Working harder … Food for thought

Do you really want to leave your series to chance?

Brain Candy

You ever notice how you don’t see football players drinking Mountain Dew before the Super Bowl? There is a reason why stories of Babe Ruth eating solely hot dogs before games are the exception and not the rule. Yet, when many poker players make the trek to Vegas, they seem to want to prove they’re the new pro who can wing it and win everything.

In my experience, as a professional player without a wealth of a natural talent, real money can be made at a live series by just making the simple fixes others are too lazy to implement, such as:

1) Eat Lighter. Feel Lighter

It is more important than ever to eat for energy and not for pleasure. You’re adjusting to a new climate, a new culinary lexicon, and new mental pressures. If there was ever a time for your body to collapse it is now. Get ahead before your body feels the crunch.

Now, notice I did not say eat a low calorie diet. You are burning calories through the mental load you are taking on. You need to eat, amply, but you wouldn’t put black market Frankenstein gas from the former Soviet Bloc in a McLaren, would you? Feed your body fuel it can really use. I’ve found higher protein diets keep me energetic and focused for a longer period of time. Meat, beans, and vegetables really hit the spot.

I’m an American, and every year I go back to the states I want to gorge on my favorite American foods, but that always is a recipe for low-energy poker tournament disasters. What is the main culprit? Starch. Bread is delicious, but an excess of it leaves you tired. Try to eat smaller portions of rice to get your carbs. Don’t gorge on pizza, sandwiches, and the surplus of other white starch options readily available in the states.

Drink two full glasses of water after the alarm goes off. Eat protein within 30 minutes of waking up. It starts your metabolism, and will have you feeling energetic all day. I recommend two eggs, turkey bacon, refried beans, and sliced tomato. Mmmmm … If you don’t have time or a kitchen in the morning, get a protein shake mix at least.

Drink more water. Tons of it. Don’t drink your calories. Take a number of snacks with you for each tournament. Don’t stock up on those “energy” bars or dried fruits, as many of them are cleverly disguised candy. Try almonds and other fresh fruit.  I’ve also found Omega 3 supplements really encourage focus.

For more information on practical diet for competition I’d recommend meeting with a nutritionist and reading nutrition books on endurance training. Other titles that were helpful were “The Four Hour Body” and “The Power of Full Engagement.”

2) Ease Up On The Caffeine

While I love caffeine, binging at home during poker tournaments, it’s a huge detriment to your game to fall off a caffeine high.

Don’t drink more than three cups of coffee a day. Try to have one only every few hours. The best online tournament player I know does this, and it works wonders.

Load up on apples. Drink two glasses of water for every cup of coffee. Talk with the people at your table to be more engaged; don’t always force it chemically.

3) Protect Your Immune System

At home, people marvel at my body’s defenses. Yet, every time I get on a damn airplane, I’m lucky if by the time we touchdown I’m only coughing up my lungs.

Because of how expected illness, jet lag, and changing my diet seem to royally screw up my system and temper, I’ve not played many live events over the years. Yet, going over my records to write this article, I’ve realized that’s been a silly alteration. My last two live series saw me making money, staying healthy, and having a great time.

What did I change? I slept eight hours every night. I tried to go to bed within the same general time period each night. I didn’t let myself sleep 9-10 hours and be groggy the whole day. When I went deep in the PCA this year, I woke up at 6 a.m. once, while it was still dark, because I passed out at 10 p.m. the night before. While the day was longer I felt tremendously under control because my sleep pattern was regulated.

I didn’t drink alcohol or smoke weed at all. I’m all for people having the right to do whatever drugs they wish to consume, but this is too easy of an edge to pick up. There’s a reason Phil Ivey doesn’t drink hardly ever, and you always hear about top pros making “no drinking” prop bets. It’s not because it hurts their game.

I exercised every single morning. It doesn’t matter if it’s waddling around on a running machine while watching baseball highlights. Just sweating out seems to really keep your body’s defenses on guard.

When your body isn’t slogging through THC, alcohol, and a high carb/sugar diet it seems to fare much better. It’s also helpful to take vitamin supplements to help with your immune system. The ones that have helped me the most are Equinacea, Septillin, and good old-fashioned Vitamin C.

Now, some of you are reading these suggestions and going, “OK Alex, most of these fall under the ‘no shit Sherlock’ category.”

Novelty is not what we’re aiming for. The real question is ‘Are you making all of these changes?’ If you read about a poker player doing everything listed above, you’d probably say, “Wow this guy’s on his game. He has a real shot at this WSOP.”

You can be that guy. Research shows that if you make it a habit to resist temptation and delay gratification you are much more likely to make the difficult decisions correctly in the moment. Your body will be attuned to not giving into the easy answer.

One other adjustment took me nearly a decade to get right, but once it is implemented you will feel unstoppable. So, most importantly …

Laugh, Smile, and Enjoy the Moment

The Blockbuster book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” discussed research that showed being in a good mood allows our intuitive mind to be freer. If you’ve done a good deal of the logical heavy lifting before tournaments with hand history reviews you want to focus on allowing your subconscious awareness to shine through.

It occurred to me when I read that book’s research that I made money at the last WSOP and PCA tournament series laughing my ass off. In the Bahamas, my friends and I walked on the beach every morning, goofing around before running into the ocean. At the WSOP, where I obviously didn’t have the same feel-good resources, my wife and I would watch episodes of “The Office” before tournaments. Sometimes we even put the laptop on a vacant poker table and watched them in the card room.

At the table, confront the monotony by adding information. Talk to people. Many great regulars are actually fairly lonely people who want to meet likeminded souls. They might not notice it, but they’ll go a little easier on you and feel less awful folding to you if they consider you a new friend. Even better, you’re not BSing anyone. You’ll have more fun and play better when you make new friends. Don’t just scowl and look like you’re trying to take everyone’s money.

Your money is going to come from recreational players. Blessedly, they do get to win sometimes, but these kind people have chosen to play with you knowing they are not going to win often. Please respect them. Shower, shave, and wear some decent clothes to the tables. You’ll look more like one of them and less like a regular if you drop the basketball shorts and flip flops. Find out where they’re from and what they do for a living. I can’t tell you how many fascinating stories I’ve heard at the tables doing this.

Do not go in expecting to win. If you enter a raffle with thousands of other people, and the organizer slips you an additional two tickets for free, you know you’re extremely lucky … and you’re also still going to not win 99.8 percent+ of the time. Just because there’s momentary glimpses of hope when you double your starting stack or make Day 2 does not change this central starting fact. Focus on how lucky you are just to be playing poker on the grand stage. Enjoy the people around you. You can’t make money every time you play poker. You can always have a meaningful experience which educates you.

Good luck to all of you.

June 2014