During any poker session, most of our profit and loss comes from our decisions to fold, check, call, bet, or raise. This blog post is going to deal with the other decisions that impact how much money we make. I started writing all this down just for myself, as a reminder to my future self, but it seemed like a nice thing to share. Some of them are kind of specifically just for me and will apply less to some people, but I think in general they might be helpful. If anyone wants to add anything to the list, please leave it in the comments.
Sleep is the most crucial thing for me.
Sleep contributes so many important things to a playing session
-Alertness (not auto piloting)
-ability to think critically in short amounts of times
-mood/tiltiness or proneness to tilt
I've gone through periods where I tried to wake up to an alarm or limit my sleep in some way so that I wasnt sleeping 9-10 hours. I think that has definitely negatively affected my poker playing for that day. I generally play much better when I just allow myself to sleep in as long as I want. Obviously if you are getting to the point where you sleep 12+hours a day, something is probably wrong. But I dont worry so much about the days where I go to bed at 2am and sleep until noon. I try to just let my body regulate its sleep schedule as it sees fit with no interference from my conscious mind.
If I don't feel rested when I wake up, then I either shouldn't play that day, or try to take a nap(s) until I do feel rested. Otherwise, I try to take advantage of my time by doing other productive activities that day that don't involve me risking thousands of dollars on a day when I don't feel alert. I might use my time to do extra analysis on my poker game, get an extra workout in during the day (this might help you sleep better the next night), read a book I've been meaning to get to, do errands that I normally do another day, etc. You can usually make good use of a day off.
addendum to sleep:
If you can recognize before you load up tables that you have been having a shitty day or are in a shitty mood, for whatever reason it may be, don't play until that legitimately changes. Sometimes for me, I can be in a shitty mood for almost no reason, although I think it correlates highly to not getting enough sleep, another reason to get more sleep.
Iíve found that playing on both an empty stomach that wants to eat, or a stomach that just overstuffed itself are both suboptimal for my playing sessions. The best situation is to make sure to eat meals that are not too large, and have just a bit of spacing in between when you finish eating and when you start playing your session. Obviously meals stuffed with fruits, veges, lean meats, whole grains are great for you. I am aware of some studies that say that eating sugar is also good for you in terms of allowing your brain to work at a higher level during intense decision making, but personally, I view sugar as basically poison to my body and limit it at all costs (nobody is perfect obviously though). I also remember watching mynameisgreg's fitness video way back when and he mentioned that drinking water during sessions is important because it has positive effects on your ability to think well. I always try to keep some water at my desk during the day. Only downside is you might have to pee during the middle of a session which sucks whether you decide to hold it or get up and go to the bathroom (Sorry I cant imagine pissing in a bottle at my desk, although I do admire the dedication)
Ive tried sticking to a preset schedule for both my day and for my play. For whatever reason I just absolutely detest it. About the most scheduling I can put up with is a schedule for coaching, which may require 2 or 3 1-2 hour blocks set during the week. Iíve found that for me its best to keep my daily schedule completely flexible to allow me to engage in activities at the optimal time. If I don't really feel like playing poker after I worked out, then I do something else. During the times that I do feel like playing poker, I try to maximize my use of that time. Attitude and mental outlook when I start a session is very important to how well I play and concentrate during my session, so I cant have the feeling that I am forcing myself to play when I don't actually want to. (same could apply to any other activity really)
Time of Day:
If I plan on being awake 15-17 hours each day, Iíve found that playing poker during the first 3-4 hours or the last 3-4 hours of the day isnt optimal for me. During both these periods of the day I think my brain isnt working quite as fast as I would like. I think trying to use these times to do things like analyzing your game or game situations (probably better in the morning to get your brain warmed up), working on other activites (for me this would be stuff like reading economic blogs, or reading up on value investing), or relaxing/leisure/working out. I find when I play mostly during the middle part of my day I do a lot better. That will shorten my time period for playing considerably, but I think it works out ok. If I take advantage of the early morning to do stuff like analyzing my game and/or working out, assuming I got a good nights sleep, that usually motivates me to start playing, either because I want to put something to use that I just learned or because I was dreading another minute doing ev calcs!
Hours per day:
For me, I find that its important to hit a sweet spot for hours I play per day, and I would say this is 3-5 hours for me. If I play less than 3 hours, I feel unproductive on the day. I also think playing atleast 3 hours keeps your poker mind/decisions sharp, where as if you have a few days in a row where you play 0-2 hours, my decisions usually start getting a bit more sloppy. On the other hand, I also find that playing more than about 5 hours in a day usually causes me to play less or worse the next day. I find that after about 5 hours my brain starts to feel fried a bit the next day causing me to either sit out from playing, or not play as well. Obviously, playing your 6th or 7th hour may be +EV, but is it +EV to do it day after day? For me I have decided that it is not. Continual overload of my brain day after day eventually leads to me playing poorly. Finding the sweet spot is really important for me.
