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Clearer Thinking in Poker

Using my Sport Psychology Masters to coach poker
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/Apr/2014

How to Up Your Volume - While Improving Motivation

By: casy151 @ 10:32 (EDT) / 1381 / Comment ( 8 )

Staying on pace to hit long-term volume goals need not be a painful slog. I propose one adjustment that will revolutionise your approach. To do so, let me introduce you to Holly…

 

Volume. Turnover. Grinding. Call it what you like; the reality remains the same. The more Holly plays, the more she earns. Simple, right?

Indeed it is – at least in principle. However, the theory is all well and good, but it doesn’t necessary feel straightforward when Holly’s chips are being pushed towards her opponents for hours on end. It is thoroughly dis-spiriting.

She approached me looking for some advice as she knuckled down for her first year as a professional grinder. Reaching 2x Supernova was her goal– an ambitious, but certainly achievable, target for somebody who grinds the low-mid stakes SNGs.

However, she was being held back by an inability to pace herself.

Drifting Focus

In her determination to get ahead in her Supernova charge, Holly would play until her energy levels were at zero every session. Then when it came to firing up her next session, her motivation would be down, and her focus would drift off after an inordinately short amount of time.

Sometimes, the mere thought of loading up the Pokerstars client would fill her stomach with that awful sinking feeling.

The result? A disillusioned grinder. An all-or-nothing outlook. A tilty disposition. An unprofessional approach. Boom or bust. Repeat.

How could Holly re-model her grinding schedule, so that she would start every day feeling fresh and motivated?

The New Approach – via Murakami and Hemingway

My advice to Holly was straightforward: in order to reach her goal, she needed to take a leaf out of the book of two literary greats.

Haruki Murakami’s outstanding meditation on running and life What I Talk About When I Talk About Running offers a fascinating insight into his writing method. This is something that he nabbed from an unknown scribbler who went by the name Ernest Hemingway. No, I’d never heard of him either.

‘I stop everyday right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly’ (p.5).

For Murakami and Hemingway, a long-term project like writing a novel required a steady pace and perpetual motivation. They did not want their brain to associate their craft with suffering.

Writing until they fell asleep at the desk was a sure-fire way to decrease motivation for the next day. Indeed, it would feel like a mission just to pick up the pen, after such a draining session. So they would quit, right when it felt like they had a little left in them.

Sound Familiar?

The Murakami method translates to poker beautifully. Ending each session on a high, with a bit of fuel left in the tank, keeps motivation up and dodges that nasty hidden danger ego depletion (the topic of an upcoming blog).

So the first step that I recommend when it comes to hitting long-term poker goals is to actively ignore the popular myth that you should ‘grind until you can grind no more’.

The reality is that playing until you flat-out can’t take any more is likely to hinder your progress. If you are mentally and physically exhausted, then sustaining your motivation across time will become incredibly difficult. In short: the likelihood of burn-out is massively increased.

Nailing Down a Plan

When I asked Holly how many games she could manage in a day, nailing down a plan became easy. She replied ‘225 at the absolute most’. So we knocked about 10% off, settling on 205 per day (which would get her to Supernova x2 comfortably, playing 5 days per week).

This would ensure that she finished every day happy with her volume, but feeling that she was capable of more. That final, painful, stretch from game 206-225 was simply chopped off.

The result? Holly became eager to log in the following day. Poker was no longer something that she associated with exhaustion; every day, she would end her session with something left in the tank and a desire to hit the tables again to keep her Supernova hunt on track.

Here’s the Best Bit

Best of all, her results improved too! No longer were the final 20 games a race to the finish, in order to tick another day off the list. Instead, Holly found herself playing a sharper, more focused A-game for longer.

The Problem with Volume

I sometimes fear that the volume-centric poker outlook is counter-productive. Some coaches and players would have you believe that stopping short of maximum volume every single day is absolutely scandalous. I disagree, and here’s why:

It is terrible to play 500 games daily for a month or two, and then to burn out and start tilting (or even quit!).

On the other hand, the slow-and-steady method has four clear advantages:

a) A more measured pace is less likely to make your brain associate poker with exhaustion, meaning that those I-just-can’t-face-it days are kept at bay,

b) Focus is stronger, and A-game is maintained,

c) Rather than focusing on just…getting…through…..this….never-……ending…….session, which is an extremely short-termist outlook, this approach keeps the grinder focused on the long-term goal of playing the same volume daily. Once the habit is formed, it is easier to adhere to,

d) Motivation is sustained when goals are met. For Holly, playing 205 games every day is a lot more achievable than playing 225 games most days. Therefore, she hits her target more frequently, perpetuating the feel-good and motivation.

Every day is a small victory, as she repeatedly hits her volume goal.

These small adjustments can be the difference between success and failure over the long-term. They have certainly helped Holly develop a strong grinding routine.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me your grinding routine, and perhaps I’ll be able to help you optimise it. And if you think that this article could help people to reach their long-term poker goals, give it a share on Twitter or Facebook and spread the word!

Christy ‘casy151’ Keenan is a successful poker coach from Scotland. He has a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology, and has coached over 50 students in the art of making better decisions when under pressure.

From increasing volume to reducing tilt, Christy’s approach blends academia with traditional poker strategy.


Check him out at www.christykeenan.com or give him a shout on Twitter (casy151)

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