions you're playing on auto-pilot, not really thinking about your decisions as there are more interesting things attracting your attention.

By eliminating all distractions as part of your poker warm-up, you give yourself no choice but to focus 100% on the decisions you're making.

Reflect On Study Sessions

Good poker players who do homework after every session work on the areas that they've been struggling with the most. This is a great way to study as it focuses on specific weaknesses. Before you start your session, it's worth reflecting on what you've been learning in your study sessions and how you're going to apply that to your game.

If you've been struggling with 3-betting a large enough range from the big blind, go over your ranges during your poker warm-up and see how many you can remember without looking. Little tests bring the information to the front of your mind, exactly where you need it to be if you're about to start playing. This is why it's important to carefully choose what you reflect on before you start your session to make sure it is where you need to increase your level of competency.

Unconscious Incompetence - You don't know that you're bad at it

Conscious Incompetence - You're bad at it and you know it

Conscious Competence - You're good at it but you have to think about how to do it

Unconscious Competence - You're good at it and it comes naturally to you

There's no point using your poker warm-up on what you are unconsciously competent at, because you already know how to do that without thinking! It is a mistake to go over things you're consciously incompetent at, as before you start a session isn't the time to start learning new theories. Focus on the areas you're consciously competent in and try to move those into unconscious competence. 

Putting these ideas fresh in your mind before you play, then implementing them at the tables, increases the likelihood of those ideas becoming things you know how to do without thinking. The more things you're unconsciously competent at, the easier it is to play this game.

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Practice Mindfulness and Visualization 

Many studies show the benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and visualization. Mindfulness is one of the most important skills you can have as a poker player. None of us are immune to the emotions the wild swings of a poker session can bring.

We all know someone or have been someone that has lost a significant amount of their bankroll due to tilt. It's not a fun place to be mentally, and it's impossible to play well while you're tilting.

Being mindful of your emotions, however, and you are better able to recognize when you're tilting and have the discipline to take a break and reset your emotions. Meditating during your poker warm-up heightens the awareness of your emotions, placing yourself more in tune with how the session is affecting your mood and able to deal with any bumps in the road.

Visualization is used by athletes, firemen, Navy SEALs - anyone who goes through high-pressure situations. You're preparing yourself for certain scenarios when you encounter them in real life, similar to rehearsing a conversation before you make an appointment. Use these techniques in your poker warm-up to prepare for tough decisions.


Poker is a mental game. Going in with the wrong mindset is as bad as exercising without stretching - you might get away with it once or twice, but in the long run, it will hurt you. Having a poker warm-up routine out gets you in the right head-space to make +EV decisions from the first hand.