In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they aren’t.Yogi Berra
poker mind 1
Many top players can solve a single hand perfectly in a vacuum with a clear state of mind, but it’s amazing how often with multiple tables demanding multiple actions, and after hours of pressure situations taking a toll mentally on a player, their decision process starts to waiver and become sub-optimal.

However these are just a couple of the more obvious causes to be aware of. You need to be able to spot when fatigue, frustration and even environmental or life-style factors are effecting your decisions. More commonly, frustration from play when things aren’t going your way can lead to subtle tilt which can have a serious long-term effect on results. It’s possible to not even be aware of the underlying frustration the game is causing and the impact it’s having, which is why taking days off, just like any profession, is important. It often isn’t until you return from a break that you realize the state of mind your were in.

Of course to be able to understand the causes and effects on your game the environment, your lifestyle, and game itself is causing you, you first need to be clear about what you A-game is. It’s important to have built up a significant sample of hours at the table and have measures in place to assess your play. Online, tracking software like PokerTracker or HoldemManager makes it easy to see a snap shot of your results over hundreds of thousands of hands or thousands of tournaments. Although your game should be constantly evolving and improving, this system allows you to see your results and usually by monitoring your ROI (return on investment) or bb/100 (big blinds per 100 hands) for tournaments and cash games respectively, you can get a feel for the level of player you currently are and the results you can expect. Having a realistic expectation level can help alleviate stress from playing. Players frequently have unrealistic expectations which can often be the cause of some frustration effecting game play.

However understanding your A-game reaches beyond just recognizing your poker ability, as there could be times when you didn’t play your best and won, or played great, and lost, such is the nature of the game. Poker-mind specialist Tommy Angelo says “your A-game is when you play your best and feel your best at the same time. You can move in and out of your A-game many times in a session. The idea is not to.”


“This bell curve shows the natural range that exists in your game and the game of every poker player on the planet—even shortstackers (although theirs is the narrowest). “

If you were to score your decisions out of 10, according to Poker Psychologist Jared Tendler it would show results as a bell curve in his poker book “The mental game of poker” as we see here.

The bell curve shows the natural range that exists in a poker players game. If you can reduce the times you slip into playing a c-game, you have a better chance of playing your A-game more frequently.

So How Can We Maintain an A-Game?

Once you know what your A-game is, a method you an use to identify the causes pushing you off your a-game is to jot down some notes on possible causes. These could be instantly recognizable or later identified aspects, but it’s important to try to find and address the issues. Here’s some examples.


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The Mental Game of Poker

  • Playing too many tables
  • Fatigue / tiredness
  • Playing higher stakes than normal
  • Arguments / emotional stress
  • Playing at a time when your body is usually asleep
  • Medication effects
  • Lack of food / diet effects
  • Poor lifestyle (lack of exercise or even things like lack of sunshine in long winter countries)

As you can see the list encapsulates a range of aspects. Collect notes and think about the sessions you felt you were playing your best, compared to when you felt you weren’t playing well. As human beings, we’re all different and there’s no easy fix, but using this type of cross-examination can be a step in the right direction and can help identify possible causes for sub-optimal decision making.

For further assistance staying on your A-game, and to maintain an optimal poker mindset, poker mindset coach Elliot Roe is highly recommended. You can pick-up one of his specialized MP3s here poker-hypnosis.

Stay tuned in to your mindset and body, stay healthy and making clear decisions, and play your A-game more often.