I've been playing poker for a long time, but I often take extended breaks from the game for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I take a break after an extended period of losing, but sometimes after an extended period of winning, I'll take a break to spend more time with my family. I've learned how important a good balance is for my life. My question is, what should I do to knock off the "rusty" feeling I get each time I return to the game? It generally takes me at least three sessions to get back in the groove. Can you suggest anything that might speed up that process?
-- Glenn, Hawaii
Well, I can't recall taking any extremely long breaks -- maybe two weeks at most. Admittedly, I have pretty much zero balance in my life, but changing this has been a goal of mine for years, and I realize how important balance is.
However, I also get that rusty feeling even after just a week or so away from poker, so I can relate. Let me share some of the steps that I try to follow to awaken my poker mind.
First, after any lengthy break, I always drop down a few limits from my normal comfort level, whether it's cash or tournament play. I also try to restart my people-watching skills. I begin as a mere spectator, which allows me to pick up my physical-tell-reading abilities.
Moving down in limits is a great way to restore my confidence while I face less experienced players. It affords me the opportunity to open up my game and play more aggressively than I might normally play. Doing that counteracts what I consider to be my most common mistake when I'm rusty: playing too passively.
When I'm not playing my "A" game, I lack the confidence to aggressively pull the trigger in crucial situations. This happens when my feel for the game has dwindled or when I'm not totally focused. Missing or skipping out on a play is just as costly as misplaying a hand. Passive mistakes are unforgivable in my book. Making an aggressive "mistake" gives you multiple ways to win despite your potential error. When you apply pressure, you can win if your opponents fold, of if they call you with a worse hand. Even when they call you with a better hand, you still may have outs. With passivity, there's no chance of winning.
Laydown of the month: I was playing $5-$10 no-limit hold 'em when this hand took place. Two players limped in, I raised to $50 with Ac Kc, and both limpers called. The flop came Ad Ks 10h, giving me two pair.
They checked, and I bet $105. The first guy folded, the second guy called. The turn card was the 3c. He checked, and I bet $265 with $1,100 left in my stack. He raised to $530 with $800 left in his stack. I folded, and he showed Qh Js for the straight. Whew!
Scott Fischman is a professional poker who has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated more than $2 million in career earnings. He is also the author of the poker book "Online Ace." Send your poker questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.