After showing you how to prepare for the WSOP and then manage your emotions, my final tip for those of you taking a big shot at a live event like the WSOP sadly wont be relevant for most of the people playing, because it is about how to manage getting deep into the tournament. However, it is precisely because it happens rarely that you need to do prep work now, because otherwise you will be ill prepared the times that you do.
The biggest problem poker players face when they get deep into the tournament is managing themselves away from it. Poker is so mentally taxing, especially when you are playing for 12 hours or more a day, that it often requires effort to be able to switch off. How you rest is just as important as how you perform when it comes to playing for many long days in a row.
During the Breaks
I think poker players actually do what I would recommend them to do and that’s to talk about hands, to vent. It’s a good thing because it helps your mind to process what’s going on – sometimes you can get tired because of what I call “bloated brain”, the mental equivalent of eating too much food. You’re not tired physically, but you’ve stuffed your brain with too much information and it weighs you down.
Talking about hands, getting things out of your head, “digesting”, is good but you need a buffer of about five minutes – a window to relax. I would try and find a balance where you start by getting the hands out of your head by venting for the first 10 minutes of a 20 minute break, before going for a 10 minute walk or something else that will clear your head. You want to come back from the break refreshed. If you spend every 20 minute break continuing to think about poker, you’re going to burnout faster.
Ending the Day
Most poker players do not have a “cool down” process, but they should. Not only does a good cool down prepare you tactically for the next time you play, it is also a good way of putting poker to bed for the day. When it comes to the WSOP, I would keep your cool down simple, and something which allows you to vent and make sure you don’t make errors the next day.
Start by journaling for five minutes, on a piece of paper or on your phone/laptop. Simply write down anything that comes into your mind. My clients have found that the process of writing it down has the cathartic effect of taking it out of their head and putting it on paper. This technique has helped a lot of players sleep better that night, whereas previously they would have had thoughts swirling around keeping them up at night.
The second part of the cool down process I would advocate is tactical. As we have previously mentioned, we want to keep active learning to a minimum, so now is not the time to discover new poker information. Instead, make a note of the biggest mistakes you made, and why they were mistakes. This will keep those errors top of mind the next day, so you are less likely to make them again (especially if you reread this journal the next day).
Not only is poker so mentally exhausting, modern life does not help you relax. All those distractions like Twitter, Facebook and poker forums that you tell convince yourself are a form of relaxing, are actually the opposite. They keep your mind active when and absorbing new information when you really need to be decompressing and getting it clear. I’d actually advocate a complete digital detox during the WSOP, or at least ration your internet usage. For some of you that will be very hard, but at a minimum try and make your last few hours before bed internet and poker free.
Most importantly, try and get some solid sleep. The only thing I would advise against is going to bed immediately after poker. You need some time to decompress, otherwise you may have problems sleeping. Try and spend time doing something completely non-poker related, and fun “go for a meal, work out, have a beer, watch a movie” something that is as far away from poker as possible. Of course, if you’re playing poker until 2am that many not be practical.
I hope these tips have helped. I go into much more detail about how to decompress after poker, improve your focus and manage distractions in my book The Mental Game of Poker 2.