I read an article in the NY Times called ‘Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue’. It was about a series of studies that showed that making decisions wears you out mentally. People who face a series of decisions will be increasingly worn out until they reach a point where they are not making their best decisions, and will effectively not care as much about the outcome of their decisions.
It also cites some studies that show how glucose levels are related to our mental energy; basically that an influx of glucose to our brains refreshes our ability to make good decisions again.
Both of these points have obvious applications to poker. When you’re playing at your full concentration in a game where the stakes are meaningful, poker is a series of mentally-taxing decisions, one after the other. If you’ve played long sessions of poker (like 10 hours or more), you have probably felt your decision-making abilities fall off. I know I have.
A case in point for me was my last limit session, where I played close to 20 hours, and was making really bad decisions for the last half of that session. (See my last blog post if you want to see how bad I was playing some of the hands.) Also, a $400 buy-in tournament I played about a year ago, where I got knocked out in 5th due to playing really badly, owed a great deal to me having played for 12 hours and being kind of out of it.
Now, before I saw this article, I would have just simply pinned it on being tired. But the point of the studies in this article is that it’s more about the number of decisions being made, and that your brain basically gets worn out from making all of these decisions. So even though I may not have been physically tired in either of these cases, my brain could be exhausted mentally.
I think this can manifest very subtly over much shorter sessions; like over just a few hours. In me it probably manifests as a tendency to go the “textbook” route in a hand, or what seems the textbook route to me. I’ll fall back on existing habits and play a hand with the least amount of focus, instead of really examining each situation fully.
The other thing to note is the food aspect. I tend to not eat much when I’m playing. I’ve always thought that carbs and sugars tend to slow my brain down and make me want to take a nap, so I’ve leaned toward basically fasting when I play, and thinking of myself as a kind of Buddhist monk. In the long 20-hour limit session I played recently, I only ate a bowl of cottage cheese somewhere in the middle of that. In the tournament where I got knocked out in fifth by playing badly, I had one slice of pizza that entire day.
The article points out that we crave sugars when our decision-making abilities are low, but that doesn’t mean we should be eating sugars; it means we need to eat some more healthy alternatives that are easily converted into sugar, like meats and other proteins. So what this tells me is that I should be getting an influx of food when I’m playing and not fasting. I think I’ve been pretty dumb in this area in the past and I think I’ve probably paid for it with some lowered decision-making skills.