Strategies of what to do when not on your A-game?

moishetreatsmoishetreats Red Chipper Posts: 1,819 ✭✭✭✭
We can't all be at 100% peak 100% of the time. Obviously, there are sensible answers of what to do when your not at or near your peak poker play: take a break, leave, cash out, come back later, eat better, exercise more, etc.

That being said, I need to be realistic. My life is BUSY outside of poker -- and much busier now that I just launched a self-started organization -- but poker does help pay the bills. If I were to only play when I'm at or near my peak, then I couldn't reasonably rely on poker for necessasry side income.

Perhaps this means that I need to either commit more to poker by cutting other things out of my life in order to be more at my peak when I play. The rub is that cutting out my kids and/or cutting out my newly-founded organization and/or cutting out my half-time job (which is the majority of my income now while I launch my organization) are all non-starters.

This leaves me with two options that I can see (am I missing any?):

1) Simply play when I can be at or near peak, which is a huuuuge reduction in hours, and pick up side cash in another way to help pay for my bills while I grind at getting my organization off the ground and profitable; or

2) Figure out some way to remain profitable at the tables when I'm not at or near my A-game.

Unfortunately, I have been failing at the second, and, absent assistance in that endeavor, I think that the first is my best option. The losing or even non-winning sessions aren't worth the hit to the bankroll or the time that I am putting in.

So, if any of y'all have any tips for playing "well" or "well-enough" when not on your A-game, then I would LOVE to hear them. It's possible, of course, that they don't exist :).


  • SicSemperSicSemper Red Chipper Posts: 112 ✭✭
    edited March 2018
    I struggle with this too. Last night I wasn't playing anywhere near my A game. But I stayed in the game for two reasons. One, i felt like my B game was better than what my opponents were bringing to the table. And two, I hung on by trying to compartmentalize every couple of orbits. I knew i had no table feel, but I'd pick one thing to zero in on. Specific opponent limp/raise frequencies. One guy's fold-to-cbet. That new lady's hands when checking and protecting her cards. Fire that squeeze in a multi limped pot even at the bottom of your range. Etc.

    When it's going well, you can process a few of these things at once. When it's not, by being really conscious of that, you squeeze the information firehose down to a trickle, but at least you still have SOMETHING coming in. Beats a blank, I guess.
  • AustinAustin Red Chipper Posts: 5,483 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Improve your a b c game. I find at 2\5 a game or b game can both beat the game. On 1\3 or 1\2 i find C game can beat it. Play lowest level when your not on your game.

    Most of it for low stakes is preflop hand selection. Because there are so many MW pots you don't have to worry about cbets very much..just ABC poker. I think just playing abc can beat the game 2-5bb per hour live. Thats C game. B game 6-8bb and thats making more reads and focusing on their play making hero folds or hero calls. 9-12bb i think is A game where you adapt your preflop ranges to exploit their tendecies and step away from a preflop chart.
  • Wiki_LeaksWiki_Leaks Red Chipper Posts: 564 ✭✭✭
    At the end of the day it comes down to discipline and being hyper self aware.

    Part of the reason we play poker is because of the freedom it affords us. Take advantage of that freedom by constructing your life in the best way that serves you. For example, for the past 3 months i tried altering my sleep schedule to play late night because the games are better then. Despite the fact the games were great, my winrate was terrible! I was constantly tired, the atmosphere in the casino sucked (literally and figuratively), i had to constantly deal with scumbag degenerates, and my body simply refused to convert to a nocturnal schedule. This destroyed any edge i otherwise would have had in the game. This completely sucked the joy out of playing, and quite frankly turned me into an oranry dickhead.

    Now i listen to my body and play when its best for ME and my circle of family/friends to play. I think tommy angelo said one of the best skills you can cultivate as a poker player is being an awesome quitter. Nobody is forcing you to play at a certain time or day, or at all. If the thought of playing poker is unpleasant, well then were just running the same rat race as we did before without the garanteed paycheck or benefits.


