Have you ever noticed that you can never find a clock in a casino? That's because they don't want you to know when its way past your bedtime. The life of a poker player is traditionally a nocturnal one, however online poker has taken some of that necessity away (unless you want to play in the bigger online tournaments). Tournaments often last well into the early hours of the morning and the best cash games don't usually get going until most people have had their Horlicks.
So bad sleeping habits are inevitable if you want to play poker? Well, no. Proper sleep is not only important to the poker player; it could be your secret weapon at the table.
20% of people do not get enough sleep each night according to a recent study. Most adults need between seven or eight hours sleep a night, though some can need as little as five hours (me) and others can need up to ten (my missus) – you will probably have a good idea where you are in this scale.
The human brain has within it a structure known as a prefrontal cortex, this is the part of the brain that gathers information from our senses and integrates it our memories, emotions and cognitive processes – otherwise known as thinking.
When you have been awake for a long time, your prefrontal cortex metabolises glucose at a much slower rate, it takes a break for the night. You are left with less emotional flexibility and your judgement and reaction time diminishes. You are left in a more Neanderthal state of mind – and this is when you start making ridiculous bets at the poker table.
The casinos flourish in the wee hours of the morning because everyone has lost their ability to bet responsibly, the association with gambling and the importance of money seem to distance themselves from each other. So playing poker when you should be in bed will leave you in the same predicament, you will be playing a lot looser than usual. You will be calling bets without thinking about it and reraising with ace high out of boredom.
Not only will you be playing looser, lack of sleep will make it harder to hide your emotions, so going on tilt when you are cream crackered will show much more and observant players will pick up on this and use it to their advantage.
It is very important to get a good nights sleep the day before a big session, if possible having a lie in for as long as you can. If you can sleep in til noon when everyone else gets up at 7 for work, then you have a 5 hour advantage over them for how long your brain can function at 100%. More so, when you are feeling tired, this is your bodies way of warning you that should stop – so call it a day if you are feeling tired (especially if you are losing) and if you are in a tournament its time to get a coffee, which will counter the effects for a while.
Playing with the optimal amount of rest is vital to stop you losing money, but playing when your opponents have not had the optimal amount of rest is potentially very profitable. I have got into the habit of getting up at around 6:00am UK time to play cash games online, knowing that it is 1.00am in New York and 10:00pm in LA. I will have showered, had a good nights sleep, had a light breakfast and a cup of tea – I'm good to go. My chums over the pond will be making up over 75% of the traffic, especially at that time, and most of them will be tired, contemplating going to bed, possibly drunk and possibly stoned. I will be feeling relaxed, sharp and emotionally detached, the perfect time to be playing against players who shouldn't be playing anymore.
It is very profitable to play cash games at this time, the average pot size and percentage of players seeing a flop is considerably larger than it is 8 hours earlier when I am ready to go to bed. When you join these games observe them for a while, most of the time players are making very bad calls and getting all their money in with hands you would only expect to see people committing to in the late stages of a tournament. If I see an all in preflop during normal hours I'm expecting to see Aces or Kings, but at 3 in the morning US time don't be surprised to see Ace-Jack or pocket sixes. Don't bluff in these games, wait for big (ish) hands and trap opponents or limp with speculative hands and wait to hit a set or a flush against a Neanderthal who can't muck middle pair.
Sleep is as important as anything else at the poker table; especially for the cash game player who can and should be picking and choosing when they play. Not only is getting your regular 8 hours a day is vital but spotting when someone else at the table is tired could be your passport to profit. If a game is too good to pass up or you are playing really well, by all means have a coffee and carry on when you are feeling tired, but if you are not cashing big or you start to let your concentration slip, go and get some shut eye. I promise poker will still be there tomorrow.
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