How to Plan for a Successful Poker Trip – Mentally

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Having travelled to play poker on a number of occasions (Prague, Vegas, Monaco, Colombia, Panama, Vienna & Malta) what is abundantly clear from both my own and friends’ experience is that these trips can cause emotional distress.

Being in an unknown environment, playing a game of mixed fortunes and being away from friends, partners and family quite naturally causes disturbed states of mind.

You may even be playing in tournaments and cash games bigger than what you’re normally used to. Or run into liquidity issues with having money available to play.

So it begs the question: what can you do to ensure you have the happiest trip possible?

Writing a plan

“F*** off! Planning is boring AF!”

Ok! Ok! Planning isn’t exactly fun. However, you could spend 5 minutes reading this article. And 5-10 minutes writing down a plan that will have a SIGNIFICANT impact on how your future trip goes.

That is if you can read this openly, without initial judgement and with a willingness to explore how this can really help you going forward.

A Plan with Purpose

The purpose of the plan is to think out all the possible eventualities of an upcoming trip. To, as best you can, have practical solutions to all the likely states of mind you’ll find yourself in.

Which is why it is critical to WRITE a plan down. Because when feelings of frustration, loneliness, anger etc. appear you will want to refer back to the plan rather than auto-pilot with habitual patterns (negative thinking & unhealthy behaviours) that can cause you to be unhappy.

What to Plan?

First of all, (quite obviously) it’s good to know what you plan to play.

If you’re playing tournaments then hopefully you have a schedule set before you go.

If you’re playing cash, do you know all that you can about the games you plan to play? Is there anyone you can get in contact with and find out? In any case, write down in as much detail as you can what you plan to play.

The next big question is, of course:

How much are you willing to lose on the trip?

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Getting a crystal clear idea of the figure you are willing to lose is, perhaps, the most important aspect you can think about before travelling.

By simply writing it down it becomes a real possibility in your mind. It essentially fills in an unknown. And the unknown is something the mind fixates over and creates feelings of fear and anxiety in relation to.

And so, make the worst possible case scenario known and enjoy the benefits of a happier state of mind.

Now, the interesting part, is formulating a plan for if things don’t go well:

  • How will you adapt if you brick the first few tournaments? What if the fields are tougher than you expected? Will the plan change?
  • If you’re playing cash, will you step down in stakes?/ Play a different game?

What’s important (especially if you play cash) is to be flexible. Poker environments, by their very nature, are always changing. An event may have a tough field. Games may dry up or be tougher than what you expected.

So form a commitment to be flexible.

And write down a Plan B. This will be your plan for if things don’t go well.

(Note your Plan B may even be to not play. It may even be to go enjoy the destination you are in. )

What are the common emotional and behavioural issues I’ve had on previous trips? How can I best solve these?

If you’ve travelled for poker before you will have had experience in dealing with issues such as frustration, disappointment and loneliness.

We like to think these issues are personal and private. They are, however, very common emotional reactions.

Some real questions to consider:

  • What can I do to alleviate feelings of frustration when they set in? How can I express and release these in a healthy way? (examples: writing, drawing, punching pillows) Have I considered meditation?
  • What can I do if I feel lonely? Is there someone back home I can be in regular contact with?
  • How will I deal with possible sexual frustration?
  • What can I do if issues with playing table games, drinking or drugs arise?

If you can write down well thought out and implementable plans for all your own personal issues, you can give yourself the best possible chance to have a smooth trip.

What will you do outside of poker?

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  • Will I exercise? How?
  • What am I planning to eat?
  • How will I relax outside of playing?
  • Who do I know who is going? Even though poker is the primary focus for the trip, how can I have fun also?

And the big question:

How will I ensure that the time spent outside of poker will give me the best possible chance to have a successful trip?

What NOT to plan for: how much you want to win on the trip

Why? Because it is out of your control. It can lead to real distress when “things aren’t going to plan”.

It’s a mental trap that many players fall into including the most successful ones. And, so, it is best not to consider it. If you do catch yourself thinking about the money made on the trip then see for yourself how it causes you to enter a stream of thoughts all leading you away from reality and into a story where you are the victim.

Final Points

The benefit of WRITING THINGS down cannot be overstated.

There’s a real issue with just formulating a mental plan. Because the mind is subject to changing states. It is, by its very nature, subject to recent influence (e.g. if you lose consistently) and conflicting desires.

A written plan, however, is not. And can be used practically when you notice a state of mind leading you astray.

Question checklist:

  • What do I plan to play?
  • How much am I willing to lose?
  • What’s my Plan B for if things don’t go well?
  • What are the common emotional and behavioural issues I’ve had on previous trips? How can I best solve these?
  • What will I do outside of poker?
  • Who do I know who is going?
  • How will I ensure that the time spent outside of poker will give me the best possible chance to have a successful trip?

Can you think of more things to plan?

PS If you are aware of personal issues but are unsure of how to deal with them then do get in contact with relevant qualified help.

And if you do have any questions at all, feel free to message me on Instagram.