On Monday I talked about an opponent from 2008 who totally ran over the table and won easily while out of his head on substances unknown.
Ten years ago Mike Matusow put together an amazing million dollar winning sequence in five months while under the influence of “small quantities” of crystal meth (his words).
And then there was Stu Ungar – perhaps the best player that ever lived. Off his rocker virtually every day of his adult life! Pound for pound (seeing as he only weighed 7 stone) he must have been the biggest druggie poker player of all time.
So is poker that easy a game to play? Can you just turn up in any state you please and expect your results not to be affected – or even better – improve, as Matusow thought was happening when he discovered his “miracle drug”?
Well no, in a word.
I think these examples are just the nature of the game of poker – in particular the short term luck factor. Matusow “gave it all away” when he spiralled out of control, Stu Ungar lost his life to drugs and as for my buggy eyed opponent in that 2008 cash game….well I don’t know what happened to him.
I suppose in the long run a great player is more likely to get away with it than an average player. And an already bad player will just get destroyed if he turns up non compos-mentis. (But as the saying goes “even a blind squirrel picks up a nut once in a while.”)
Personally I’ve had some great cash sessions drunk (never tournaments mind – too much patience required). But of course I’ve had terrible sessions too. What I can say for sure is that being drunk definitely increases the variance!
But being under the influence of drink and drugs is only one of many situations where it is not wise to play. Have you ever had that nagging doubt that you’re not going to win today? It might be that you’re tired, or bothered by something nothing to do with poker, but you just can’t put your finger on it.
Well there are lots of reasons why it’s not a good idea to play. There really isn’t enough room to do this topic justice in one article and you could literally write an entire book on the subject of “mental readiness”. But Doyle Brunson put together a little checklist in his book “Poker Wisdom of a Champion” and lists the conditions when he reckons it’s right to play. In fact I’ve taken the title of this article from that chapter of his book – “Are You Ready To Win?” Here are Doyles criteria for deciding if you’re ready to win:
1) Have you had enough sleep? If NO – don’t play
2) Is there something else you’d rather be doing? If YES don’t play
3) Are you feeling physically well enough to sit through a movie? If NO don’t play. When you have a headache or you’d be tired or fidgety in a theatre, you probably won’t play your best poker
4) Are you so mad at someone that it’s interferring with your concentration? If YES don’t play
5) Are drugs, alcohol or medication interferring with your logical thinking? If YES don’t play
6) Are you emotionally upset? If YES don’t play. Fights with your wife or girlfriend are not healthy to your stack. And most important:
7) Do you feel like you’re going to win? If NO don’t play. Give credibility to your hidden feelings. Your subconscious mind might be analysing things you’re not aware of.
If it looks like a good game and you survive the checklist then sit down and do some serious winning.
Phew! That’s quite a list. Some people would never get a game if they follwed that list to the letter. If these were rules (they aren’t, it’s just a checklist) they are definitely the sort of rules which are there to be broken!
Most poker players don’t pay any attention to their mental or physical state whatsoever. They just turn up in whatever state of unreadiness they feel like and expect to perform to their best. You see them at the World Series guzzling eight cans of Red Bull in a day. That just can’t be any good for them, or their game.
I find the toughest one to reconcile on that list is “Do you feel like you’re going to win? If NO don’t play.” I can nearly always talk myself into feeling like I’m going to win. So I’m probably not being 100% honest with myself. I do like this list, but overall, if it were as easy as “Sleep X hours, turn up sober and eat Y before each session” then we’d all be millionaires.
The flip side to winning drunk in the past are all the times I’ve had a good nights sleep, eaten well, been to the gym and sat down to play as fresh as a daisy…..only to get anihilated and go on tilt, probably losing to a buggy eyed nut job on hard drugs who just got in from a 9 hour drinking session.
The beauty is that we just never know what’s in store when we sit down to play.