Treating Poker Like a Sport

The poker climate is getting tougher, there’s no doubt about it. Game selection is now essential if you want to maintain a stable winrate and knowing your push/ fold ranges from your PSR (pot to stack ratio) is a must. Whether you see poker as a sport or not, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that in order to succeed in today’s game you need to start treating it as though it is. Established sports such a football, golf and chess all have structures in place to nurture participants to become better players. Poker, however, lacks such a system.

mental game of poker by jared tendler

Check out Jared’s book, The Mental Game of Poker

Indeed, this made the game hugely profitable back in 2005, but now, as the game’s becoming more competitive it’s beginning to mirror other sports. Essentially poker is still in its infancy as a sport and while it makes it harder to see the right path, it does mean those who are willing to innovate can pioneer new training methods for success.
In this article I’m going to outline the steps you need to take in order to build a strong mental game routine and become more competitive in the modern game.

1 – Mechanics and Techniques

In every sport there is technique. A golfer has a swing that needs to be honed, a tennis player has a technique for hitting a tennis shot and a soccer player has a technique for striking a ball. However, poker players don’t often think about the mechanics of making a decision, moreover, they don’t consider the decision making process as being a technique in and of itself. Essentially you have to look beyond specifics of what you’re thinking about, such as should I be 3-betting here or not? What you need to focus on is how you gathered the information and the logical decision making process you went through to come to the conclusion of whether to 3-bet or not.

A lot of players talk about making errors when they play. Sometimes they act too fast and forget to consider prior action, or they fail to consider how aggressive an opponent has been. Their failure in each scenario isn’t just that they acted too fast, it’s that the actual mechanics of how they made the decision have broken down. This breakdown may be caused by some mental issue, but the bottom line is that it exposes a weakness in the mechanics of their decision making process. However, this process can be trained and it can be trained in a similar way to how you train mechanics in other sports.

2 – Training and Practice
There is no defined version of a practice field in poker. The closest you could get to a training ground in poker is playing for play money, but this lacks the competitive element of the game and subsequently fails as an accurate simulation of poker. The best way to train yourself, if you’re an online player, is to play fewer tables. If you’re used to playing 10-12 tables then drop down to 2, or if you only play 2-3 tables then drop down to 1. In addition to this you should also drop down in limits. Not so low that the money becomes so insignificant that you don’t focus properly, but low enough that you can really make an effort to train one concept and focus on the mechanics of how you make decisions throughout the session.

During these sessions you have to make sure that every decision, even the ones that are standard and automatic, you think through thoroughly. By doing this you will be honing that skill. Once you’ve gone through this process a few times you can step your way up by playing closer to your normal limits. Then you can continue to increase the training until you’ve fixed any faults in your decision making process when you’re playing in your normal games.

*It’s important to note that these training sessions are only meant to be short. 20-30 minutes is usually all that’s required so you can really focus on improving one concept.*

3 – Warm-Up
When I first came into poker and talked about this concept, many people were dubious and thought it was almost farcical to consider warming-up before playing poker. However, many of the best players in the world are now starting to build some kind of structured routine into their games and this shows just how far the game has progressed in recent years. Indeed, that number is increasing and will continue to increase as the game becomes more and more competitive because of the advantage that a warm-up provides. This advantage is that it allows you time to prepare what you need to be focused on during your session. The major reason for needing this is that there are always weaknesses in your game, there are always things to repair and keep improving. Thus, if you’re not prepared to improve then it becomes random as to whether you will tackle these issues or not.

A warm-up also allows you to get ready to handle mental game issues such as tilt, meaning you become far less likely to have your game fall off track. This is because you’ve pulled things from the back of your mind, brought them to the forefront and become more ready to deal with them as they arise.

Basic Warm-up: Set goals for the cash game session or tournament and/ or review your long-term goals and how that day’s session fits into your overall plan. Then you can review tactical parts of your game that need to improve and any mental game issues to improve. You can then take some time to do some deep breathing and focus yourself before you finally sit down to play.

4 – Sleep, Diet and Exercise
Mental function is supported by physical health. You’re going to be in a better position to play at your best if you’re well rested, properly feed and getting regular exercises. Obviously in the sedentary world of poker, especially online poker, there are many of you who may have gone a long time without focusing on these things, and in the short run it can actually make things worse. But you need to go through this short-term disruption in order to get the long-term benefits because it’s been scientifically proven that exercise improves your energy level. This means that you’re going to have more energy to play at a higher level, play for longer and play more tables.

Taking these steps to improve your game will not only see you treating poker more like a competitive sport but help increase your profits. It’s an undeniable fact that poker is getting tougher and like every competitive endeavor this increase in talent isn’t going to stop. Creating a structured routine for yourself is by far one of the best ways you can improve your chances of survival both now and in the future.

Jared Tendler is the author of the groundbreaking book, The Mental Game of Poker, which is available in softcover, ebook, and now audiobook at and  (Click here to get the AudioBook for FREE!) He is also the mental game coach for over 200 poker players from around the world, ranging from low stakes to the highest stakes live and online. Find out more at



One Response to Treating Poker Like a Sport

  1. --Rick says:

    Like anything in life that requires not just skill, but a knowledge of how, what, where, when and why; skill development and experience are essentials for anyone who wants to succeed. Learning the fundamentals is important, but the real test in talent comes from how one applies those fundamental to situations where interpreting and acting on nuance is the key victory. In that sense, poker is a sport. From a physicial perspective, I don’t know many sports where how long you sit in a chair is the only demanding attribute that the body must deliver.

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