Monday, 16 June 2014

Nick Wealthall on wandering minds.

Just between you and me, what do you think the chances are you’ll make it through this article without getting distracted?

Don’t worry, I won’t take it personally. I know for a fact that my best chance of you getting you from here to the end of the page will be because A) you’re waiting for a table in a live poker room; B) you’re on the toilet for an extended period of time; or C) your phone has died/has no reception. (I’m really gunning for A or B plus C to have my best shot).

Whoa… Come back, we only just started! FOCUS, damn it!

It’s not your fault. After all, we live in a distracted age, with constant pulls on our time – but more importantly, constant pulls on our focus. Internet pages, social media, TV, other people, work (okay, not so much with work), games… I could go on.

It’s even worse for kids at the moment. Instead of acknowledging that we live in an age of distraction, they diagnose them with an illness (usually called ADHD) and pump them full of drugs. Winning!

I messed around at school… a lot. Looking back, I have a huge amount of sympathy for my teachers (I don’t really. They were goons, but I’m trying to look nice) constantly competing with my incessant chatter and general ‘mouthiness’. The thing was, a lot of the time I was bored. Being at school in lessons was and is boring and pointless.

The point is, despite many detentions, punishment essays and being sent to see ‘the Head’ (at one point it would have been easier for him to have a regular recurring slot in his diary) about my ‘attitude’, at no point was I diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, because they didn’t have a name for it yet.

To be honest, I never had ADHD. I was just bored. Very bored.

Kids in school today must be bored out of their box. I mean, seriously. At home they can IM with friends while playing a game on their iPad, at the same time as binge watching a box-set on their main screen. And then in school they have to listen to one middle aged person banging on for 50 minutes about Ox-Bow lakes. Wouldn’t you be distracted?

Kids nowadays don’t have ADHD. They’re just bored out of their fricking minds.

In fact, if your child is listening to one person talking for an hour about stuff that has no relevance to their life and will never be of any practical use and they’re NOT bored and messing around, then you should be worried about them.

The challenge that this multi-media, multi-distraction, ‘I-can-have-everything-I-want-at-the-push-of-a-button’ world creates, is this. The ability to focus disappears – even if it’s something we’re genuinely interested in.

Hey. HEY. Will you please concentrate?! Don’t think I can’t see you wandering off. Put down your phone and step away from your many open browser tabs, because valuable content is coming.

You’re back? Okay, good.

Sorry, cheap trick. I promise there’s some sexy stuff coming in a yet to be decided paragraph.

So here’s the problem. To play poker well, you need to focus. It’s vital: non-negotiable, actually.

Every time I’ve sat with a great player, or watched one play live or online, they are PLAYING. Actively focusing and thinking about the game. They’re not multi-tabling while tweeting, watching TV, or having a domestic argument. They don’t play ‘by rote’, just looking up when the screen beeps to fold a bad hand or raise a good one. Top players think about their opponents constantly, range them in hands they’re not involved in, make mental and physical notes, and are always aware of game flow. Why do they do all this? Because they are looking for any edge they can get.

Do you do that when you play? Honestly? Are you focused, are you spotting every opportunity, and constantly looking for weaknesses you can exploit?
The thing is, giving your full attention to the game, literally giving it everything you’ve got, takes zero poker skill. Anyone can do it, whether you’ve just encountered this beautiful game or you’ve been playing for years. Part of the reason top players get to the top is that they really apply themselves when they play. So ask yourself this – could you focus better when you play?

There should be no disconnect between how seriously you’re taking your playing and how you feel about your results. You’re cheating yourself if you’re playing half-heartedly while you do other things, then are pissed off when you bust a tournament or have a bad cash session. The fact is, if you weren’t playing hard and focusing on your table(s) and opponents, you don’t deserve good results. Poker simply isn’t a game where you can just go through the motions, push buttons and expect to win. It demands you make active thinking decisions. If you don’t want to, there are currently 11,598 variants of Flappy Bird that are waiting for you to play.

If you’re about to play a session, I’ll give you two options. Either you’re going to give your best today and get rid of all other distractions (which means turning off your phone and TV, closing the internet browser, and removing yourself from friends, family and domestic arguments) so you can play like you mean it. Or you can do all those things and play, but accept that you’re not playing seriously, you’re playing for fun. It’s fine to do the latter, but then you have to realise that it’s stupid to care about your results. It’s up to you: focus costs nothing, it can be developed and improved – but you’ve got to want it.

Right, well done for making it to the end. Phew… that was a good 6 minutes spent doing only one thing, you mega-star of laserbeam-like focus! The irony is, writing this was interrupted by opening four browser windows, checking Twitter three times, taking one phone call, making and drinking a coffee, and re-reading my long overdue revenge list of all the teachers that once made my life a tedious hell. Focus, man!

Tags: Nick Wealthall, columnists, strategy