The Poker Lifestyle: Will It Wreck You?

The Shuffle

The most important, and possibly hardest, part of playing poker professionally is controlling excesses and living a healthy lifestyle.

"The cardinal sin in poker, worse than playing bad cards, worse even than figuring your odds incorrectly, is becoming emotionally involved.

"While the game requires that you fully engage with other players at the table, that you pay attention to their quirks and personalities, you're not supposed to identify with them in any way. You are, in other words, expected to empathize with your opponents while remaining devoid of all compassion. It is very hard to do."

-Katy Lederer

It's very easy to fall into the traps of the poker lifestyle and ignore its perks. To be successful at anything, you need to have balance. If you lose balance in your life, everything you do will suffer in some way. I wish I could say that living a good poker lifestyle is an easy thing to do, but it's not.

A little while back I moved across the world and took a long break from poker. My lifestyle was killing me, and I didn't have the willpower to fix it. When you realize you have a problem, it only becomes an issue if you don't work on resolving it.

The Traps

The traps you'll run into will all come at you at once. Once you let one of them get a foothold, the rest will catch up with you in no time. It is important to be very diligent and make sure you steer clear of all of these.

Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey will ride out a winning session until he's too exhausted to continue.

Overwork: The biggest trap that every single poker player I have ever met has fallen into is overwork. It's almost impossible not to fall prey to this tendency. It seems highly ironic, considering the reason most of us start playing professionally is that we don't want to have a regular job.

When you're winning, you want to maximize it. I'm not saying this is a bad thing at all; I follow Phil Ivey's maxim that if he's winning he won't leave the table until he has all of the chips or he is too exhausted to play any further.

When you're losing, you want to make your money back. It becomes an obsession. You can't function in the real world because your latest loss is gnawing at you. All you can think about is getting back into the game to make back your losses.

This is not the same as chasing losses; this is playing strong poker with the understanding that your game comes down to hours. The more hours you put in, the more money you will make. Rebuying during a session is not a mistake; all professional players bring multiple buy-ins with them to the game.

If you're playing good poker and just happened to lose in a bad situation, it stands to reason that you will still make back what you lost, or at least a portion of it, by rebuying. This is only true if you are still in a state to play good poker and you didn't lose the first buy-in because you're at a table you cannot beat.

If you don't stop playing while you're winning and you don't stop playing while you're losing, then you'll perpetually be playing poker.

Who's Around You: I was at the point where I was playing between 50 and 80 hours a week. For over a month, I rarely left my room or my computer chair for that matter. When you're playing this much online poker, you have absolutely no social interaction. As you can imagine, this is simply not healthy.

Even if you go to a cardroom, you are spending all of your time sitting at a table with degenerate gamblers and greasy scum. Not all poker players are like this, but enough of them are to make your life at the table less than spectacular.

Eric Liu
Falling asleep at the table should be a warning sign.

Sleep Schedule: This one is hard to work around. The best games usually happen at night. That's when the rest of the world has gotten off work. When the fish come out to play is when you should be going out fishing.

If you're starting your day's work at 11 p.m., then you're basically working the graveyard shift. I would consistently be getting home as my roommates were getting up and making breakfast on their way to work in the morning.

If you're up all night, you end up sleeping all day. You never see the sun, you do nothing active, and you see no human beings outside of poker.

Nutrition/Fitness: It's very important to keep yourself healthy. I know a guy who dropped out of his third year of a kinesiology degree to play poker full time. The guy is now pushing 300 pounds.

When all you do is sit at a table or your desk and eat, drink and say a few words, it's not rocket surgery to expect that you're going to be out of shape and put on some weight. The less healthy you are, the worse you feel - both mentally and physically. The worse you feel in life, the worse poker you're going to play.

You need to concentrate on eating right and getting exercise. It doesn't matter how you go about doing it, just as long as it gets done.

Alcohol: No one who is serious about their professional job drinks at work. A lawyer who drinks all day at his desk is called an alcoholic. Just because your office is a poker room (or your den) doesn't mean you're exempt.

If poker is a skill game that relies entirely on you making educated, quick, smart and efficient decisions, then it is ludicrous to think you would be able to drink and still play at full capacity.

Balance: You need to have some sort of social life outside of poker. If all you do is go golfing with people you play poker with, then you're not much further along at all. You want balance - people who have nothing to do with the game.

Some Warnings about Girlfriends

Guys, no girl likes to feel she's less important than a game. It can be hard to carry on a relationship if you're working 80 hours a week.

You need to spend time with the lady and you can't be thinking or talking about poker when you do. If she has nothing to do with poker, she's not going to want to hear about it at all.

The biggest conflict you'll run into is with Friday and Saturday nights. These are the nights where your girlfriend and other friends will want to be going out. They're the standard going-out nights.

Unfortunately, for the same reason, this is the night where all the people who want to go out, get drunk and head to the casino stumble into the poker room.

Friday and Saturday nights are always the busiest and the best times to make money in a poker room. For this reason, you will almost always want to be working on them. This will cut a huge swath into a normal social life.

Playing poker professionally can be a rewarding, exciting and entertaining life, but you have to be willing to take active steps toward doing it well. Work out a plan, write it down and stick to it.

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