Analysis – Make Your Brain Better for Poker

In November, writer Belle-Beth Cooper published an article for the Huffington Post titled 10 Surprising Things That Benefit Our Brains That You Can Do Every Day. This piece explained the surprising differences between how we think our brains work and how they actually work. Reading further, it goes on to explain different ideas about how the human brain operates and how we can optimize our brain usage knowing these facts.

These notions are useful in a multitude of different ways and can be utilized for any aspect of your daily life. We decided to put Cooper’s “10 Things” to the test and see exactly how they can apply to the game of poker. So strap in, grab a bowl of blueberries bigger than Jamie Gold’s, and get ready to optimize your brain for poker.

1. Your brain does creative work better when you’re tired.

Throughout her research, Cooper sifted through information regarding body clocks and exactly how our brain works at specific times of day. What she found was that while the brain is better suited for doing demanding and analytical work during your awake and alert hours, the brain actually handles creative work better when you’re tired.

According to Cooper, “If you’re tired, your brain is not as good at filtering out distractions and focusing on a particular task. It’s also a lot less efficient at remembering connections between ideas or concepts. These are both good things when it comes to creative work, since this kind of work requires us to make new connections, be open to new ideas and think in new ways. So a tired, fuzzy brain is much more use to us when working on creative projects.”

While capitalizing on a late-night creative session may be perfect for an artist or a writer, a poker player may find him or herself better suited to think the opposite. Poker is an analytical game where you’re constantly sizing up your opponents, finding the correct betting sizes, and searching for cracks in your opponent’s game that you can exploit at a later time period. A strong poker game thrives on making connections in how your opponents play, and a brain that is missing out on these connections could lead to a lower profitability in the long run.

In order to maximize brain efficiency, a winning poker player may choose to start their sessions a little earlier in the day. In doing so, a player can increase their chances of capitalizing on the moments in which the brain is most ready to attack with sharp and analytical thought processes.

2. Stress can change the size of your brain (and make it smaller).

As we engage in our daily lives, we all fall victim to stress in one form or another. However, through Cooper’s research, she found that prolonged stress actually has the potential to have long-term adverse effects on the brain.

In a study referenced by Cooper, she found that rats who were exposed to chronic stress actually had their hippocampuses shrink in size. For those like myself who are not well-read on sections of the brains and their exact functionality, the hippocampus is the section of the brain that is integral for making memories. It is also responsible for spatial memory (think the ability to easily navigate around a familiar city) and general thought of navigation. Make sure you train your brain on a daily basis by doing practice online games at Pkv Games.

Experiencing high levels of stress is obviously never a pleasant experience. While it’s common for everyone to experience daily stressors, it’s a no-brainer (I’m surprised it took me this long to make that joke) that prolonged stress can have adverse effects on your poker game. This is especially true if said stresses are related to your game. When sitting down at the tables, try your hardest to remove the stresses of the outside world from your thoughts and instead focus solely on the task at hand. This may be difficult, as bankroll size or game difficulty may be on the list of things that stress you out, but ultimately stress will cloud your judgment and could contribute to negative results.

It is important for poker players to recognize when there is too much stress in their lives that could adversely affect the level of performance at the tables. It’s often best to not play when you have too much stress outside of poker circulating in your life because it will cause a negative impact on your game.

3. It is literally impossible for our brains to multitask.

Did you hear that, player who is playing open-face Chinese poker on his or her iPad while at the same time listening to music, engaging in a conversation with the player to their right, devouring a meatball sub, and trying to grind out a winning session in an already difficult game?

Alright, that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get my point.

As Cooper points out in her article, multitasking is something that has long been lauded as an optimal skill for a human to accomplish. Being able to tackle many different projects at the same time and making satisfactory progress on all of them is something that is appreciated in the workplace, and I’ve seen folks go as far as to highlight their excellent ability to multitask on their professional résumé. However, while you think you may be making significant progress on all fronts while multitasking, science disagrees.

At the core, multitasking is actually a concept called “context switching” wherein rather than doing multiple tasks at the same time, you are actually quickly switching back and forth between tasks. This leads to an error rate of 50 percent and it will ultimately take you longer to do things. By doing this, rather than focusing your entire brain on one task, you’re giving less attention to an array of tasks and thus likely performing less optimally across the board.

So next time you’re sitting at the table and find yourself doing five different things on top of simply clicking buttons, take a moment to reevaluate exactly how much focus you’re putting into the game ahead of you. Perhaps you’ll find your abilities to find new spots against your opponents and ultimately make more money will dramatically increase.

4. Naps improve your brain’s day-to-day performance.

This is terrific news because like I’m assuming most of you do, I absolutely love sleep. Research shows that naps improve both memory performance and the ability to learn. Let’s take a look at exactly what happens in terms of memory first:

Initial memories are stored in the hippocampus of the brain. While memories are there, they are still fragile and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is tasked with remembering more information during the same time period. When you take a nap, these memories are pushed to the neocortex of the brain, which serves as a more long-term storage area.

Over the course of a long session of cards, you may pick up specific tells or betting patterns of your opponents. If the session continues to drag on, you may become distracted from a game and these memories could easily slip out of your hippocampus and simply be forgotten. A quick nap can help to solidify these as long-term memories and lead to improved play against the same set of opponents.

In terms of the ability to learn, napping essentially clears out information from the brain’s temporary storage areas and makes room for new information to come flooding in. In studies referenced by Cooper, groups of subjects who napped prior to taking on a task always performed better than the subjects who stayed awake prior to the task.

By opening up as much space as possible for your brain to learn new information, you are essentially maximizing the opportunities to make informed decisions against your opponents at the table. At the very least, you can take comfort in the fact that according to studies in the area of napping, you will be performing at a higher level than if you’ve not taken a nap before sidling up to the table.

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