There is a shocking level of distractibility among both online and live players. With the Internet constantly at their fingertips, online players routinely engage in social media, watch movies, and randomly surf the web while multi-tabling. Live players are just as bad. They tweet, text, watch sports on TV, listen to music, and even play online poker while playing live. This multitasking trend isn’t just a problem in poker. Every single day we are confronted with a constant stream of media, email, text messages, and phone calls that assault our ability to focus. Research is helping people wake up to how harmful this can be by proving the damaging effects of distractibility. One study found that automobile drivers distracted by text messages and phone calls showed greater impairment than drunk drivers.4 What’s more troubling is that people often don’t believe such distractions have any effect on them.
Many poker players have yet to realize just how damaging constant divided attention is to their game. Here’s a quick way to show you what happens when the mind attempts to do two things simultaneously. While reading the next several lines, focus on the sensation of your legs against your chair or the feeling of your feet on the ground. Force yourself to feel that sensation and also be paying close attention to what you’re reading. See if you can notice the shift that your mind makes between reading and sensing your legs. Do you notice how each time your attention switches, you lose information from the other point of focus? Your eyes may be continuing to scan the page, but you’re no longer picking up every word and you may even have to reread it. Every time you try to focus only on read- ing, you lose awareness of the sensation in your legs. Now, imagine this happening at the poker table. Every time you start to focus on something outside of poker, you lose information about the game and start picking it up from whatever is dividing your attention. By focusing on Facebook, a text message, or a movie, you’re gathering data that is completely irrel- evant to your poker decisions, and you’re also failing to pick up relevant poker data. This means your working memory is saturated with irrelevant data and lacking poker data. As a result, your decisions are worse, and you are prevented from gathering knowledge and data that could be utilized in future hands.
Now that you understand the problems associated with distraction, you can begin taking the necessary actions to limit their frequency and inten- sity. Within your mental game journal, take the following steps:
- List all of the distractions that you typically face when playing live or online. Here are some of the most common: • Previous mistakes that you can’t stop thinking about • The Internet, phone calls, and social media
• Negative thoughts
• The cashier or your stack size • Personal issues outside of poker • Thoughts of the past and future
- Rank the intensity of your distractions: Are they small, nagging feelings or do they feel overwhelming?
- Determine when they tend to arise: Are they more present at the beginning, middle, or end of a session?
- Identify the triggers: Are they more likely to surface after winning several hands, after your opponent plays in a way that confuses you, when you become tired, or when you’re bored?
- Track their frequency: Are they constant, intermittent, or pretty rare?
- Come up with solutions: Use the mental hand history to resolve the conflicting goals or interests that are at the root of the distractions.
In the short term, you can use injecting logic, goals, or inspiration to sup- press these distractions. Keep in mind that blocking out a distraction in this way requires mental energy. If you think of focus like a pie chart, 60% of your focus might be on poker, while 40% is aimed at Twitter. By block- ing out the distraction, you can change this ratio to 75% on poker, 10% on Twitter, and 15% on injecting logic, goals, or inspiration. However, even if this technique is successful and you’re able to minimize the distraction and refocus, the urge to engage in the distraction will often continue.
It may build until the urge is so strong that you just have to give in to it. This is why a solution like injecting logic is only short-term: It doesn’t truly address the root of the problem. To effectively eliminate it and minimize distractions over the long term, you’ll need to address whatever is feed- ing them.
Keep in mind that distractions expose your hidden motives. For example, when you’re checking Facebook and playing poker, you are genuinely interested in doing both things. To truly decrease the urge to be on Facebook when you should be focused only on playing poker, you need to uncover the reason why you have an incessant need to check it. Once you get to the root issue, you can address it appropriately and minimize its ability to become a distraction. So if you discover that Facebook alleviates some of the isolation you feel as an online player, take steps to integrate planned time for socializing into your daily routine. That way, you’ll diminish the urge to socialize when you really should be playing. It is possible, however, that small doses of connectivity while playing actually help to keep your energy and motivation levels high. You can then make the conscious decision to sacrifice a little focus in order to maintain a high level of play.
Boredom typically sets in when you stop feeling challenged and there is nothing new or interesting to learn. Like a computer that hasn’t been used recently, your mind is left idling just waiting to be activated. Players often feel bored when they’re card dead, waiting for action online, playing less tables than usual, or playing against competition that they could beat with just their C-game. As the flow channel showed back in Chapter 2, boredom is the result of a perceived lack of challenge. When just showing up is enough to have an edge, it’s easy to slip into your B- or C-game.
It makes sense that poker could start to feel like a monotonous grind— you’re dealt the same hands all the time. By now, you’ve been dealt AK suited enough to consider it standard and potentially boring. However, the players who remain passionate and motivated about seeing the nuances and unique details of how to play each hand are never bored. They see physical tells, timing tells, metagame, combinatorics, balancing ranges, G-bucks, prior action, table image, and many other small details that most players don’t consider. The dynamics in poker are varied and constantly changing, so while the same hand can be dealt over and over, each hand will play out in a unique way. There are always new areas in which to develop an edge; the game is always evolving and there is always more to learn.
An easy way to stave off boredom is to make sure there’s always some- thing you’re interested in learning. Are there parts of the game that you’ve wanted to work on, but you just keep putting it off? Focusing on these areas could boost your interest. What are some ways you can stay challenged against weak opponents? Create a game within the game, such as seeing how quickly and accurately you can assess their game. What information would be useful to gather while you’re card dead? Assume you’re going to find something about another player that will help you exploit them in future hands and your challenge is to find it. If you have trouble finding enough interesting things to learn or focus on, revising your goals may do the trick.
The typical online player is technically superior to the typical live player. The sheer number of hands that can be played on the Internet allows online players to accumulate a lifetime of experience in just a year. However, online players tend to underestimate the skills of their live counterparts, as well as greatly overestimate how much their online skills
translate to live poker. Though many elite online players have a solid live game, I have still seen plenty of highly successful online players who look comparatively weak when they play live. They have a hard time adapting to the table and they sometimes miss a lot of the action.
Online players sometimes treat a live game as though they’re play- ing one table online. They have this huge surplus of focus, so to them it makes no sense why they can’t tweet, play games on their iPad, read a book, or even play poker on a mobile app. They don’t realize how much of the action they miss because they are distracted, nor do they realize that there are some nuances of the live game that they are miss- ing completely. (They are Unconsciously Incompetent about some of the finer details of live play.) The obvious detail would be physical tells, but it goes much deeper than that. For example, when playing live, you can tell a player’s level of experience by how they handle their chips, get an insight into their psyche by listening to their conversations, and even see how much of the action they miss when distracted by their smart phones. Even if your online C-game is good enough to beat the live game, don’t forget that there may be other good online players at your table. If for no other reason, gaining an edge on these players might be enough to justify digging deep and working hard to avoid boredom.