Is Poker Damaging to Your Health? - Part 6
My poker playing is coming to an end for the rest of the year, which is not a bad thing because I am bleeding chips right now. By the end of the week cards are going to be replaced by mince pies, port and Guinness. It's the time of year where we are all going to be nursing a few hangovers, so what better a time for me to discuss alcohol and other vices, and their impact on playing poker.
Now hopefully you don't start one of your online sessions by getting a four pack out of the fridge, but the casino is an environment where you have access to and are encouraged to partake in a tipple or too, the looser you are the better really. Many casinos still allow you to smoke and all of them have a regular free supply of one of the world's most addictive substances, caffeine.
I never drink when I play poker, I've played poker once when drunk, I came in plastered at 2 in the morning, loaded up my Pacific Poker account and the next morning I woke up and found out I had nothing in it. You don't have to be a medical student to know that booze and brain games don't mix, yet so many poker players can be found swigging away before and during a poker tournament. I always start rubbing my hands together with excitement when someone is gulping down the ale at my table, yet so many players seem to think it gives them an edge.
Alcohol is one of many substances one can take during a poker session which will have a profound impact on the way you play. Caffeine and Cigarettes are probably the other two most common. If we delve further into the dark side of the casino recreational drugs such as speed and cocaine have been used to aid poker performance, as well as lead to the downfall of the many a poker star.
For socially responsible reasons (Drugs are bad mckay) I am not going to talk about actual illegal substances and their influence at the poker table, because I don't want to give anyone any silly ideas and most cardrooms would throw out anyone caught with recreational drugs on the premises. Today I'm going to explore the socially acceptable habits of alcohol, smoking and caffeine which are all ever present in the casino environment.
Alcohol is often incorrectly considered (particularly by poker players) as an 'upper' or stimulant. Some of the psychological effects that have led to this misconception are increased confidence and reduced inhibitions. Alcohol is actually a depressant, a tranquiliser that actually sedates and impairs mental functions, not improves them.
Drinking and playing poker shouldn't even be a consideration. Your judgement is impaired and your mood can turn aggressive. These two factors combined can lead to you squandering all your chips on nothing in a moment of madness. There is no wonder most casinos don't charge much or even give it away for free, because the less judgement you have the more you will fritter away on your lucky number on the roulette wheel.
Staying sober when the rest of the field is rat-arsed should give you a distinct edge at the tables; you should get very excited that they are prepared to give up some of their good judgement at your table.
Anyone who smokes will tell you that a quick puff will give you a pick-me-up, a sudden burst of energy that leaves you feeling sharp and alert, surely this is beneficial for the poker smokers out there? Well, not quite, it is a half truth.
Nicotine does indeed have a stimulant effect, it increases your blood flow leaving you feel more alert and awake. The first (of many) problems with this is that the pick-me-up is very short, and within 20 minutes you will be left wanting……needing another one.
You would have to be living in a 1930s advertising board room to not accept that smoking creates a dependency, and in order for you to stay 'up' on cigarettes during a long poker session you would need to be smoking a hell of a lot of packs a day. The next problem arises when you find yourself in one of those lefty casinos which doesn't allow smoking in the cardroom – which thankfully is becoming most of them. If smoking helps your game you will be somewhat redundant in one of these card rooms and forced to miss vital hands while you run out to the bar to light up.
But here is a shocker for you smokers, cigarettes do not even have a stimulant effect all the time. When smoked deeply and slowly the carbon monoxide in cigarettes actually relaxes and slightly sedates you. If you've ever been stressed you will know what I mean, because a smooth long cigarette is just what you crave to calm you down.
So smoking may have some benefits at the table, take some long deep puffs if you have just taken a bad beat to calm you down and take some quick short squeezes if you need to perk up. But really, I think we all know that the very miniscule benefits of a quick tab at the table are enormously outweighed by the benefits of not smoking – after all, being alive is a necessary trait of any good player.
This is where we get into my vice land, I am a tea whore. Caffeine is usually free for all at the casino because the house likes to keep their punters awake as long as they have money in their pockets. Most of us Brits enjoy a good cup of tea or coffee and I'm not going to dog it too much, because as long as it's in moderation caffeine is beneficial to our performance.
In small doses, caffeine counters the effects of fatigue and helps our concentration and energy levels at the table. Caffeine gives us a clearer train of thought and increased intellectual ability. It starts working in less than an hour and can last for a few hours to come.
The important thing with caffeine is to have it in very controlled doses, no more than one cup of tea/coffee every two hours, preferably less than that. Large doses can actually impair your mental performance and increase anxiety levels. You'll become disorientated and jittery. Too much regular caffeine will create a dependency and every cup will have less effect than the previous.
A cup of tea/coffee every few hours during a late night session can actually help, but stagger them or set yourself a limit, because otherwise they'll not have the benefits you crave and a whole host of new problems the deal with. You will also find yourself making mad dashes to the toilet every time you fold a hand because tea and coffee are diuretic, which means that it encourages you to urinate.
Caffeine helps you stay awake which leads me nicely onto what I'll be discussing next time we meet, sleep – how much you should have, when you should play and when you should stop playing and hit the sack.
Until then, Merry Christmas, and don't drink too much unless you are at my table.
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