Start the Rocky montage
I wrote this post on my way down to Tunica, a trip I've been taking more frequently of late. There's a reason for that... let me explain.
When I'm at home in between events, I typically used to do what any stay-at-home Dad would do. I'd take the kids to school, pick them up, feed them and help with homework, and so on. That's how my days generally would go when I was home for a couple of weeks: pretty relaxed, without too much to do that was mentally challenging.
Staying in the zone... or not
Then I'd pick up and go play a tournament, and gradually I discovered that a lot of times I'd make it all of the way to the end of the first day of the tourney, then bust in the late stages of the night. I finally came to realize I've been getting tired at the end of those long first days, and one reason why is that I'm not "mentally in shape" when I go back out on these trips.
Poker is a mentally draining game. You don't always think about it, but when you're playing a tournament you generally have to focus for long periods of time, which can be hard to do. When I was home and out of the routine of playing, it would be tough to go back on the road and keep focused for a long time after having essentially been on vacation from thinking for a couple of weeks.
So what I've started to do now is when I am at home for a stretch I'll take day trips down to Tunica to play cash games from, say, 9am to 4pm, as a way of trying to keep my "poker stamina" up, if you will. It's about a 45-minute drive for me, and so the trips fit well into my daily routine.
The first three days I took these trips to Tunica, I came home and pretty much fell right to sleep. I was completely drained. But now I can go play, come home and have dinner and spend time with the kids, and I'm fine. I'm hoping that a result of these trips will be that when I go play tournaments I'll be able to play deeper into the evening and still maintain my stamina late into the night.
It used to be I would play online during these times at home, but I can't do that at present. But even playing online isn't quite the same, as you can take breaks whenever you want and be relaxed and not necessarily be dealing with the all of the challenges - mental and physical - associated with sitting in a live poker room playing for 14 hours in a row.
Abusing the weary
The last level of the night in a poker tournament -- even when you're in a good rhythm and making good decisions -- is often the hardest to play well. Usually I'll try to play lock-down poker and avoid making any moves or reads and just stay out of trouble, but as I say it finally became apparent to me that I was still running into problems with surviving the end of the night. And, of course, even by playing tight and avoiding doing anything tricky, I was hurting myself by not accumulating chips at a time when it's usually important to be doing just that.
My wife was the first to point out the problem to me, in fact. "I can't tell you how many texts I've gotten from you," she told me, "where you're in the last level or two of the night and you go broke."
Part of it had to do with the blinds going up, my stack going down, and me being forced to make a move and put myself at risk. But there were times when I'd just make a bad play or a mistake, something I wouldn't have done during the eight hours prior to that moment when I was mentally sharp.
When I first sit down I notice everything; all of the twitches, the indications that players are strong or weak, and the other things associated with making good reads. I have all sorts of confidence, too. But then after dinner break those reads were becoming less reliable, and my focus was deteriorating. I wouldn't see that little glance down at the chips or the straightening up in the chair or other small things that can be important to note, things that can be the difference between going broke or not.
We've gonna need a montage
I've been working out more, too, which helps as well. If you look at the players at the top of the Global Poker Index, almost all of them are in good physical shape and health conscious. That's important, too, when it comes to staying sharp and attentive, and consistently competitive, too.
So that's why I'm taking these trips to Tunica. It's a little like going off to work every day, which something my kids had never really seen me do before, and then I come home and see them when they get out of school, like most dads. A side benefit has been I've been making some money playing in these cash games. But the main purpose is to work up my mental stamina and I'm looking forward to my next tournaments to see the effect.
Chris Moneymaker is a member of Team PokerStars Pro and won the WSOP Main Event in 2003.