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OTB #007: The 7-Step “Set Yourself Up for Success” System for Tournament Poker Players

Updated: Jan 24

Today I’m going to explain how you can set yourself up for success in every session that you play online.

It might sound like a bold claim, but I truly believe you can win every session.

It just depends how you define winning and how you define success.

Tournament poker variance can be brutal.

You can make it as far as the last two tables only to lose a flip with AK against JJ and you’re out in 13th.

The fact is, there is a lot about poker that you can’t control like card distribution, the runouts and how your opponents play.

How do you measure success?

Success, for me, is based on the things I can control rather than the results.

How well have I done at “controlling the controllables”?

When I prepare to play an online session, I want to set myself up for future success.

I want to know that everything I do in this session will prepare me for the next one. I’m excited to identify areas for improvement so I know what to study and train in the weeks that follow.

You might not have done anything wrong in any of your bustout hands, but there will always be things to work on.

In today’s guide, I’m going to give you my simple 7-step system to set yourself up for success so, no matter what the outcome of your session in terms of results, you know you’ve won because you’ve nailed all the things that you can control.

Here’s how you can do that, step by step:

Step 1: Tidy your workspace

Get rid of the mugs, bowls and plates that have collected over the last few days. Grab a pint of water.

You want to be firing on all cylinders, so having a clear workspace will help. As will staying hydrated. A tidy workspace minimises visual clutter and distractions.

Close all windows and tabs that you don't need. This means Discord, YouTube, Facebook etc. You don’t want anything to get in the way of 100% focus on the tournaments you’re about to play.

A tidy workspace should ultimately contribute to a more focused, productive and successful playing experience.

If your workspace is a mess and you have mugs, plates and bowls everywhere, you’re telling yourself that you’re okay with an amateur approach today.

Treating your poker setup with the same level of respect and organisation as a professional workspace can enhance your game.

Step 2: Open all poker clients and software

The next step is opening all the poker clients and any software you regularly use like PokerTracker 4 or Holdem Manager 3.

StarsCaption feels like it requires an update every week so it’s good to get that going before you even start to think about playing your first hand.

There’s nothing like loading all the programs you need and registering straight away only to find that something requires a major update and you have to click through that process before you can properly focus on your tournaments.

You’ll also want to check you have enough funds to play all the tournaments you want to play in that session. This is where coming up with a schedule beforehand can be very useful as you’ll know exactly how much money you need.

If you have your entire roll on the different clients already, then make sure you have enough on each one to play the tournaments coming that day.

You don’t want to waste time, and get distracted, by trying to find your card to add money to a site. Get it all done beforehand so you can give 100% focus when you start playing.

My advice: don’t register for a tournament until you’ve got everything set up.

Step 3: Create a folder for screenshots

I think only PokerStars save the bounty info into the hand history. That means you’ll need to screenshot your PKO tournaments on other sites.

You should also routinely take screenshots of the lobby in all tournaments. This includes vanilla tournaments where you’ll want to quickly know how many players were left, how many were paid, what the payout structure looks like and the average stack size.

Here you can see a folder I created with screenshots of tables and lobbies so I can run them later in the week:

You’ll want to open Snipping Tool (or similar) at this stage if you didn’t already open it in step 2. I recently discovered that the Print Screen button on my keyboard brings it up quickly.

Step 4: Make sure hand histories are being saved

Before you start your session, you want to make sure that your tracking software is importing hands in real-time (if the poker client allows that, of course). In PokerTracker it’s called ‘Get Hands While Playing’.

This will ensure that your HUD works on the sites that permit them and you have hands saving into your database. It’s also a very efficient way to mark hands during the session. More on why this is so important later.

I recommend just marking hands for ‘Review’ rather than trying to tag them efficiently while you play. In Step 6, I’ll show you how to categorise hands at the end of your session as a cool-down.

But for now, focus on quickly marking hands and avoiding distractions.

Step 5: Keep a notebook handy for ideas

If you can’t mark a hand because you’re playing on a site like GG, Unibet or Party, then you’ll need a way of recording the hand the old-fashioned way. I like to use a notebook, but you could just use Notepad, TextEdit or something similar on your computer.

Party and GG allow you to download hand histories after the fact so make a habit of downloading them every week. Once you’ve imported the hands into your tracker, you’ll be able to quickly identify the hands using the notes from your notebook.

At the end of the session, it can be all too easy to just switch off your machine and go to bed, or go and do something else if you want to wind down.

But the session shouldn’t end until you’ve set yourself up for improving your game over the next few days.

Here are the final two points to make sure you set yourself up for success:

Step 6: Categorise your marked hands

Close all your poker clients, and that cheeky YouTube video you opened at the end of your session while you were one-tabling, and go into your poker tracker and stop importing hands.

Then go through all of your marked hands and categorise them to similar concepts or themes.

I use the following tags in PokerTracker to help:

  • SRPvsBB

  • BvB

  • 3betPots

  • Exploit

  • PKO

  • SRPasBB

  • Multiway

  • Bubble

  • FinalTable

Step 7: Plan your next study session

The final step before you turn off your machine, is to plan your next study session using the notes from your notebook, your marked hands and your screenshot folder.

You’ll probably notice that there are common areas that you’re struggling with because there will be a number of hands tagged in the same category.

Let’s say you notice that over half of the hands you tagged were PKO spots, then you know you need to do some work this week on PKO strategy: run some sims, explore them, understand the strategies, think about what’s going on, work out the why etc.

If you’re struggling in the BB vs c-bets then you know to setup some training drills in BB vs IP spots in your favourite postflop trainer, like DTO or GTO Wizard.

You might also want to set off a preflop sim to run over night so you can guarantee you have something to study the next day or in your next study session.

I find that Sundays are a great time to schedule what and when I’m going to study in the week that follows. Often they can be the best and worst sessions of the week, so making sure you focus on setting yourself up for success is key, regardless of your results.


If you want to win every online session you play, focus on these steps:

Step 1: Tidy your workspace

Step 2: Open all poker clients and software

Step 3: Create a folder for screenshots

Step 4: Make sure hand histories are being saved

Step 5: Keep a notebook handy for ideas

Step 6: Categorise your marked hands

Step 7: Plan your next study session

It’s a simple system, but ensures you’re focusing on controlling the controllables.

Good luck out there!


Whenever you're ready, here's how I can help you:

The Final Table: Play your best poker when the most is at stake. Detailed analysis of over 100 hand examples at different stages of play. Learn how to make great decisions every time and set yourself up for daily progress.

Poker On The Mind: Listen to my podcast with Dr Tricia Cardner as we discuss peak poker performance and tournament poker strategy.

Train & Play Like The Pros: Join the next cohort of my flagship program that will take you from amateur to training and playing like the pros in the next 8 weeks. There are only 12 spots for each cohort, and when they're gone, they're gone and I close enrolment until the next one.

Purposeful Practice for Poker: Gain a clear theoretical understanding of the science of purposeful practice and how you can apply it to your poker study & training. Includes specific exercises designed to create an infallible plan for poker improvement.


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