Poker Session Warm Up

You have probably heard the saying, Failing to prepare is preparing to failand this is no truer than in poker. Your poker pregame routine and preparation to grind are vital for your progress and plugging poker leaks. If you’re skipping the poker warm up, or never doing it at all, you’re doing yourself a huge dis-service in doing so. Let’s look at a few factors you may have overlooked.

Lack of Focus

By not zoning in on what you need to be thinking about, it’s very easy to get distracted and lose focus. With so much social media now at our fingertips it’s just so easy to attempt to coast through your session and attempt to both play and socialise at the same time. This can happen especially when you are running well; you might call it ‘winners tilt’. Texting, skyping, email, Facebook… I could go on. You will be definitely be missing spots to make money whether it be through a nifty little play based a bet-size tell or better table selection. As your teacher may once have said… “You at the back, put it away!”

Hidden Fatigue

Depending on when you start your session, fatigue can play a substantial role in how your session progresses. Along with being properly fed and watered, a poker-mind warm up you can reduce or even negate the effects of tiredness from a bad night’s sleep or a long day at work. Then there’s the subconscious affects; maybe something is weighing on your mind like you’ve had an argument with someone close or you’ve failed to deal with chores. The point here is, your brain may have already done a shift for the day and require a ‘boost’ to maintain a level you need to grind.

Simmering Tilt

Fatigue when not addressed can quickly lead to tilt though it’s not always obvious at first. This happened to me lately. I’d had a long day doing ‘life chores’ (still unfinished) and sat down to play around 14hrs after I originally awoke that day. I was already 1hr behind my scheduled start-time so I skipped the warm up. As a consequence of being tired, agitated and unprepared my session quickly spiralled. My ‘tilt glass’ was already half full, but I was oblivious to this until a few things didn’t go my way and I began to make sub-optimal plays.

Pinpoint Preparation

So now we know the pit falls of not preparing, how should we properly prepare for a poker session? A good place to start is determining where your poker mind-set is currently at. Some players just put music on or watch a training video at sites like That’s not enough for me. My poker warm up correlates to my recent level of play and current mind-set. No one always plays A-game and if you are an aspiring small stakes player like me, you’ll likely have many fluctuations in your level of play too. That’s A-OK! We’re all learning and with learning come mistakes. This means variations in quality of our play. For this reason, I have two PC desktop folders, each containing several files with notes.

*The notes to follow are purposely vague as everyone has their own skill set to work with. It’s the process here that’s important.

‘A-game warm-up’ folder: For a recent B+level of play e.g. I’m generally playing what I consider to be well.

Contains detailed notes for:

  • Goals – short term and long term
  • ‘A game’ improvements – i.e. what I’m working on -new lines, better lines, improving stat use etc.
  • Leak busting current flaws – i.e. what I’m trying to rid – avoiding tough spots, opening too wide, being unbalanced etc.

By having an overall target with goals and working at both ends of my game simultaneously, I ensure my relative best is getting better and also my worst is getting better. So to put it in perspective, my A-game of a year ago is now my current B-game, my old B-game is now my C-game and my C-game of a year ago is now non-existent! By always striving to improve I never get complacent and reduce my chances of being left behind like so many players have. Also by eradicating my leaks, mental energy is freed up, making learning new stuff easier.

‘B-game warm-up’ folder: For a recent B- level of play e.g. I’m downswinging and/or making known or old mistakes.

Contains more detailed notes for:

  • Accountability – Checking hands other than ‘All-in EV’ for errors
  • Motivation – inspirational quotes/people, financial incentives, previous accomplishments
  • Mental reminders – fish having to win, not acting with emotion, keeping confidence stable etc.
  • Getting back to basics – stats, ranges, slowing down etc. as we discussed last time
  • Reality check: poker– variance, standard deviation, my previous good runs
  • Reality check: life – good family health, friends, freedom, opportunity
  • Reality check: the real world – natural disasters, disease, the poor

Those last few may seem pitiful but it’s just so easy to get wrapped up in our little poker world that for me, a reminder, especially pictures of the ‘real’ (more important) world around me is often the catalyst to getting my head back on straight.

You may have noticed I don’t work on the upper end of my game when working within this warm-up folder. I have found when I’m off my game, it is not the time to work on my A-game. Just avoiding losing more money and eradicating those costly financial/mental leaks is more important.

I would also use this folder after a long week break when my mind is ‘not at the races’. By tailoring your warm up to your mental state you can ensure a better all-round session.

It takes around 5 mins to do an A-game warm-up and up to 20 mins for a B-game warm-up. That’s because the B-game requires more work, but it’s all good, I’d rather put in smart hours than just mindless hours.


Up next… Player Profiling

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