Fitness and Poker

I am writing this article after finishing a short yet high intensity full body workout. Tomorrow, I have upper body stretches lined up. And at least three times a week, I meditate for 15 minutes. These activities are new additions in my schedule and they've had a tangible impact in my game. Allow me to explain how using tournament poker as an example.

The nature of tournament poker is such that most of the money is at the top. The top-heavy structure means that you need to play your best when you are close to the finish line - the final table. But this stage of the tournament is preceded by long early and middle stages. The mental fatigue caused by playing for 7-8 hours, multi-tabling and making multiple decisions every minute can compromise your performance in the late stages.

The best players are the ones who can resist this fatigue and focus for a long stretch of time. The first step towards that is caring for your body. Imagine making a big decision on the final table while you struggle with back pain. Or pondering on making a big hero call when your head hurts with exhaustion.

The importance of physical fitness in a mind sport like Poker may not seem obvious at first. I want to draw parallels with other another sport I love - Snooker. It doesn't require too much physical exertion either. But you would find that the best players spend ample time in the gym. One of the legends of the game, Ronnie O' Sullivan, in fact has a book titled Running in which he explains how running has helped his game.

In the early stages of your poker career, the effects of a fit body may not seem that great. It is natural: Early in the career, you have a lot to learn; that learning alone improves your game by leaps and bounds. And the effects of exercise seem minuscule in comparison. But the story is different as you climb the ladder.

At the top, the differences between the top players are very small - as it happens in each sport. That's why you see players investing a lot more of their time on mental and physical fitness; they want to capitalize on every edge they can. Even a 5% fitter version of you can mean big money at those stakes.

Fitness is even more important if you are a traveling live tournament poker player. Constant travel, hotel food, time zone changes - to play your best in spite of these issues, you need to be fit. Or perhaps you are a cash games player. Even in this format, 12-14 hour sessions aren't unheard of. To be able to focus on each hand, pick up on opponent's tendencies, and play your A-game requires a fit state of mind and body.

Our mind's faculties will stay sharp only if the body says it is fine. Regular exercise, healthy eating, meditation are some of the things I'd recommend. Two of the apps I use for mental fitness are Primed Mind and Insight Timer. For physical fitness, a trainer who can give you a plan for your specific needs would be good. Work on your body and prepare it to be in a good shape when you need it the most. And hopefully, next time you are on the final table, you can seamlessly move up a gear to be the best player you can be.



Mayank Jain

Mayank Jain is a guest writer who plays poker for a living. He writes at on mindfulness, travel and art, among other things.