Increasing Mental Endurance

Many players expect it to be easy to increase their mental endurance. They see other players who can play 12 tables for six hours at a time without a problem, and think they should be able to as well. What they don’t realize is that if they currently can only play six tables for three hours, they’re expecting a 200% increase in their capacity to happen automatically. This is no different from trying to run fifteen miles when they are normally able to run only five. They may be successful in running 200% more on one occasion, but can they do it repeatedly? With each consecutive day, their bodies get a little weaker; and without proper rest, the risk of serious injury increases dramatically.

Grinding a lot of poker is similar to running long distances day after day: You need to increase your mental endurance in order to consistently grind that extra distance. Steadily add tables and time while maintaining quality decision making just as you would increase weight and duration while maintaining proper form in a physical workout. Here are a few ideas for how to effectively increase mental endurance:

  • Make a realistic assessment. This step is extremely important. Spend some time looking through your poker database or thinking about the amount of volume you’ve put in over the past six to twelve months. Specifically, determine how many tables you play on average and how long you can play that number of tables while maintaining at least your B-game. If you’ve been dealing with tilt or other mental game problems, you must account for them in your calculation. When you increase volume, you’re increasing the frequency of triggers that can induce mental game problems. This makes you susceptible to having these problems accumulate, carry over to future sessions, and become even more problematic. Underestimating the impact of increased mental game triggers is a major reason that players fail to consistently grind more poker.
  • Increase steadily. Trying to immediately increase your mental endurance by 100% is clearly a mistake, so what is a percentage that makes sense? It’s hard to say exactly, but a reasonable increase is much closer to 10% than 100%. Working from the average number of tables and hours you’re capable of playing, make a plan to gradually increase that number. If you can play four tables, adding a fifth is a 25% increase. That large increase may mean you need to decrease the amount of time that you play, or play lower stakes, until playing the fifth table becomes as comfortable as playing four. Going this slowly may seem ridiculous, but if you push too hard, you can burn out and inevitably slow down or jeopardize the overall process.

• Sample workouts. Create a schedule that plans out your attempt to increase your mental endurance. Here are a couple of sample workouts:

(These numbers are based on a player who is currently averaging two-hour sessions on six tables.)

Light Workout

Day 1: Increase by 15 minutes
Day 2: Increase by one table
Day 3: Increase by 15 minutes
Day 4: Increase by one table
Day 5: Increase by 15 minutes and one table Day 6: Increase by 30 minutes or two tables Day 7: Day off

Heavy Workout

Day 1: Increase by 30 minutes
Day 2: Increase by two tables and decrease by 15 minutes Day 3: Increase by 45 minutes or two tables
Day 4: Day off or a small session that’s 50% less than average

Day 5: Increase by 15 minutes and one table

Day 6: Increase by 30 minutes and one table or 15 minutes and two tables

Day 7: Day off

• Push yourself. The hardest part of increasing the distance of a run is the part beyond what currently feels easy to you. Playing an extra table for a longer period of time puts added strain on your mind. You have to fight for every inch of progress. If you only do what comes easily, you won’t be increasing your endurance. You need to continually push yourself past the point where you are comfortable, and then follow it up with rest so your mind can recover well enough to push again.

• Track your progress. After each session, keep track of how long you played, the intensity of the session overall, and the volume you were able to add while pushing yourself. Note any improvements—was it easier to push longer, did you play better than normal, etc. Also, keep track of any factors that influence the relative difficulty of a session, such as sleep, the severity of good and bad variance, or exercise. That way you can get a more accurate reading of your progress.

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