    Improve your chances of naturally existing in your A game state. Optimize your physical and mental health.

    Reduce factors which decrease your chances of playing less than your A game. We all have crap in our lives that are -EV for both poker and life. You know what they are. Aggressively evaluate your mental and techincal game to find your leaks. You know what they are.

    This is all of course easy to type but quite difficult to consistently implement. But Jocko says discipline is a muscle, so “whats your discipline, bro?”
  • RedRed Red Chipper Posts: 2,359 ✭✭✭✭
    Big question to solve is why / what makes you NOT on your A game ?
    And how to correct / help these.
    Then you should have more A game sessions
  • moishetreatsmoishetreats Red Chipper Posts: 1,819 ✭✭✭✭
    Thank you for your comments and thoughts!

    @Red: Honestly, I'm just busy. LOTS of good things going on, but busy. Before I launched my organization, I could purposefully find poker times to play -- and play often. Now, my poker slots tend to fit in and around my schedule. That means that I'm not necessarily going in as fully rested or centered. Obviously, I won't be able to sustain my best winrate. A lesser winrate, however, might not be worth it given everything else going on -- there is an opportunity cost to playing poker, of course. Sleeping more isn't realistic right now, and I already practice mindfulness. Hence my instinct that, since poker has dropped out of the top-3 things in my life, a reduction in time must be best... if I can't figure out how to keep up my time at the tables on my A-game.

    Truthfully, I'm not at this moment going to prioritize poker enough to bump it back into the top-3.

    @SicSemper and @Austin: I think that you raise good points. I'll tell you my challenge, and maybe you can help. I can't simply turn "off" and "on" my preferred play. Focusing on one thing or one opponent or shifting to my "B" or "C" game -- that is so damn hard for me to just do. I actually find myself having to fight my impulse, and it doesn't seem to work for me. Perhaps my focus should be on creating that discipline? Then again, I feel like it might be too arrogant of me to presume that my "B" or "C" game is really better than most people's "A" games...

    @Wiki_Leaks: A couple of years ago, I tried the sleep-altered schedule, too. Same results! :) As I wrote earlier, though, I'm not sure that I can (yet) reduce the factors that keep me at below peak. Just a busy (again, not bad!) time in life.

    Thank you all SO much for your comments and suggestions. I hope my reply doesn't come off as ungrateful. My instinct was simply telling me that I would need to play far less right now. I don't think that I have the skill to win consistently with my sub-par game, and I don't think that am going to prioritize poker enough right now to get myself into peak focus.

    I posted with the desperate hope that there might be some secret elixir, but your comments serve to remind me that my only real chance of sustained winning is playing my A-game. Maybe I should I hire a coach to make my "B" and "C" games better! :) (Just kidding!)
  • RedRed Red Chipper Posts: 2,359 ✭✭✭✭
    If you're not poker pro - if you can financially survive without poker - then maybe think about taking a poker break and focus on another activity.
    I know it's not an easy decision - I know it from personal experience for poker as well.

    Just don't forget that playing knowing you need this money or you can't lose your money may make you play worst and put you in jeopardy if you start losing.

    It makes me think about me younger too: I played music after my job, was in a band. Then we had band direction issues and I got new opportunities in another field of activities. But I couldn't do both.
    Sometimes we have to make hard choices for good, as days only have 24hours each.
  • SicSemperSicSemper Red Chipper Posts: 112 ✭✭
    edited March 2018
    @SicSemper and @Austin: I think that you raise good points. I'll tell you my challenge, and maybe you can help. I can't simply turn "off" and "on" my preferred play. Focusing on one thing or one opponent or shifting to my "B" or "C" game -- that is so damn hard for me to just do. I actually find myself having to fight my impulse, and it doesn't seem to work for me. Perhaps my focus should be on creating that discipline? Then again, I feel like it might be too arrogant of me to presume that my "B" or "C" game is really better than most people's "A" games...

