Do you ever have poker sessions that seem to drag on forever? Or do you have worries that you’ll be stuck at your current stakes for the rest of your natural-born days?  

So, how do you deal with the boredom (and sometimes anxiety) that can sometimes accompany poker?

The answer is somewhat nuanced, like all things related to the human condition, but surprisingly simple. 

We will get into how to deal with boredom and anxiety. In the meantime, here’s some research on flow states that came from leading flow researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

In his words, flow is “a state where people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.
“The experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

So, to experience optimal human performance, we need to experience maximum engagement and maximum enjoyment. If we are totally engaged, we are in the zone and focused. 

Distractions are not an issue. 

Maximum enjoyment means having so much fun that we lose all track of time and time seems to fly. 

Being in a flow state feels good! But something is out of balance if you’re feeling bored with or anxious about poker. If we get that corrected, poker will be fun again!

Poker Flow

What is the Poker Flow?

Flow happens when your skill level and the challenge before you are in balance

  • If something is too hard, then you’ll feel anxious.
  • And, if it’s too easy, you feel bored

If you’ve worked long and hard on your game, your skill level for poker will naturally be very high. But what does the challenge look like for you? Are you playing at low stakes? Or are you up against very weak players?

If so, the challenge is low, and your high skill level is likely unnecessary to do well, and boredom is the probable result.   

Let’s suppose that you feel like your skill level is low. Perhaps you are new to the game or have just moved up in stakes. We will naturally feel anxiety when the demands are high but our skill is low.

From Csikszentmihalyi’s point of view, there is an optimal point where skill and challenge are in balance. It’s in this zone where you will experience optimal fun! Csikszentmihalyi often referred to this flow zone on the graph above as the flow channel. You could also call this the maximum fun zone!

Poker Fun

Combating Low Skill Level and Boredom

So, if you’re out of sorts in your games, investigate what’s not working. 

Low Skill Level

If your level of skill is too low for the challenge at hand, you have a couple of options:

  1. Firstly, you can work to increase your level of skill. You can hire a coach, take a course or join a discussion group. The bottom line is that you want to improve your skill set to meet the challenges better. 
     
  2. Secondly, you can alleviate anxiety by lowering the challenge so that it is more in line with your skill level. You might go down in stakes or play fewer games at a time. Or you can do both at the same time. Increase your poker study while simultaneously dropping down in stakes.

Boredom

Boredom is a little tricker. If you’re bored, your skill level is too high for the challenge. There’s no way to make your skills go away magically! In general, the solution lies in increasing the challenge. 

There are several ways to go about this. 

You could play at higher stakes (assuming they are available for you). Many players do not have access to higher stakes. If this is you, you have to be a little more creative. 

Many players find themselves autopiloting in these spots. They spend time on their phones, on social media or watching sports. Even if they don’t actively seek out distractions, their mind wanders. If this has happened to you, don’t feel bad - it’s pretty common!  

Poker Player

Players who find themselves in this situation can get out of autopilot mode by setting a session challenge:

  • Become focused and present in your games to find the hidden opportunities for you to seize. 
     
  • Put your mental energies into finding spots to exploit that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. 

How much could you increase your win rate if you stopped autopiloting and aggressively sought out new exploits? 

You could also use some data-based analysis methods to actively search and destroy any leaks you have. You could be missing at least a few spots despite your high skill level.

Other options for decreasing boredom include adding additional tables or learning new games. When you start a new variant, it keeps you on your toes. It can even provide you with further insights into your main game.

For example, taking up PLO will often lead you to think more deeply about blockers. This information could prove helpful when you go back to No-Limit Hold’em

Set and Track Clear Goals to Stay in the Zone

If you’re feeling bored or overwhelmed right now, remember that there are things you can do to increase the time you spend in the zone. There’s even a name for it: the autotelic personality. 

People who have an autotelic personality can more easily enter into a flow state. There are a few steps to increase your autotelic abilities, even if it doesn’t come naturally:

  1. Firstly, start every session with a clear goal:

    Setting a challenge for yourself (like finding those hidden opportunities) fits this bill. 
     
  2. Secondly, track and measure your progress towards your goals/challenges:

    We need feedback on how we are doing to adjust as necessary. 
     
  3. Thirdly, match your skill level with the games you choose to play. 

If you start implementing these strategies, you’ll spend a lot more time in the zone, which will lead to being more focused and happier. Who doesn’t want that? 
 

About the Author
By

Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Positive Poker, Peak Poker Performance and co-author of Purposeful Practice for Poker. She podcasts at Poker on The Mind with her co-host Gareth James. You can find her at peakpokermindset.com where she teaches poker players the most effective psychological strategies for optimal poker performance.