Poker Challenges
Nov 16, 2005  
2005 Jason Kirk  

When you sit at the poker table, it can seem like everyone is out to get you. The other players sitting in the game want to take your money. The house is taking its share of your profits every time it drops another chip of rake, online or live. And in land-based casinos, the house is on a never-ending mission to loosen you up with free alcohol. When you put all these factors together with playing the same game day in and day out, it's very easy to reach the point where you burn out on playing your regular game. Continuing to play through such burnout can be detrimental not only to your bankroll, but also to your mental well-being.

At times like these you have to make a choice regarding whether you want to step away from poker for an extended period of time. If you don't (and who would blame you?), there is a way to creatively combat burnout - challenges. The concept of a challenge is simple enough. If you're a full-ring limit hold'em player, maybe you'll want to switch to shorthanded limit tables. If you play no-limit hold'em, it may be time to switch to pot-limit Omaha. Regardless of what you regularly play, you simply pick a new game to play for a while and set goals that you'd like to reach while you're immersing yourself in your new game of choice.

One of the best ways to set up a challenge is to take a very small amount of money - say, $10 or so - and begin at one of the micro-levels at your favorite card room. There are a few reasons for doing this. First of all, it's hard to cure poker burnout by continuing to play at anything resembling your normal stakes; that's the sort of headache you just don't need when you're trying to relax. Second, switching to a new game means experimenting with different strategies until you find one that works well for you, and nobody likes to go broke while trying to figure a game out. Finally, you'll most likely be one of the only players at your new micro-level games to whom the money really doesn't matter - this is the kind of lesson that can pay big dividends when you finally return to your regular game.

Here is a sample challenge that I've been running lately at Titan Poker. I've been playing the $0.10/0.20 shorthanded limit hold'em tables as an escape from the tournaments and full ring limit hold'em games I usually play. I began with $10 that I was willing to lose if things went horribly wrong, and as I reach different thresholds I'll move up in limits: if I reach $55, I'll move up to the $0.25/.50 games. If I reach $110, I'll move up to the $1-2 shorthanded game, and so forth. In addition, if I reach a point where I've lost a portion of my starting stack I'll move back down in levels (i.e. moving back down to $0.10/.20 if I drop below $50). By setting these goals and having something to work toward, I've given myself plenty of motivation for learning to play 6-max limit hold'em pretty well. This was a game I'd never played much in the past, and I feel I'm much more perceptive about the situation at my table because I'm focused and not worried about money in the least.

Whatever game you choose, and whether decide to play in cash games or tournaments, you should find that you can combat burnout pretty easily by coming up with a challenge for yourself. All that you have to is pick a game, set up a few ground rules for when you'll move up in levels, and then sit down at the table and let the rest work itself out. Not only will you avoid growing to hate your regular game, but you'll add to your repertoire of poker skills. No matter what the results of your challenge may be, learning new skills is never a bad thing. If you can successfully get out of your comfort zone, you should find yourself back to learning and concentrating with no problems at all. When you decide to return to your regular game refreshed, you'll be bringing a whole batch of experiences to the table with you and you'll most likely find your results far improved compared to when you left the game.

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