    I feel you man, I really do. I absolutely understand where you're coming from. I have the 9-5, I'm trying to get a side business growing, I have a social life other than poker, and I have other hobbies I like to give time to. Fridays are my one night I can almost always play, with the occasional Wednesday or Sunday in the mix. More not than often, though. It's a bit of a kick living in Vegas and having access to all the poker, but without the time to play more poker.

    So I hear you when you say you can only play when you can play. Giving that limited time up seems dumb. And saying "well plug your leaks" isn't helpful, because for a lot of us, we don't always know all our leaks. We might have bagged a few. We may squint and see others laying in the underbrush. But we might have them rearing up behind us while we're blissfully whistling down the sidewalk. It can be a process of financially tortuous discovery, over time.

    And saying "Just re-arrange your life around your A-game" is a nonstarter. If you're that dedicated to the game and your obligations are such that they don't encroach on your playing, mazel tov. But that's not everyone.

    The one advantage we have, that a lot of players don't, is awareness that this set of circumstances creates issues at the table. That's a huge edge. The trick is walking it back to a solution. (Easier said than done, I am painfully aware.)

    Maybe the solution, and I'm just spitballing here, is to come up with a list of possible adjustments, and just run down that list when you find yourself at the table and off the A-game. A break-glass-in-case-of-emergency file you keep on your phone. What goes on that list, you'd have to sort out for your particular game. For me, that might mean "Fuck it, I'm going to order a few beers and bullshit with the players at the table while playing ABC," or "I am only going to play from the HJ, CO, Button and blinds tonight," or "All I want to do is learn why my opponents are playing poker; what motivates them." But it would give a metagame solution available to you when you're facing in-game issues.

  • moishetreatsmoishetreats Red Chipper Posts: 1,819 ✭✭✭✭
    @Red and @SicSemper -- your analogies and analyses are perfect.

    Obviously, taking a break is a natural option. I appreciate your suggestions, too, @Austin, but I don't think that I have the discipline to execute them.

    The idea of only playing late position does have merit. In EP and MP, I can stick to a tight-ass range. Keeping my later-position opening range somewhat normal (reigned in juuuuust a little bit) should still my protect my EP and MP opens from being looked at exclusively as nitty. Given how much is going on in my life, that might work as a way to alleviate some of the need for 1000% attention to every detail at every moment -- let's be honest, our intensity increases when we're in a hand vs. when we're observing.

    I'll have to consider the impact that that shift has on my overall game and on my image, but it's worth exploring.

    Another suggestion that I received by PM also has merit, especially if I try to combine it with the suggestion of tightening my range just in EP and MP: have a stop time. The quantity of hours that I play[ed] was high, and, if games were good, I would certainly stay. I just can't do that right now (maybe I'll be able to get back to that at some point!). So, having a stop time could work: by XX:XX, I will finish the orbit that I am in, regardless of the quality of the game.

    The downside there is that it eliminates the skill from my toolbox of adjusting to players and the game over a long course of time -- and of anticipating a reaction before it happens and putting in the counter ahead of time. That being said, there is still enough profitability in shorter sessions to make this a compelling option.

    Over the next few weeks and months, I might give these a try. If and when I have a meaningful sample size, then I'll report back.

    Otherwise, I'll just consider myself on hard-core poker break (I'll still be able to play from time to time, of course!) for a while.

    Thank you all again SO much for talking this through with me. For what it's worth, I have already skipped a couple of poker sessions to make sure that I am sharp at my other projects and, despite missing it, feel great about it.
  • jfarrow13jfarrow13 Red Chipper Posts: 1,254 ✭✭✭✭
    Deem list of importance. I don't have children, but for me family would be the priority for me. Next, I'd assess which is going to be more profitable in the long run: your side start up business has the potentially to greatly out weight any poker long term profits, you have your answer. If you absolutely need the cash short term, and can give the side business less attention that won't affect it's ability to produce long term results, well slow and steady my friend.

