Poker is clearly not a physical sport, but in order to do well on the major televised poker circuit, top players need to be focused and as physically prepared as possible. The nature of tournament No Limit Hold’em is such that a person can play fantastically well all day long, but make one little mistake and that’s it. He’s done for.
In fact, to win at this level, players have to be at their best for anywhere from four to five consecutive days. Most tournaments start at noon and don’t finish until after midnight. Aside from a one-hour dinner break and ten-minute breathers every couple of hours, there’s not much time to rest.
There are a few simple rules that I live by before entering a major event. All of them have served me well. These rules can help you out too in your next tournament, whatever level you play.
1) Get some sleep. You simply cannot play at your best if you’re fatigued. You might start out okay, but by hour number eight or nine, you’ll start to fade and miss out on so much that’s happening at the table. To be at your best, your brain needs to be alert, spotting tells, focusing on betting patterns, and looking for good bluffing situations. If you’re tired, you just won’t be able to do that effectively.
2) No alcohol. You’ll hear stories about some hot shot that won a tournament while liquored up the whole way through. Believe me, those victories are few and far between.
In a four to five hour span, you might get away with drinking a little alcohol without any serious effect on your results. To win a big tournament, however, you’ll have to play consecutive 12-hour days.
Boozing for half the day isn’t a good idea for your game or for your health. By the way, I’m not only referring to the actual event. Avoid drinking alcohol the night before an event and any time in-between play. Hangovers fog the brain and will cost you money.
3) Limit your caffeine. You’re going to get tired if you make it deep into a tournament. That’s a given. What you do to counteract your fatigue can have a significant impact on your play later in the tournament.
If you’re tired near the end of day one, you may think that it’s a good idea to get a caffeine jolt from coffee or a Red Bull. While that rush might help you get through the evening, it could have negative consequences if overused – especially on the next day.
Coffee dehydrates the body. Drinking too much of it day after day can actually make you groggy. Also, if you over-caffeinate late in the evening, you’ll affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
4) Watch what you eat. Heavy, fatty foods can make you tired. Unfortunately, when you just have ten minutes to grab something on a break, it’s likely that you’ll only find fast food options like burgers, pizza, or hot dogs.
When you watch me play on television, you’ll notice a plastic bag full of goodies that my mother prepares for me. If mommy won’t cook for you, then you’d be wise to prepare something light and healthy to get you through until dinner.
At dinner, don’t overeat. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen players go broke right after the dinner break because they were lethargic after a large turkey dinner!
5) Avoid people. This may seem a little strange, but it’s amazing how much energy is sucked out of you when you’re in large groups listening to poker stories. Hearing slot machines clang loudly, or even just engaging in social conversation, can also wear you down.
The night before an event, you’ll do better if you sit alone and quiet your mind. A little light strategy discussion with someone you trust is okay as well, but for the most part, you’ll benefit by finding a serene space.
If you are truly serious about doing well in tournaments, you need to prepare properly before the cards are even dealt.
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