As part of the new Poker Central website, we are happy to also introduce the ‘Strategy Series’. Each week, our team will bring you important strategy articles, highlighting a wide variety of poker topics. These articles will build off one another, creating an inventory of must read poker material. The second installment, tackles the importance of mental preparation.


Yogi Berra might have been talking about baseball when he said, “It’s 90% mental.” but he could have very easily been talking about poker. Mental preparation includes the obvious points, getting a good night’s sleep before playing and not opening yourself to distractions while at the table, but it starts well before that.


Thinking bigger picture, mental preparation starts before you even decide whether to play or not. Are you available to play? Both literally and figuratively. If there are other life obligations that you should be dealing with, you likely won’t be able to give your undivided attention to the game at hand. We’ve all seen players fielding business calls or dealing with a multitude of other things, all while also trying to play poker and their results are usually negative.


Those are situations when you want to play but shouldn’t but what about when the opposite is true, when you are playing and don’t want to?


While most jobs have a set schedule for when work “starts” and “ends”, poker doesn’t have those confines. The game is there 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. That is a good thing but it can also put you in the situation where you are available to play but don’t necessarily want to play. Make sure the desire to play is there before you sit down.


Before you sit down, you also have to identify what kind of session you are about to start. A small stakes home game with friends obviously calls for different mental preparation than a big buy-in tournament. Know what kind of arena you are about to enter and prepare accordingly.  


It might sound like a silly analogy but think of the preparation that goes into dressing for certain occasions. A home game with friends is like going to the beach. Throw on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt that doesn’t have any visible stains on the front and go enjoy yourself. Conversely, a big buy-in tournament is like a wedding. Press those slacks, iron that shirt, straighten your tie and don’t try to dress yourself the day of. Trust me, it doesn’t work.


The final point of pre-play preparation deals with making sure you are ready for the fast paced game you are about to enter. It’s safe to say that in most people’s day to day life, save for those employed as air traffic controllers, equities traders or NFL general managers on Draft Day, important decisions aren’t being made every few minutes. That is exactly what is happening in poker though and those decisions can be a bit of a shock to your system if you aren’t prepared.


Before you sit down at the table, make sure that your mind is ready for some serious critical thinking and problem solving. If you’re ready to tackle those problems and are prepared for the grind ahead of you, you’ll set yourself up to have a winning session.