We’ve all been there. Card dead. 4AM. Just trying to get through to the next hour. The next orbit. The next complimentary coffee.

And let’s face it, boredom can even set in at the beginning of a session. Some games are social and friendly, some are quite solemn affairs. Keeping your focus in a subdued game can be a serious issue as boredom creeps in. Patience is a key virtue when it comes to knowing how to have a winning approach to poker, live and online. Heck, it’s important to be patient to know how to play video poker and win!

The reality is, you should never be bored at the poker table. At least, you never need be. And you never should be if you want the biggest edge possible. There is always an edge to be gained by remaining an active participant at the table at all times, even while out of a hand.

We have five categories cures for hold ’em boredom that also improve your play at the table: Strategize, Reset, Observe, Simulate and Socialize.

Copy a link to list on your smartphone so the next time you look down at it to distract yourself, instead pick one of these productive distractions that will have a positive impact on your game:


1. Load Up a Live HUD

Coach SplitSuit has a great article all about how to load up a HUD in a live game. Yes, you read that correctly. By simplifying the mental math of the HUD you’re familiar with in online play, and by paying attention to the other players’ actions, it’s possible to calculate HUD stats for orbits, and even multiple orbits, in a live game. There are few better ways to systematically find your opponents’ exploitable weaknesses than to put a “live HUD” on them. Try being bored keeping track of 9 players’ actions.

2. 3-Bet Without Looking at Your Cards

This is a fun one for when you’re card dead. Coach SplitSuit lays out a strategy to profitably 3-bet without looking at your cards, and explains why it works. You’ll have to see for yourself, but trust us, this is going to make your game very interesting, you’ll have nothing to complain about in the boredom department.


3. Take a Break

Poker players need to be reminded to take a break every once and a while. It helps with your focus at the table, it gives you a moment to breathe and gain perspective on the game. If you’re starting to get bored at the table, take a quick walk. Grab a light snack. Get the blood moving. Chances are you’ll sit back down minutes later, totally refreshed and back on your A game.

4. Concentrate on Posture & Breathing

Don’t want to stand up and walk around and miss your pocket aces? Sit up straight with a healthy, well-aligned posture in your chair. Take calm, steady deep breaths and try to relax your body while keeping it upright and postured. Your blood pressure will drop with your heart rate, and you should feel more focused in a matter of a couple minutes. Google sitting focus techniques or something similar, and go crazy with the many methods of regaining focus through very simple actions at the table.


5. Observe Table for Tells

At $1/$2 and $2/$5, you will run into some fairly obvious tells. A tell is only as good as the evidence of its meaning, and usually we are working with a small sample size. The way to have the largest sample size possible? Spend some time specifically looking for body tells in the players involved in larger pots. Make a mental note if you see a showdown and noticed a mannerism that was obvious and likely to be repeated (or not). Verbal tells are a big one, too. Coach Doug Hull explored verbal tells in an article about the hidden dynamics of the table.

6. Deep Observation on Problem Players

This idea is similar to observing the table for tells, but focused on one specific person. This is particularly good if there’s a player at the table that you can’t figure out how to exploit, or if you’re having trouble explaining their particular actions. Without being too obvious, observe this player for an entire orbit. Put a “live HUD” on them and calculate their VPIP. Give them a player type. Notice how they initially look at their cards, how they immediately react, how they reach for chips or announce their action. Look at every detail and find the patterns of information that tell you how to exploit their weaknesses.


7. Replay & Analyze Your Most Recent Hands

To be honest, if you’re not doing this as a matter of course, you really should start. The key to analyzing live hands off the table is remembering the action and board accurately. It’s much easier to remember the action and board accurately by taking notes, but if you don’t have a notebook handy (like this sweet poker hand journal by SplitSuit), you can always replay them in your head after the hand, when you have a moment to think. Not only might you gain an important insight to use right away in the game you’re sitting at, it will be easier to reload the hand from memory upon later analysis.

8. Play Other People’s Hands in Your Head

This one’s a classic. After you fold, pick a person at the table and play their hand in your head. Put them on a preflop range and start to narrow their hand down based on all the information available. Imagine what you would do in that spot, with that range. If you’re lucky, it will go to showdown and you will get to confirm or debunk your analysis.


9. Make Friendly Small Talk with Opponents

Not only does it keep the game fun and friendly, socializing with your fellow players is part of the heart and spirit of the game of poker. Not all games are social, but in those that are, it is actually strategically to your benefit to socialize most of the time. Many bad players are going to be much more apt to make bad calls and bad plays — not to mention give more action — when they have established some sort of rapport with you.

10. Make Friends with the Staff

Another thing that’s just a nice, human gesture that goes all to often ignored is to introduce yourself and get to know the poker room staff. The dealers, the waitresses, and especially the floor staff are people you want in your corner. Instead of sitting there board, say hi, make small talk, crack a joke, do something to acknowledge their presence and give a nod for their hard work. We promise it will pay off, and it will get your head out of the game for a minute so you can return with a fresh attitude.