Breaks are key to making great decisions in poker

May 2, 2017 3:00 AM

You can easily sit for hours at a time while playing in a poker session. Is it time for a break? If not now, when?

Poker provides plenty of mental stimulation that certainly exercises our minds, keeping them healthy, but what about physical exercise? Everyone needs some physical activity – some exercise – that goes beyond movements of your fingers, hands, neck, head, mouth and eyes while sitting at the table, playing your favorite poker game.

Studies have shown (no surprise!) physical activity and exercise are essential for our hearts, waistlines, even our ability to function. It also helps our brains thrive and stay sharp. What’s more, it has been suggested such activities – along with playing poker – help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Furthermore, these can also benefit your poker results.

Taking short breaks from the game – just 10-15 minutes – can help your poker game in many ways. Leave the table every so often for a breath of fresh air. Take a brisk walk outside of the casino; breathe deeply. Aside from the physical exercise, it will refresh your mind. As you walk, think about the game you are playing – the players whose chips you want to win. What are their playing traits? How should you best play against each? Do you think one of them bluffs a lot? Be prepared. Are you playing too many marginal hands preflop? Should you be playing more aggressively after the flop?

If you just suffered a bad beat on the river, it’s bound to be on your mind. As you proceed on your walk, reassure yourself it happens to everyone. As you take a deep breath, realize it’s just part of the game. Get over the anger and disappointment – natural emotional responses – and move forward. If not, it can only lead you to play carelessly – perhaps even go on tilt, and make costly mistakes. Avoid it. Taking a break can help.

The other day at the senior center, I discussed this topic with my poker buddy, Lucy. She raised a logical question that follows from my advice about taking an occasional break from the poker table.

“Poker is a sedentary activity, unlike playing sports and shopping where you move about. But you can exercise your body while sitting at the poker table,” she nodded. “Have you ever heard of isometrics?”

Lucy explained: “Isometrics are exercises that involve pulling or pushing against an immoveable object, such as the edge of the poker table or the bottom of the chair as you sit on it. (Beware of that messy wad of gum someone may have implanted there.)

Regarding exercising at the table, Lucy and I often attend the Gait-and-Balance class at the Freda Mohr Senior Center, where Kathy W. (a fantastic physical therapist) has taught us exercises that can easily be done while seated and involved in a poker hand, observing the action along with the players. Do these exercises rather than watching the basketball game on the big-screen TV mounted on the wall. Better yet, do your exercises while you are out of a hand (most of the hands dealt to you).

These include arm and shoulder stretches, keeping your arms close to your body so as not to disturb the players to your side. You can exercise your knees and arms while seated – even when you are involved in a hand. Simply clasp your hands on the outside of your knees and force them apart, restrained by your arms. Sometimes, while I am out of a hand, I stand up and, using the back of my chair for balance, exercise my knees and ankles – while observing the poker hand underway.

Bottom Line: There are many ways you can exercise parts of your body while playing poker – even while you are in the hand and focusing on it, and observing your opponents. An occasional short break from the game – a brisk walk outdoors – also is highly recommended.