    Can you tighten your budget else where? And is poker an absolute necessity for you? I'm a winning player, and I love the game. I'm in school, as well as working part time. The order of my priorities is : school provides me with a career that will obviously outweigh any realistic poker income that I could accumulate (maybe, but retiring off poker isn't my dream, nor do I think it's feasible.) Then work, it's consistent money and good money per hour. In addition, do you have a safe bank roll amount for poker? For me right now, I'm not in any financial straights, but losing 1k in a month (which is very possible for me at $1/3) would certainly hurt my bottom line, and could be spent on other things.

    So after I was up to 500 BB, whittled down to 350 BB's making really correct fold of very strong hands, I lost it all in one hand last session after buying in for 66 BB's (made me sick, just got so tired of folding. Flopped top set on a 10 J Q board with QQ in a 4-bet pot...just...just couldn't let it go when he very likely had AK...), I've made some new rules for myself so I don't end up hating myself.
    1. If you double up your buy-in, cash out and move tables. This way, you don't have the fear of "losing" money. If you lose that $, well, you can just go home, or if you really feel inclined, re-buy for your original $200.
    2. Limit myself to 3 lost buy-ins in a month. If you wanna play more, pick up more business.
    3. If you get the feeling of "man I should just cash out now." or "I feel myself becoming tilted" just leave. The tables will always be there. Tilting off your stack makes you want to never play again. Don't become your own worst enemy.

    Hope this helps. I love the game too, and it's so frustrating to have to tell yourself or have other people tell you "it's a bad idea, it's gambling, it's a poor use of your time, it's too risky", but sometimes you just have to objectively step back and examine what's most important and realize that poker, as fun and lucrative and satisfying as it can be, is just a game. Real life, business, school, family....all those things can be messed up if we don't delegate our time in a responsible manner. It just sucks to really enjoy something, have put time effort and money into it, and be good at it...and feel like people or yourself is telling you that you "can't" play it.
  • AustinAustin Red Chipper Posts: 5,483 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Rockstar (energy drink) works for me
  • tripletiretripletire Red Chipper Posts: 323 ✭✭✭
    Ask yourself if there are actual strategic adjustments you can implement that don't require the need for constant focus. Can you understand your own strategy (whether that be your ranges, lines, subconscious integration of rangevrange interaction) that you can play on auto pilot? There are significant ways to improve your B and C game
  • Eon137Eon137 Red Chipper Posts: 197 ✭✭✭
    Lot of good comments here. I'll just add this: focus on NOT playing your C game. cutting your C game will add to your bottom line.
  • Mr. DontMr. Dont Red Chipper Posts: 370 ✭✭✭
    Take longer break more frequently. What I usually do is drink a lots of water at the table, so youre forced to take a break. You could grab a big bottle or two then have extra one in your car which parked far from the cardroom so you have to get a good walk to grab a water bottle. Since I smoke, I left a pack of cigarettes in the car as well. If I don't take a smoking break, at least its good for me.
  • moishetreatsmoishetreats Red Chipper Posts: 1,819 ✭✭✭✭
    Thank you for the ongoing suggestions -- much appreciated!

    As I noted earlier, I'm not yet convinced that I will have the discipline to dial back to my B-game and stick with it. My instinct is that I would rather not play and focus on other big projects that I have going on than try to spend time and energy on my B-game, something that, at best, would have short-term limited profitability and, at worst, would re-start poor habits or discipline and/or have poor results at the table -- while taking up valuable time. If any of you DO have strategies for that, I'd be all ears -- but I'm also trying to be realistic!

    Thinking about some of the questions that @jfarrow13 asked, I realized a mindset that I brought to poker which, I believe, is the crux of the pressure that I have felt. Again, I safely rely on poker as side income (I can rely on it comfortably for my monthly car payments). Somewhat jokingly, I recall a couple of weeks ago when I was hanging out with friends on Friday night. Purposefully, I was not drinking. Everyone was going home around midnight, and someone asked if I needed a ride. I said, "Nope, I've got to go to work."

