Limiting Distractions at the Poker Table Increases Your Win Rate

A Player Does a Handstand

While playing poker at a high level, it's equally important to pay attention to the hands you're not in along with the ones you are.

Poker is, of course, a very difficult game. To be successful requires high-level thought processes, attention to detail and strict discipline. And paying attention to the game you're in lets you pick up tells being displayed by your opponents.

Finding a tell is noticing a variance from a player's normal behavior. If you only pay attention to other players while you're in a hand, then you'll have no idea what's "normal" for said player going into the hand.

For example, most players are aware of the strong threat a shaky hand displays. But some players' hands shake no matter what they are holding. You need to set a definition of "normal" for each player, and to do this you need to be paying attention.

Potential Distractions


Poker rooms are full of distractions. TVs, music, crowds, chatty neighbors and scantily clad cocktail waitresses offering free drinks will all keep you from paying attention to the hands you're not in.

Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about any of these. Some players wear headphones to cut out noise and unwanted conversation. The best you can do is to train yourself to be disciplined.


Your computer is full of applications designed to distract you. Blogs, movies, music, messenger, video, e-mail and games are all one click away. If you intend to play serious poker and make a living at the game, you cannot afford to divide your attention.

Every mistake you make on a poker table costs you money. No matter who you are, you're far more likely to make a mistake if your attention is divided. Out of all of these distractions, in my opinion online messengers are among the worst. It takes considerable mental computing power to hold a decent conversation.

So you have a choice: have decent conversations and play cards like a chump, or play cards well and have useless chats with friends. If your online convos are going to be one-word exchanges, then you're not missing much by signing out.


Your body needs a lot of maintenance to keep it running well. If you deprive it of what it needs to keep running smoothly, then it's going to affect your game. You can't play top poker if you're hungry, exhausted, sick, depressed, worried, drunk, high or need to use the washroom.

So be healthy, and do what you need to do. Just remember to wash your hands.

There are some distractions that are unavoidable. Maybe a better man than me can block out personal idols, movie stars or people who don't understand the concept of personal hygiene.

The worst I've had to deal with was a world-famous supermodel, who apparently had forgotten to wear a shirt. Sometimes, you're just going to be distracted.

When you find yourself in these situations, try to change tables or seats. If you want to stay so you can talk to/look at the distraction, then shut down your poker. Don't get yourself into any situations that will require significant amounts of your attention.

If you're in a tournament and therefore unable to change seats or tables, then you're most likely not going to be able to afford to play on auto-pilot. All I can offer is "Good luck," and if you can't get the supermodel's chips, at least get her digits.

Using Distractions to Your Advantage

Once you have a handle on yourself, and are able to block out any distractions that might affect your game, then it's in your best interest to bring as many distractions to the table as you can. The majority of players are undisciplined and therefore easily distracted; use this to your advantage.

• Get TVs turned toward your table.

• Change the TV channel to something of interest to the players at the table. I recommend sporting events.

• Keep waitresses coming to the table; order a lot of (non-alcoholic) drinks.

• Eat good-smelling food at the table.

• Bring up topics of discussion to start heated debates or conversations that will continue without your involvement. I recommend politics.

• Get really involved and exuberant about all-ins to draw a crowd to your table.

I've been known to bring a portable video device to the table with me and start up some video of questionable moral integrity. By allowing a few other players to see the screen, the whole table will become engulfed into watching the video.

This tactic has worked so well that the players would all crowd around one seat to watch. Not only does this mean they'll have completely forgotten about poker, but it will definitely draw a crowd.

I'm not saying you should do something as ridiculous as this; it's just an example of some creative thinking at work. You're a poker player - figure out what would distract you from your game, and bring that to the table with you.

Never be offensive or disrespectful. Follow the rules of the poker room and keep people having a good time. If you can follow those rules, and keep other players distracted, while focusing on the game yourself, you'll see a significant increase in your overall profits.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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Pamela 2008-03-21 17:11:00

Fun read... Gotta admit though... most of those "distractions" you talk about are hard for me not to get involved in myself ;)

Zimmerman 2008-02-29 19:11:00

This article distracted me from my online tourney

Dave 2008-02-29 19:01:00

Great article Sean. Love your writing. You are a great addition to the PokerListings team!

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