Poker all comes down to mindfulness


I’ve written in the past about grokking the table, relaxed activation, attention and concentration. But this month I want to introduce you to two other psychological concepts: mindfulness and flow.

Mindfulness is defined by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn as the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.
The non-judgmental aspect means to not place a moral value of good-bad or right-wrong on what is happening, what you’re doing or what you observe. Imagine achieving that state of awareness at the table.
Another researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, developed the concept of flow, a state of consciousness in which a person is absorbed in his or her actions and experiences a unity of mind and body.

Both of these concepts focus on the here and now; the present experience; feeling of calmness and mind, body unity; and peak performance.

How do you achieve mindfulness? Easy! Practice the state you want to achieve while playing. Well, easier said than done. Achieving this requires following a program and that requires work, the same work as learning the math, reading people or learning patterns. The program is:

• Buy in to this concept.
• Accept it will help you achieve peak performance
• Set aside the time to practice
• Do the work.

Sounds easy, but it may be counterintuitive. How much time are you willing to devote to this aspect of your game?

Let me warn you about anyone who’s going to tell you they can teach you these things quickly. That’s like saying to always raise with a certain five hands, always check with these hands and always fold with these hands without paying attention to table image, stack size, position and all the other variables. It’s like someone telling you every time someone scratches his nose he’s bluffing, without taking into account his nose may be itching.

Some simple stuff: practice doing one thing at a time. Try to not multitask for a specific period of time. At the table, concentrate on everyone’s chip stack and the hands that go to showdown; test yourself and see what you remember.

Away from the table, practice deep breathing. Sit in a comfortable chair with uncrossed legs and both feet on the ground (really push them into the ground). Put your hands on your lap or armrests; sit up straight, with good posture but not overly stiff. Breathe in through your nose, hold it, then breathe out through your mouth.

Concentrate just on your breathing, nothing else. If another thought wanders in, let it go. Do this for five minutes; when that’s easy to do, then increase time. Keep going. Remember to only think about your breathing. This means total focus and helps lead to no longer multitasking when playing.

Intentional focus and concentration in the present moment and present task will help you keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. His column will give insight on how to achieve peak performance using poker psychology. Email questions for him at