    And that's somewhat true: midnight to 4:00 or 5:00 or 6:00AM poker at 1/3 tables on weekends is often a goldmine. So, I hadn't been drinking that night, and, with my "work" hat on, I went to the tables and made some good money.

    Honestly, though, I was tired that night. Not too tired to focus, but tired enough that that late-night session all but killed the rest of my weekend other life productivity. But, I thought to myself, I HAD to do it -- after all, it was "work", and you don't skip out on work.

    This break from poker -- and this thread, thank you again!! -- has helped me realize that the idea that poker is "work" has been the crux of the pressure. I have a strong work ethic; poker being a job made feel obligated to put in my hours. Even that simple language shift in my head over the past few days -- that I use my time at the tables to help pay my bills rather than look at poker as a "job" -- has freed me incredibly. I had another late-night cash-cow session available to me last week, and I simply skipped it (I was even literally driving RIGHT BY the casino, and I kept on going). Yup, I lost out on some cash, but it kept my priorities straight.

    Obviously, I am adjusting how much I anticipate relying on poker to offset my bills (electric bills now rather than car payments!) and am making sure that my annual budget is still balanced. That being said, the idea that poker is no longer "work" for me -- even though I approach with that same level of seriousness and preparation -- has been the pressure release from poker that I have needed.

    Combine that with the suggestions here, and I feel like I am back to where I need to be mentally when I am at the tables, fewer hours and all.

    Thank you again, RCF!!
  • tripletiretripletire Red Chipper Posts: 323 ✭✭✭
    What you're searching for is a strategy to always be on your A game when you need to be, right? I don't personally have any information beyond meditation, eating well, exercise, healthy social life, etc. but that's much too broad for what you're searching for in this thread. It could well be that what you're searching for is a magic pill that solves this problem, but I have no idea if there is one. If there is, please share the info when you find it :)

    What I see being a more immediately relevant train of thought would be on balancing your work with poker, and all those factors. Is poker even worth it if you can't spend 90%+ of your hours in your A game? Can you fluctuate between A and B game 50-50 and have it be worth your time still? Only you know since I don't know how much you're making with your other work, or what the implieds are for hours spent within it.
  • moishetreatsmoishetreats Red Chipper Posts: 1,819 ✭✭✭✭
    tripletire wrote: »
    What I see being a more immediately relevant train of thought would be on balancing your work with poker, and all those factors. Is poker even worth it if you can't spend 90%+ of your hours in your A game? Can you fluctuate between A and B game 50-50 and have it be worth your time still? Only you know since I don't know how much you're making with your other work, or what the implieds are for hours spent within it.

    This is the real issue -- you nailed it here. I started the thread because I could see a way to make it either wise or worth my time. Even with that presupposition, I figured that there might be some subtle wisdom that I was missing.

    In the end, I have comfortably come to the conclusion that I am not going to choose to prioritize my extensive hours at the table now. I'll still be able to play from time to time, but I have accepted that I need to release myself from the demands of poker as a part-time "job" and embrace it as an occasional -- and hopefully still profitable! -- hobby.
  • tripletiretripletire Red Chipper Posts: 323 ✭✭✭
    It does seem like the most mature approach given your understanding. Good luck my friend :)
  • moishetreatsmoishetreats Red Chipper Posts: 1,819 ✭✭✭✭
    Just a brief update since I appreciate all your comments and guidance. I have massively scaled back my playing time. I get there when I can, and I don't force my sessions. Most of my sessions have been much shorter, too -- 90-180 minutes. And my win-rate has been quite impressive (I have a pretty good feel for how to capitalize on a short session).

    Again, having the pressure release of not looking at poker as side income (i.e., a "part-time job") has remained the mindset shift that I needed to play when I can -- and play well!! -- without feeling pressure to play when I'm not up to my A-game.

    I miss it -- I really do!!! -- but the itch to insure that I find time to play even when I am incredibly busy has subsided with my mindset switch.

    So, thank you all again SO much!!

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