If life is stressful, then poker is life in HD. After all, by its very nature poker is a volatile game so if you don’t have your head together, your passion can cost you big time. Over the course of your poker life, you’ll definitely take some hits, but the idea is to win more than you lose in the long run, thereby making the game profitable to play. Otherwise, what’s the point? Sure it’s fun, but consistently losing money is never enjoyable.
Saving You from Yourself...
If you want to maximize your winnings, you have to go into each and every game with a clear head. All the strategy, tricks and techniques in the world won’t save you from your own muddled mind. This is probably the most fundamental tenant of playing winning poker: staying focused. If you're not focused you won't learn, if you're not focused you won't make good decisions, and if you're not focused you won't win – and you want to win.
Playing to Win: How to Stay Focused
Poker is an endurance sport and like any endurance sport, you have to train for optimal performance. This means treating your body like a temple so you can use your mind like a workhorse. Your mind is your muscle here, but the proper function of your mind largely depends on the proper functioning of your body – and the ideal functioning of your body basically boils down to one key component: hormone balance.
That's right: hormones are not just something pregnant and menopausal women have to deal with; they affect us all, and often in more subtle and significant ways than we're aware of. To fine tune your mind, you'll need to spend some time prepping your body to facilitate ideal hormone balance. This could mean making just a few tweaks for some people, and it could mean a total lifestyle overhaul for others.
There's a multitude of factors that go into bringing about hormonal bliss, but in the grand scheme of things, there are three that are mega important:
Genetics also plays a role in determining your exact hormonal composition, but since we can't do anything about genetics, we're going to focus on what we can change; namely, our lifestyle.
I've actually written an entire article on this, which you should definitely read to get the full story on how diet impacts your biochemical aptitude and as a result, your ability to play. Suffice it to say here that staying hydrated and eating clean, nutrient dense, whole foods is akin to fueling your car with premium gasoline: you simply run better and steadier for longer. I've also written an article on what, exactly, you should eat to optimize your edge.
Again, I've spent some time doing my research and I've written several articles on how exercise can enhance your play. Not only will staying fit help you better mentally endure the long, tense hours at the table by boosting your happy hormones and increasing your ability to focus, but there are certain exercises that are ideal for keeping your body strong and comfortable during the game. (After all, the only pain in your ass should be your opponent.)
Rest is when your mind and body repair and rejuvenate. You simply need it, and - while this is hard for a night owl like myself to say – it's best to get it before midnight. There is ample evidence that purports that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after. While there is some debate as to whether or not this is strictly accurate, it seems to hold true for more people than not. Sleep is undeniably important, and for most of us who need to be up early for jobs and/or families, getting to sleep earlier simply means we get more sleep.
Cortisol, the 'stress hormone', is one of the hormones affected by sleep – or lack thereof. When we are sleep deprived, we simply cannot focus as well, and as a result, our judgment will suffer. Make sure to tuck in early to help you stay off tilt and focused on tomorrow's game.
If you've been living off caffeine, cocktails and cookies, pulling late nights and early mornings, making these changes can seem daunting, to say the least. However, if you're playing poker to win (and especially if you're trying to play poker for a living), you need to do whatever it takes to refine your edge. I know firsthand that living on the rails can be tough, but if you make sure your mind and body are running in sync, you'll do wonders to keep your mind clear and your bankroll healthy.
Here's an episode of Project Get Me Stackin', that has to do with this topic: