The Poker Shrink, Vol 16 - Food, Psychology and Poker
What better time than the day after Gobbler Gluttony to talk about food, psychology and poker. If you don't already know how eating (or not eating) affects your game, then I have to ask: what were you thinking? Or better still what were you eating?
Poker tournaments can often involve eight or more hours with only short breaks and limited selections for nourishment. So an obvious question for any poker player would be: How does hunger affect my game? On the flip side would be the question how does food and in particular, a big meal, effect my decision making process at the table?
First, a question or two? Do you have any consistent preparations you do before a long tournament? Do you consider how much rest you get the night before? Or how much exercise you get? If not, then don't worry about how much or how little you eat, no big deal. If, however, you are serious about playing your best possible game during a long tournament then you must plan for rest, sleep, food and drink. You should know how your mental acuity is sharpened or dulled by food and by which foods. Not everyone is the same but it is an absolute guarantee that what you put in your mouth will have an effect on what goes on in your brain and it can take less than 15 minutes for food or drink to cause a significant alteration in brain function.
You simply have to pay attention to how you feel before you eat and in the several hours after you take in nourishment. Blood sugar levels are the first bio-marker to show the effects of food but your entire physical self will react to food. The learning curve is simple; if you make any notes at all on your play simply add food as another category to be observed. What did you eat, when did you eat it and how was your concentration, focus and decision-making helped or hindered after the food, simple notes is all you need.
Now that takes care of you and food during a game, how about your opponents? Well in tournaments there is often a dinner break and play is significantly affected by the player's reaction to the long food break.
First, as the tournament approaches the dinner break, many of the short stacks will become looser and more aggressive. Now, you already know that short stacks get aggressive with lesser and lesser holdings as their stacks dwindle and the blinds increase. A pending long dinner break makes many of the short stacks even more willing to push their stacks with inferior holdings. Why? It's the pure psychology of having to kill an hour or more knowing you have a short stack sitting on the table and maybe only one more chance to make your move. Short stacks don't want to "hang around" for an hour or longer dinner break and then come back to even higher blinds and bust out in five minutes. It's the food equivalent of "Dead Man Walking." Better to "push or go home" before the long break rather than after. Many a tournament winner has picked up chips preying on the starving minnows just before dinner. Sure, even the short stacks pick up big hands sometimes, but it's the odds and trends that over the long term make for consistent winners. So remember, short stacks get even looser as a long dinner break comes up on the tournament clock. Just in case, the short stacks at your table are unaware of the tournament structure, it never hurts to point out: "Thirty minutes until dinner!"
On the other side of the dinner break, you will find a table of well fed and often drowsy or distracted players. Be careful more careful here, not everyone just ate a full turkey dinner with all the holiday fixings. Some players take a walk or even catch a quick shower during the break. Know thyself and thy stomach but watch out for the player who knowest themselves too.
Now is there any pumpkin pie left?
Ed note: Feast on leftovers at the tables of Mansion Poker