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The World Series of Poker is over; for a lot of players that means it’s time for a well-earned rest.

Many tournament players view the end of the WSOP as the end of the calendar year and consider the PokerStars Championship Barcelona at the end of August (or the WCOOP in September) as the start of the poker year. Why not make it official and treat your poker business like your fiscal year runs from August to July?

Well you might be asking why bother? What’s the advantage? I’m not going to lie; the advantage may not be huge. But in a game of slim edges, this approach could help improve your motivation, study habits and, ultimately, your play—when it matters most.

When you view the end of the WSOP as the end of your year, this downtime can also be used as a period of reflection and goal setting for the next fiscal year. This is similar to what most people do at the end of the calendar year. Given the tournament poker cycle, however, it makes sense to do this now because the next 12 months become a build up to next year’s WSOP.

This issue of fiscal timing reminds of a conversation I had with a real estate agent that I helped this time last year. For him, 80% of his business takes place between February and July, and every year he struggles to know what to do during the month of August when business is dead. It turned out that simply adjusting from calendar year-thinking to a fiscal year-thinking (of August to July) really made a difference. August became a period of reflection and game-planning for the next 11 months. September was month to generate leads, and October through December were for prospecting. This way, he went into January with a full head of steam and that led to a 35% increase in business for a guy who was already doing pretty well.

READ: Review of Jared Tendler’s The Mental Game of Poker

Reflection, Analysis, and Goal Setting Are Key

Instead of looking at this quiet spell as just a pure vacation, treat it like you would the end of the year. Reflect on the last 12 months and think about:

  • What you accomplished
  • Where you fell short
  • Your biggest improvements
  • Your biggest mistakes
  • The things you most need to improve upon tactically and mentally
  • Off-the-table decisions that affect poker

Then, think about your goals for next year and make a plan for how you’re going to become more efficient with your development as a player.

One thing to consider is creating a training cycle similar to how professional golf and tennis players do in preparation for the four major yearly championships. The top players work out their training and playing schedules with the goal of trying to peak for the majors. They’ll highlight key areas of development in their game to work on in each training cycle and then steadily work to integrate those changes in training, smaller events, and eventually the majors. After each major they’ll reflect, and rinse/repeat. (For you sticklers on accuracy out there – no, tennis players don’t do these during the two week break between the French Open and Wimbledon.)

Break Your Poker Year Into Cycles

You could pick out your own ‘Majors’ in poker and schedule your own training cycles. This might be, for example, WCOOP, PSC Bahamas, SCOOP, and the WSOP. If you are a low-stakes player it might be Micro Millions, SCOOP, your favorite live local tournament series, and the Colossus. You can even do this if you are a cash game player, if you have identified the best times of year to play, or maybe you just want to pick three or four arbitrary periods where you want to play high level poker.

In these cycles, there’s a steady shift from heavy emphasis on studying/learning to predominantly playing. For example, this could mean you would only study for the first two weeks. Then, during the next two weeks there’s a 50/50 split between studying to playing, 20/80 the two weeks after, and all playing (with just some minor adjustments) once the festival has begun.

This system is designed to aggressively reach high competence in a short period of time, and for some players it works very well as preparation for big events. Just keep in mind that the timeframe and ratio split can easily be adjusted based on the practical realities of your schedule, bankroll, and priorities.

LISTEN: Interview with poker mental game coach Jared Tendler

Adjust Not Only Your Cycles, But Your Expectations

One potential problem from working this systematically: it can cause your expectations to rise and losing could become even more painful if the system doesn’t perform as well as you want or your results aren’t good. I don’t see this as a reason not to try it though. Plus, I suspect there are players out there who avoid systematic training like this precisely to avoid greater pain. In other words, their laziness or lack of willingness to study efficiently is an attempt to avoid their expectations getting to be too big. My solution: push yourself to work hard and simply adjust your expectations.

So often, tournament poker players just think from series to series or tournament to tournament. I understand why, as there’s so much unpredictability in the game—your life could change overnight with a big tournament score or, alternatively, you could brick more events in a row than you thought possible and be forced to reevaluate your future. Nonetheless, thinking in cycles can give you a new way to organize your year to be playing your best poker when it matters most.

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