For me I also want to find a sweet spot with my session length. I don't want my sessions to be so short that I really hurt my hands per hour- because unless I am playing zoom, it takes me 5-15 minutes to get up to my peak hands/hr. At the same time, playing for too long at one time without a break (and food break) clearly causes me to play worse. I definitely play better when I stop playing for at least 15 minutes and drink water and eat a light snack. I think I generally don't want to play sessions that are shorter than 90 minutes, but don't want to play longer than about 2.5 hours either at a time. This would imply generally 2 sessions per day, although I could do 3 if they were all ~90 minutes long.
For me, I consider myself a reg in the HU NL, HU PLO, 6max NL, and 6max PLO games, meaning I expect to be able to earn a similar hourly playing all of these games. I even can play some HULHE if I game select a bit. However, when I try to sit at all of these games at once, game selecting for the best games, I always end up doing pretty poorly. The diversity of decisions that arise due to all the different game types is too taxing on my brain and causes me to play sub optimally, to the point where any added game selection is rendered null, and then some. I also get less hands per hour due to having to focus on very different decisions. Ive found that at most, I can concentrate on two related games at once. For example, HUNL+6max NL, or HU PLO+HU NL, etc. Anything more than that and I'm toast. And even at that, I think during the times where I am maybe not feeling 100% mentally sharp (even though I may think I am), I would be better off focusing on one game type. Therefore, I stick to one game type. The main problem that arises here is if I don't have enough action (typically occurs only for HU, and mainly just for HU NL). If this happens, then what I do is just switch to a different game type where I do expect to get consistent action.
Number of Tables or Hands/Hour
Since I play so many different game types this will vary, and there are some in game situations that will make huge differences. If I am playing HUNL or HUPLO vs someone who folds 60% of their big blinds, then I will be able to play more tables (and consequently a lot more hands/hr since they dont see flops often), then if I am playing someone who only folds 30% of their big blinds. It actually can make a pretty large difference. Suffice to say though, that I feel for HUNL and HUPLO I can handle 3 opponents or less at one time, at a total of 4 tables or less. For 6max usually something in the range of 4-7/8 tables depending on how shorthanded they are (all my 6max tables originate from me starting them 2 or 3 handed). I think being honest with yourself about when your play begins to signficantly drop off is important. Another factor might be how the amount of tables you plays impacts how mentally exhausted you are after the session, especially if its your first session of the day. For example, if I start off with a HUPLO session, I very well might be able to play 4 different opponents on 4 tables, but after 90 minutes or so of that I will probably be extremely mentally fatigued and that will usually carry over to my next session of that day in a negative way. Its not really ever worth it to me to push the amount of hands per hour I get to the point where my brain is basically overloaded the entire session, even if I can keep up with the action adequately.
I basically never move down in stakes when I should during a downswing. I really think that once you lose X amount of buyins or money at your normal stakes, it just makes so much sense to move down in stakes immediately (temporarily). Firstly, while most winning poker players including myself pretty much always assume our downswing is a result of mostly bad luck, I would say that we generally underestimate the likelihood that we are also playing worse than we have over the aggregate of our hands played. The fact that you just lost say, 20 buy ins does support this statement if we are using Bayesian inference. We also may obviously have started the downswing playing well, but now as a result of self doubt and other emotions we generally cant control, now be playing much worse. I would say one of the most important things when you have lost X number of buy ins is to book an actual winning session. I am not talking about playing for 20 minutes, winning 2 buy ins and quitting. I mean, playing a normal session, winning 3,4,5,10 buy ins and quitting like you normally would after a couple hours or so. If you normally play 2/4 NL, then you are much more likely to accomplish this on any given day (downswing or not) if you play 100nl and 200nl instead. More fish, worse regs, bigger edge. I haven't really come up with a way to decide when to move back up to your normal stakes for myself, I guess I would mostly just go off of feel. Moving down is easier said than done, especially if you have an emotional attachment to the money you lose and obviously realize if you move down, thatís that many more hands you must play to get that money back. We all know this is not a good way of viewing the situation, but it happens regardless. For me, I try to remind myself that regardless of if I am playing bad or good at my normal stakes, my win rate is likely 1.1x, 1.2x, 1.5x, etc as high at the next lower stake down, and the EV I am giving up is not as great as it feels like even though my buy in is 50% or 25% of what it usually is. I think the confidence boost from moving down will generally result in a shorter duration of time for your downswing, which should increase the amount of money you make long term.