Pay Attention!

daydreamMy online poker career was burdened from the start by a psychological flaw that I’ve carried with me since childhood—my horrible attention span. Blame it on my wild imagination that’s always dreaming of fishing the deep blue waters of the Gulf Stream or backpacking Alaska’s pristine wilderness; or accredit it to an undiagnosed case of OCD or ADD that prohibits my ability to stay focused over a long period of time. But the fact of the matter is, when I get bored my mind wanders, and I get bored easily.

As you probably guessed, a poor attention span is not a positive character trait to have at the online poker tables. When I first started out I played mainly in large online tournaments with low buy-ins. I didn’t have much of a bankroll and I was lured in by the prospect of taking home a nice sum of cash for a relatively small investment. One thing these types of tournaments had in common, aside from the large number of players entered, was they all took an extremely long time to complete—often four hours or longer. So in order to have success I had to stay focused for more than just a few minutes at a time. Needless to say, I did not fare too well.

The main problem wasn’t necessarily my inability to pay attention; it was my lack of patience when I was dealt a poor stretch of cards. After a while I would get bored clicking the “Fold” button time and again and would play hole cards I had no business playing, simply because I needed some action. It didn’t take long before I squandered my chips away missing flops and chasing ghosts down the river. I knew I had to be more selective with my decisions if I wanted to succeed, and I knew I had to find a way to be more patient at the tables.

My solution—surf the web and watch TV to stay entertained between hands. What a horrendous idea! Now I was playing cards I should be playing, but playing them poorly as I had absolutely no read on my opponents. While searching EBAY for electric swordfishing reels and center console boats I couldn’t afford, I completely lost touch with the game, thus putting my chips at a major disadvantage.

Eventually, I convinced myself that if I ever wanted to have success playing online poker I had to commit to playing for several hours at a time with complete focus on the game. It was a difficult task at first, until I found a small trick that did wonders—I actually started typing words in the blank “note” boxes provided at online poker sites such as PokerStars.

I found this accomplished two things. One, it kept my focus on the game. By taking notes on not only how my opponents were playing but also on my own game, my eyes never wandered from the monitor and my brain never went on vacation to Cay Sal.

The second thing it did was allow me to keep track of how my opponents played in various situations. This wasn’t a huge advantage as players are constantly rotated in and out during large tournaments, but there were times when I played my cards differently simply because I had a read on my opponent. And when I finally did reach a final table and had to battle it out with the same opponents all the way to the end, the little white boxes paid huge dividends and I finally won my first online poker tournament.

Now, the moral of this article is quite simple, stay focused. But that’s easier said than done, especially when your dog starts barking or your buddy calls and needs a ride home from work.  Yet to succeed at online poker you must commit yourself to the game and eliminate all distractions. Reserve a set amount of time to play online poker each week and make certain that time is for you and only you. Keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t surf the web or watch television while playing. Instead, study your opponents, watch how they play and learn from their strategies. It will make you a better poker player. Watching South Park reruns, as entertaining as they may be, will not.