Mentally Transitioning to Live Poker

Moving from 20 tables to 1

Transitioning to live is a topic that was written about a lot even before Black Friday. Since then, it’s been written about even more, and nearly every training site has instructions on how to make the transition a profitable one.

My goal here is not to give you specific advice about playing live, instead, I want to give you an overall strategy/plan that will help you to make the transition faster and more successful.

When making the transition from online to live,
don’t assume you’re going to sit down and crush.

Making a successful transition (in anything really) first and foremost requires you to learn the necessary skills. On the surface, poker is poker, but the differences between live and online poker are different enough that if you aren’t organized in how you make the transition, major problems can trip you up.

From the mental side of things, are you prepared to handle the following?

• Being card dead for 200 hands (now lasts 6 hours).
• Dealing with a host of characters at the table being loud, obnoxious, or even just distractingly friendly.
• Hiding your emotions from your opponents.

No matter how many tables you were able to crush online, you can’t expect to show up to one table and crush without making any adjustments. How much you have to learn is unclear (or if you’ve been doing it for the past 2 months you already know). However, if you’re really committed to learning to play one table live, take 30 days as a transition period and work at it, as you would learning anything new. If you don’t, being overconfident about your live game will force you to overlook the small details needed to be successful long-term.

Surplus of Focus

You’ve spent years training to play 6, 10, and 20+ hands at once, and now you’re playing 30 hands/hour. That means you have a surplus of focus/attention and don’t yet know what to use it on. With so much of your game used to making automatic decisions, now this extra focus needs to find new things to learn otherwise you’re going to get bored.

You need to embrace the dynamics of live play, and learn how to read opponents better, perhaps even improve how you exploit weaker players, etc. Use that extra attention to dig deeper into the details of live action. Whatever it is that you decide is necessary for you to improve, work at. If you can’t think of anything, it’s not because the opportunity isn’t there, you’re just not looking hard enough. There is always something new to learn—always. It may not seem like there’s that much opportunity, but the reality is that you can’t know that until you really look.

To improve your focus try:

• Setting goal to focus as much as can on the action, and avoid thinking for more than a few minutes about anything but poker. This is necessary to retrain poker brain for live play. Multi-tabling in essence is multi-tasking. Avoid using your extra focus to think about non-poker things.

• What you recognize that you’ve been distracted, work hard to refocus on the action by taking a few deep breaths, reminding yourself of your overall poker goals and the common poker mistakes you make while distracted (for example, forgetting to put player’s on a range, autofolding weak hands, etc). Doing this, retrains your surplus of focus for the live game.

Mental Game Issues Reemerge

Issues like tilt, overconfidence, fear, etc, that you previously were successful in correcting in your online game, may come back when you play live. The reason is that your actual skill playing online poker, helps to buffer these issues and makes them appear to have been solved. The same thing happens when online players change games, say from NL to PLO, or 6-max to HU.

It’s better to expect that your mental game issues will show back up, rather than expecting they won’t. This way, you’ll review the old tactics that you used to solve your tilt problem, and will be ready encase it shows up. If it doesn’t show, then you know you truly have corrected it. If it does, you’re ready to minimize the damage, and make the correction.


It can be easy to get caught thinking about how much live poker sucks, and wishing you could play online again when card dead, losing big pots, or running bad. Whether for these or other reasons, you have to embrace the new reality of online poker, otherwise you’re missing the opportunity that exists right now.

It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen in the future—as I say in the book, “Poker players make shitty psychics.” However, if you get too caught up wishing the past was still real, then you’ll lose whatever opportunities may exist for you in the future. Focus on doing what’s necessary now, especially because it’s hard, and leave regret to your weaker-minded competitors.

Organized Learning

There’s edge to be gained by being able to understand your opponents tendencies, how to hide or disguise your own, and many others nuances of live poker. Take notes after every session you play. Review these notes the next time you play. Read books (Joe Navarro, Mike Caro), watch videos, talk with players, and other means to gain knowledge to go along with your building experience.

I’m stating the obvious. I’m stating it, because at times like these, sometimes the obvious is overlooked. Is it necessary to take/review notes? No. It just helps you to learn faster and avoid additional mental game problems.

Learning the live game as well as you know how to play online is going to take time. Follow my advice and it’ll take less time.

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2 Responses to “Mentally Transitioning to Live Poker”

  1. Suzi Brookes June 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Brilliant Jared. You are a pure genius!

  2. 🙂 Thanks Suzi! Glad you found it helpful.

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