In this extract from his new book How To Be A Poker Player: The Philosophy of Poker high-stakes pro Haseeb Qureshi explains the everyday steps you must take to be a serious poker player
Nobody teaches us how to be poker players. Poker culture teaches us how to slowplay, how to set mine, how to manage our bankroll. It teaches how to think, how to talk, what is cool and what is not. We absorb these teachings eagerly. But when is it going to teach us how to be poker players?
If you know the lives of many professional poker players, you know this is a question that sorely needs answering. Professional poker is a strange and isolating life. Nothing you have ever done before will prepare you for it. This is my attempt to rectify that, and recount everything that I think every poker player ought to live by – and what I wish I had heard when I began playing poker.
Structuring your poker lifestyle
Freedom is a double-edged sword. Your freedom as a poker player means you can live almost any way you want. This often leads us to unhealthy habits. To counter this, structure is extremely important. As adept as you may think you are at playing poker at any time of day, structure and regularity are highly beneficial to learning and health.
Set a daily schedule for yourself
Decide when you’re going to play poker, and for how long. I recommend not playing any sessions for longer than three hours, and taking a short break every 90 minutes. Studies show that there is a drop in performance and mental acuity around the 90 minute mark; taking a break will make you much sharper throughout the entirety of your session.
Always play at the same time every day
Plan these times out in advance. If it is difficult for you to keep to these times, try setting timers. Try not to play outside of these times, especially in serious games. Train your brain to think, ‘this is when I play poker. Only at these times.’ If you don’t do this, and break your structure, you will be more susceptible to tilt and bad decision making.
Always review sessions
Go over hands in detail. Remind yourself what you did wrong and how to change it. Don’t review your session immediately after you finish it, though – your memory is still too fresh, and you’ll be biased towards thinking that your reads were correct.
Poker drains us. It muddies out sleep, health and diet. Many poker players have trouble balancing their lives; some never do. The bedrock of your constitution comes from diet and nutrition. Learning healthy habits is perhaps the most valuable thing you can do to immediately improve your health.
Stop eating processed foods
Try to throw them out completely. Cut out as much sugar as you can. Ideally, limit your diet to fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat and unrefined grains.
Cut out fizzy drinks
They are essentially liquid candy and energy drinks are especially sugary. Drink as little alcohol as possible (and always lock yourself out of your poker accounts when you plan to drink).
You don’t have to do all of this at once
If your diet is in an especially bad place, then take just a few of these and implement them in your life. Remember your environment will always be more powerful than your self-will.
The art of quitting
A great player once told me that quitting is the most important skill in poker. The more I came to understand the poker life, the more I realised how right he was. Almost all poker players quit too little when they’re down and too much when they’re up.
It is imperative that you treat quitting as a skill, and practice it mindfully. Don’t ever be afraid to quit when you’re down.
It is fine to quit fish sometimes
Some of the players I respect most have been known to quit fish. After all, 10% of the time, the people who you think are fish are not fish at all. And 1% of the time, even if they are fish, their strategies may be exploiting you.
Only play when you’re having fun
It doesn’t matter if he’s a fish, doesn’t matter if you’re supposed to play a session today, or if you think you have to keep playing this guy – if you’re not having fun, quit. Never mentally penalise yourself for a good quit. Poker should be fun! It’s a game that is ‘played’. If we enjoy playing it makes us perform better.
This is part 1 of an extract from How To Be A Poker Player: The Philosophy of Poker by high-stakes pro Haseeb Qureshi. Check back tomorrow for part 2.
For more information and to buy a copy of the book go to: www.haseebq.com.