The PartyPoker Big Game IV is a televised cash game that will run for 48 hours straight this month in London. I will be heading over to this event with a client of mine, Dusty ‘Leatherass’ Schmidt, who hopes to play the full 48 hours. If this were just a normal cash game, my services would not be needed and the show would be nowhere nearly as fascinating, so what is it about sleep deprivation that will make this such a great show?
Because it’s going to be a train wreck.
There is a reason bar fights happen at four in the morning rather than mid afternoon. Sleep deprivation shuts your social filter off much like having a few (or many) beers would before you play. Players will say things they wouldn’t normally say on TV, and they will react in ways they would normally be able to control and on the whole it will be just a lot more volatile. We will see sides of players that we do not normally see, and they will go on tilt so much easier.
In the early stages, sleep deprivation will exaggerate any weaknesses in players' mental or poker games. If they tilt easily, they will tilt even easier. If they struggle with deep stack play, they will really find it hard this time. Whatever their problems are at the table, they will get much worse. The quality of your thinking comes from physical energy, and fitness plays a part. When you are tired your ability to think clearly deteriorates and sometimes can literally shut down altogether. Thinking provides protection for these weaknesses, and when it disappears, it is much easier to tilt, to get distracted or to shove a deep stack at a bad time.
The middle stages of sleep deprivation affect perception, so players will start misreading situations. They will overweigh the importance of certain information and underweigh more important information. They will miss vital information completely and convince themselves of things that are just not true. Their ability to remember prior action will suffer and they will generally be very slow to make adjustments to changes in table dynamics.
At the extreme end of sleep deprivation, you can actually go insane. This can happen after 3-5 days without sleep, so while this is unlikely to happen to any players in the Big Game, it’s a road they are walking.
The net result is that they will make poor decisions. That is the bottom line for sleep deprivation, and why the game will be so juicy ― for some.
There are some players for whom the lack of sleep will be a massive advantage: the hardcore grinders who put in 24-hour sessions or who play a ridiculous number of tables online. There is a real skill to focusing for that long. Adrenaline will help provide this extended focus; it’s the body’s natural RedBull. But for adrenaline to be there, it has to have a reason to be there. If the game is higher stakes than someone is used to, for example the two Pokernews online qualifiers, this could provide the much-needed boost of adrenaline. The pressure of the cameras could also provide this jolt, but some of the more experienced players who have been in this situation before may struggle to produce adrenaline unless they can really dig deep and pysch themselves up.
From the poker-skill side of things, you would think that the best players on paper would have the biggest edge, but that is not the case. The players who will perform best will be those who have trained more skill in their procedural memory, which is what we would otherwise call instinct. Procedural memory is where skill is automatic and requires no thought, like walking or riding a bike, and it will be found in the players who have lots of experience, have done a lot of studying, and have played lots of hands.
This is where a gritty online grinder or old-school pro might have an edge on a talented nosebleed player. It’s not about who is the best, but about how good someone is at his or her worst. A seasoned grinder might have a much worse "A" game than the high-stakes superstar at the table, but this is not about the "A" game. The PartyPoker Big Game IV is a battle of "C" games. Toward the end, most players will be playing their "C" games, and whoever has the best game when at his or her absolute worst is going to have the biggest edge.
Jared Tendler is a Mental Game Coach who works with poker players to improve their performance and is an instructor at DragTheBar. You can find out more at JaredTendlerPoker.com.