The Career Focus of a Poker Player

Poker Focus

To see poker players winning huge amounts of money in a single poker tournament has become commonplace and, as a sports event, has made for some very popular television. Among these Poker players who win one large tournament are poker players who are actually able to make a career of cashing in poker tournaments and may never win a major tournament. These players have different personalities and take different approaches to the game. What they have in common is the ability to focus through hours of poker play that can go on for days.

These poker players are excellent examples for successful, long-term professionals in any field. Through observing the ways that these players find and maintain focus demonstrates that focus is not so much a matter of hard concentration as it is a matter of finding a method of being aware in the present moment. Focus enables a person to take in and understand the people and things around them. Great coaches and great athletes develop their own methods of focus and have long careers based of their high levels of focus despite distractions in their professional and personal lives.

The poker face on great poker players is not a poker face at all. What these players have is the mental presence to have a clear mind built on the information collected over hours and hours of living in the present moment. In doing so, they enable their mind to operate at a higher, more intuitive level.

With the growth of poker popularity and televised poker events from the World Poker Tour© and the World Series of Poker©, tens of millions of people have had the opportunity to see thousands of different people play high-stakes poker. The popularity of televised poker has made public figures of some of these players. They have careers as poker players, because they have the ability to focus day after day, year after year, in an environment that can put some people to sleep and put other people in a panic.

Each of these players seems to have different a mindset in viewing the game. The differing mindset produces different personalities and styles, but they all have something in them that makes them able to focus and interpret what other players are doing and why these players are doing those things.

Many poker players consider Phil Ivey to be the best poker player in the world. I have read a great deal about Phil Ivey’s intimidating stare. Phil Ivey has stated that he is not trying to intimidate anyone at all. I believe him.

What I do see is that Ivey watches the eyes of each player through the long hours of competition. He watches their eyes even when he is not in a hand with them. For him, watching eyes is intuitive.  The process is engaging. I see Phil Ivey double-check the look in players’ eyes more often than I see Phil Ivey double-check the cards in his hand.

When players find themselves in a hand against Ivey, he is doing the same thing he has done throughout his career and during the entire time he has been at the table with that player. He is looking at the player’s eyes.

For many people, eye contact is intimidating. I believe that for Phil Ivey, eye contact is simply a natural behavior and results in a process of understanding and predicting behavior.  He is probably not so much thinking about what he sees in the eyes of other people as allowing his mind to process subconsciously what is happening with the person’s eyes as that person makes decisions and takes actions in the poker game.

Many players do not become aware of what Ivey is doing until they find themselves directly in a hand with him. He has watched their eyes all along. Now that lesser players find themselves in a hand with Ivey, they find that the experience can become nerve-racking and confusing at a time when presence of mind is absolutely critical.

J.C. Tran is one of the most consistent cashing tournament players since he began to play in the major tournaments at the World Poker Tour© and World Series of Poker©.

“Tran is a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, a World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) Main Event champion, has made eight World Poker Tour (WPT) final tables, winner of a WPT title, won at the World Poker Challenge, and is the WPT Player of the Year of their fifth season. He is the chip leader of the 2013 WSOP Main Event November Nine.”

Tran’s consistency comes from the focus he has for what everyone at his table is doing. His style is as of play at times resembles that of a player at a home game. He is the guy keeping track that everyone has the correct cards and is making the correct bet in the correct order.

In one instance, he was at the final table of a televised event.  The chips numbered in the tens if not hundreds of thousands.

He put in a large bet. A second player called, but did not put in enough chips to cover Tran’s initial bet. A third player quickly raised.  The amount that the player put across the bet line equaled the call of the second player plus the declared raise.

I was watching the event on television, but from what I could see and what the announcers said, the action came around to Tran. He was speaking with the dealer and then stood up to point across the table to help the dealer get the bets correct.  The player who first called was required to add chips to match Tran’s bet. Then that player called the raise of the third player.  The third player who had raised added the chips to make his call equal to the original bet Tran made.  Then, with the pot right, Tran called the raise.

This was the final table in a major event. There was a professional dealer at the table. However, because of Tran’s reputation of being respectful and for being correct, the dealer easily allowed Tran to get involved in the betting transactions.  Because of Tran’s dealer-like focus and awareness of tracking bets and cards, Tran intuitively took over managing the table as though, as I referenced earlier, he were sitting at home playing poker with his friends and keeping everything in order. He won the tournament.

Another phenomenal and very popular player is Daniel Negreanu. He is popular with other players and with television audiences. He has the skill and personality to become the host of a poker table even though he is just another player among nine players. He has a lot of fun, and he makes the game fun for the people around him. At the same time, he is staying in the present moment through personal engagement with other players. He watches everything that goes on at the table and makes proper, positive comments as the long hours of the tournament progress. Poker is a game, and for Negreanu, the game is fun for him, and his presence makes the game more fun for everyone who is in the game with him.  The most important piece of what Negreanu is doing is that he stays mentally in the game.  He is engaging.  He is a gentleman.  His mind is clear.  He is absorbing at an intuitive level information that in hours of mind-numbing tournament play, most other players will not observe.

So what is your way of finding focus?  What do you do when you go through each day that becomes the weeks, then months, then years of your career?  Do you have the career focus of a poker player?  If you do, you are in for a terrific career.  You will have some ups and downs.  You will get some good hands and you will get some bad hands, but your will play all of them better if you have the career focus of a poker player.

Image: Images Money/Flickr

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