What is pokers effect on the brain? Have you considered this before? I don’t think many players have spend too much time thinking about it or concerning themselves with this topic. However, I do think it is a topic that warrants some discussion.
Mental Illness In Poker
Ah yes, mental Illness in poker is a topic that nobody particularly wants to discuss. The thing about “mental illness” is that it generally comes with an incredible stigma attached to it. Many people suffer from various levels of anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, drug addiction and personality disorder. One of the most common stigma’s is that somehow if you suffer from mental illness you are simply weak. Poker players tend to be a pretty unforgiving lot overall, and I know right now you are thinking if you are suffering from mental illness don’t player poker! Yes, I think we can all agree that is a good idea. Keep in mind though that sometimes when people slip into a state of depression they may not even be aware it has happened to them.
Anyhow, I am writing this blog because I know many people struggle with mental illness and I want to shine some light on the issue. I am fortunate to have never suffered from mental illness, and I hope to remain that way for the remainder of my life. Having said that, I recognize the debilitating effect it can have on people’s lives and hope that those who suffer are able to find help.
How Mental Illness Effects Poker Players
I don’t know. If you have personal experiences with this feel free to share them. Obviously, every persons story is unique and the game will effect them in different ways. My personal opinion is that this game is only suited for players that are in a stable mental state. I always say that if you have emotional turmoil in your life that is probably not the best time to be at the tables. Some examples of times to avoid the tables are when the girl friend breaks up with you, parent / sibling / close friend or family passes away, or any other event that is causing an upheaval in your life (like moving).
Does Mass Multi-Tabling Cause Mental Illness?
Dusty Schmidt wrote an interesting blog a while back about his personal experiences. In fact, he claimed that his brain was negatively altered by playing a huge number of tables over extended periods of time. I think it is pretty fair to say that mass-multitabling for huge numbers of hours like PokerStars Supernova requires is a high stress job that will have consequences on your brain and health. What exactly those consequences are….. Well, this is where things get a lot more tricky. I doubt that anyone will ever do the research to find out the answer to this question. All we have is a few guys and their personal experiences to rely on.
IMO, the answer to the question I pose is no, mass-multitabling doesn’t cause mental illness. However, I do think it is possible that poker could serve as a trigger for it given the high stress it places individuals under. It is worth noting the effects it has on your body and the brain. In particular, I believe that long sessions are both mentally and physically exhausting. There has been some great research done recently that shows sitting at your desk for extended periods of time is not healthy. So, if you are going to be multi-tabling away it might make sense to get yourself a standing desk and at least eliminate some of the physical toll. I am a believer in the mind body connection and think that what is good for the body is good for the mind and what is bad for the body is bad for the mind.
Does Poker Reduce Your Ability To Focus?
So, this is one of the frequent issues I have heard brought up by players. You’ll often hear statements about how I used to be able to sit down and read a book, watch a sporting event, watch a movie, etc and not get bored. Some mass multi-tabling pros feel like none of these events come close to stimulating the brain in the way that playing a dozen or two dozen tables at once does. Is this a bit of a case of the chicken and the egg though? Will we ever know which came first? Are people who naturally struggle to focus drawn to online poker and multi-tabling? Good question, and I would lean yes on that question. There are a good number of action junkie types who love to play 20 tables at once.
Does Poker Cause Sleep Trouble?
Long ago, I worked as an Investment Banker for JPMorgan securities, and to this day I remain good friends with a number of traders. Interestingly, that many of them have (admittedly) become quite addicted to constantly monitoring the markets. This addiction is a difficult one to deal with because it has a bit of a positive feedback loop rather than a negative one. Quite literally, it pays to pay attention to the markets non-stop. Especially early on in ones career it is often viewed as essential to gain as much experience as possible. However, I have also known traders who wake up 2-3 times in the middle of the night to check the markets on a frequent basis, and can’t roll out of bed without finding out what the S&P futures or JPY/USD cross is at. If trading is causing insomnia that probably isn’t such a good thing…. I think it is safe to say the same thing goes for poker :).
For those of you who think I am just bashing on poker and the effect it has on the brain, I am not. In fact, I am well aware of the addictive nature of many activities that are present in our daily life (think cell phones). My point is simply don’t be in denial and stay aware of how certain activities may have an effect on your daily life. If you play poker late at night and are struggling to sleep, it might be helpful to consider moving your playing time to an earlier time of day. Unfortunately, that may effect your results 🙁 – late night action does tend to be good!
How Poker Effects My Mental State
1) Poker leads to incredible emotional highs and lows. I am an even keeled person, but this game can still get to me. When I am winning the tendency is to feel good and energized, and when I lose it is hard not to feel a bit bad. I try never to get too high when pots are going my way or too low when things go poorly. I do subscribe to the philosophy that if a session is going horribly and you don’t feel well quit! Playing your C game simply doesn’t cut it in today’s challenging poker environment.
2) Losing for relatively long stretches of time can be quite upsetting. This is particularly the case because I am competitive and strive to play my best continuously.
3) The stress of constantly having flickering screens and dealing with opponents who are trying to take my money can make me a bit irritable. I’ve often found the most annoying sessions to be the ones where all the players around me seemed to be hyper aggressive and 3betting a ton, but they always had it….
4) Tolerance for bad beats dips as the length of a session increases. The longer I play the more annoying bad beats or a stupid reg play that works out for him will be (in my experience at least). Early on in sessions I am generally able to shake this kind of thing off no problem.
Five Mental Tips For Poker Players
1) Short sessions – as I mentioned earlier this will help to ease your frustrations
2) Hit the gym. I think this can have a significant positive effect on your mental state and ultimately your results at the tables.
3) Decompress after a session for 10-15 min. I have found this can significantly reduce any stress that I might carry over from the poker tables to other events in my life.
4) Limit your losses at high stakes games if you play them. Not doing so can result in feeling bad for an extended period of time about your results. Stop loss limits aren’t always necessary at your ordinary stake level, but I feel they are quite important when you jump up games. I suggest no more than a couple of buy-in loss if you are playing more than 1 stake level above your normal game.
5) Breathe. Especially after winning or losing a big pot or a series of pots make sure you take a few deep breaths. This will help to keep you calm and focused at the tables.
That is it for now! Hope you found the article interesting. Be sure to check out my book which is on sale right now :).
-ThePokerCapitalist (No nonsense, no ads, straight talk on poker)