Not all breaks from game are same

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Poker players often take breaks from the game they are playing. They may just sit at the table without playing, or leave for a while, subsequently returning to the game. All breaks are not alike.  

A player may need to answer nature’s call, and hurry to the restroom. That break takes precedence over all others. The casino permits a player to do so without losing his seat at the table providing he’s not “missing in action” for too long a time. I have seen the floorperson remove a player’s chips and belongings after a break as long as 30 minutes. That missing-in-action player redeems his chips and belongings, and must sign up again to get back into action. The House wants to keep tables full and active. Most players prefer full tables; otherwise the cost-to-play grows bigger as the rakes become more frequent. 

Other reasons for a player to take a break? Players are only human. Getting rivered in a bad beat can throw even well-seasoned players into tilt. That can be costly. That’s a perfect time to take a break. Go outside for a brisk walk while inhaling the fresh air. Relax. Then go back to the game. 

Periodically, players need to nourish themselves with food and drink. (Drink non-alcoholic beverages, so your mind is not dulled.) Casinos offer a wide variety of foods – usually tasty and reasonably priced – that can be neatly served on a portable table rolled up next to the player’s seat. 

Players who enjoy their meals while playing their hands are making a big mistake. For one thing, handling the chips and cards before picking up a sandwich could make them ill; after all, the chips/cards are not disinfected. They may also stain the cards they hold – Ugh!  Also important: While paying attention to their meals, they focus less on the game, and are bound to miss opponents’ tells.   

It is best to take a break from the game during your meal. Some players move to an empty table where they can better relax and enjoy the meal. During that time, think about the game and the types of players you are up against. You might even decide to make some strategic and/or tactical changes when you get back to your table – or to make a table change. Check your notes.

As for the dealers, most do a good job of keeping the game moving along without any problems. Occasionally, you may encounter a dealer who never smiles, never has a good word for anyone, never says “thanks” when being tipped, or even makes mistakes like shoving the pot to the wrong person. Personally, I am prone to take more and longer breaks while that dealer is running the show. 

By far, the best reason for taking a break is to use the time to closely observe the “enemy” while unencumbered with making key decisions. What kinds of hands do they play? How often does each opponent pay to see the flop?  “Poker Pigeons” generally stay to see the flop more than one out of four hands dealt. Smart players love to compete against them. How aggressive are they? Suggestion: Try to get seated to the left of a highly aggressive player who often raises. Based on a player’s actions and tells, do you think he is doing a lot of bluffing?   

Playing Texas hold’em, I have often seen players take breaks just as they were becoming the Button – the best position, when they can observe all the other players’ actions before making their decision. They are giving up an edge. Likewise, if the casino offers a bonus for Aces-cracked during certain hours, it is wise to postpone breaks until that period of time passes. You cannot gain that bonus if you are on a break.   

There are many reasons for taking breaks. Use your breaks to your advantage – not just to pass the time. 

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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