A winning poker hand: Aces + serotonin

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The previous issue explained how playing poker helps us to stay mentally healthy. And, a healthy mind leads to a healthier body.

Also, the social aspects of the game, especially in a casino or home game, contribute to our health. A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

In that regard, the WHO discusses the findings by two Israeli doctors who have developed a system called “Synapsot.” That’s the Hebrew word for the “synapses” – nerve fibers in the brain for transmitting signals between brain cells.

Laughter and humor, they say, cause serotonin, a neurotransmitter chemical, to be released into the synapses, which makes us healthier as well as happier. In one study involving 800 men with heart disease, the happier and more optimistic men had a 20% better chance of staying alive than the pessimistic ones.

Among tips for promoting health, they urge us to say “thank you” even for the smallest things. It makes new synapses connections as well as improving attention skills.

What does this have to do with playing poker?

Certainly, the better our attention skills, the wiser our decisions at the poker table. Do more smiling and laughing, less frowning and grimacing, no matter the cards that are flopped. Your opponents will take notice and ponder the significance.

Not only will that smile/laugh help your mental health, but it will confuse your opponents. Now your hand is harder to read. To keep your opponents befuddled, don’t smile/laugh every time the flop hits the board, even if it doesn’t help your hand and you subsequently fold to a bet on the flop. Mix it up. Be more optimistic; i.e., have a positive attitude.

Say to yourself: “I’m sure the dealer will place the card I need on the board.” It’s amazing how confidence helps you to be a winner. When a tight player to your right raises, causing you to fold your middle pair, say “thank you.” He has just saved you from making a bet on a hand that was almost certain to be a loser.

When the dealer delivers a river card that makes your hand, just smile at him and say, “thank you.” Prove it by tipping him as you scoop up the huge pot.

Lest you get the impression all you have to do is smile, laugh and be optimistic at the poker table to gain mental health – and hence physical health – Dr. Dina Eisen, one of the two Israeli doctors, offers several tips for promoting health. These also relate to poker!

Hug someone, she recommends – but be cautious. Don’t hug an opponent at your table. A warm touch has positive physical effects on both the giver and the receiver. But don’t touch your neighbor at the table. Why help your opponent?

Eating cashew nuts, avocado, whole wheat bread, sweet potatoes, and spinach serve to increase the level of serotonin in your brain, thereby helping your brain synapses grow and flourish.

Your brain gets healthier. But do it on a break so you can focus on the game while you are playing.

Dr. Eisen suggests you get six to eight hours of sleep every night.

“Sleep balances the neurons (brain cells) back to their normal level,” he said.

So don’t stay out too late, playing poker into the wee hours. For me, the nights of playing poker I always sleep much more soundly. That’s another plus in our path to being mentally and physically healthier by playing poker and winning more.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and poker teacher in West Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of fame. Reach him on line at [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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