Alcohol or not while playing Poker?
Nearly thirteen years ago now, I arrived at the Amsterdam train station, admiring the hundreds of bikes locked up on a big canal bridge overlooking the Dutch city famous for its canals as I passed by. I had arranged to meet up with some old school friends called Colin and Melvin Van De Mosellaar, who had found out I was inter-railing Europe as I'd posted it on Facebook. Although you might regard me as a native English person, I was born in Amsterdam and grew up in the Netherlands, but as this was the first time we had all seen each other in many years, I was taken by surprise when two six foot six men approached me with big grins on their faces. I started to look around for some stilts!
As a kid I had been very good friends with Colin, the same age as me, and almost laughed at the size of him and his younger brother Melvin now. How they had grown and how ridiculous I must have appeared next to them! It didn't matter though as we all took it in our stride, and off we went into the city for a coffee catch up - and they were more than happy to switch to English, as my Dutch was absolutely terrible.
Colin had to go later that day, but Melvin his younger brother wanted to show me around Amsterdam that night, so our first stop was straight to the Amsterdam Casino near to the main Damrak square and close to the Ajax football stadium.
I had been playing Poker a lot at University at this point and I was definitely keen to play a game on one of the cash game tables going on, with a glint in my eye and the fire of youthful naivity burning through me combined with utter self confidence. I resisted however as my host wasn't much interested in Poker and he had taken me there mainly just to have a look really. We didn't spend any money except for buying some drinks, a lot of drinks, as we watched one roulette player throw 500 euro note after 500 euro onto the table. By the time he had lost 5 times in a row, before winning big on the sixth round, we were drunk.
I was disappointed not to get involved in the games, but the visit to the Casino had just been a bit of a warm up really; the excitement of the bright lights and colours and glamorous people sitting around playing roulette, blackjack and on the slot machines - we took it all in like it was our first day at school. For a twenty something interested in this stuff it was a very exciting experience indeed.
We got very drunk. In truth, all I wanted to do was play Poker, but looking back in hindsight would it have been such a good idea to play against seasoned pro's in such a state? Of course not. The trouble with alcohol is that it can give you a perceived confidence going into a situation, but the reality is likely to turn out very different. Good thing my friend Melvin dragged me away and we had a good night out in a club instead.
Years later, when I turned 31, I decided to quit my casual drinking altogether after I learnt there was a 'different way' and I wanted to change my way of my life a little bit. Inadvertently, when it came to playing Poker, I think sobriety definitely improved my game too. Let me try to explain why.
Let's face it though. It's fun isn't it? Going to the Casino or sitting at an online poker game or finding yourself at a real live tournament sipping a drink on a Friday or Saturday night. Sometimes it's nice not to care, to relax for once and just enjoy messing around. That is the alcohol talking, you can have just as much fun, if not more, when sober.
The whole thing about drink is that it makes you lose your inhibitions, which in other words reduces thinking capability, and what do you need the most in poker? The ability to think, make decisions and read other players' hands. When you drink you lose all three! Just think about how it is on a Saturday night out with friends...don't always remember much? It was fun at the time, but full of regrets later? Trust me, I've been there many times in my life!
In the Casino at the table sipping a glass of 'whisky on the rocks' while looking down at your cards, A ♥️ K ♥️ making the ultimate play in the proceeding hand and doubling up your chips. Dream on! I'm not saying this couldn't happen, but to make money in poker in the long term, in my opinion, it's important to be careful not to get in the habit of drinking, because you'll get over-confident, lose sight of the big traps opponents may lay for you, and lose money in the end. If you win, you will think you can get away with it every time, and then you've associated a big win with having a good time while drinking. This kind of thinking could potentially be catastrophic.
They advise for you to 'leave your emotions at the doors when going into a poker game', but this is hard to do if you drink, so why not leave the glass at the door too?
Alcohol affects the emotions. It is a depressant and as poker can be an emotional game due to the up and down swings, regardless of the saying, it is important to be in control of your emotions; alcohol can make you lose control without realising it.
Ultimately you want to be feeling good and confident to be at your best.
The answer is pretty obvious, but I know the temptation is always there...particularly on the weekends. If you want to be at the top of your game, don't drink, take advantage of the ones that do! I'm definitely not the perfect player but these days I have better control of my emotions, tilt far less often, make better overall decisions, have a read of opponents, feel calmer, and enjoy the game much more.
Extra reading resources: 'Control your drinking - alcohol and the Naked Mind by Annie Grace.'
Good luck at the tables all - with a clear head :) Thank you for reading.
Next up: A book review on Phil Helmuth's Play Like the Pro's