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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Boot Camp: How Getting In Shape Will Shape Up Your Poker Game

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When PokerStars made a commercial to introduce Daniel Negreanu to its stable of top pros, you might of thought he was promoting a fitness show instead a card game. They showed him playing golf, picking fruit from a stand and running down a distant dirt road.

This guy plays poker? Where's the extra pounds? Why does his skin have a hue, rather than the pale white color of zombies? And why isn't he playing cards instead of running? Shouldn't he be working on his game?

But that's just it. Negreanu was working on his game.

Working out can help you work on your game. In fact, I'm convinced that those workouts will help you much more than a couple extra hours at the table.

When you look at a losing session, usually there are only a couple reasons you lost. Yes, I know, you suffered some bad beats. OK. Everyone does. But that's not the only reason you lost. Let's be honest. You probably didn't play your best.

Here's why you didn't play your best: You were either on tilt or you were tired.

We all know what can happen to you when you're on tilt, but did you know you can make the same poor decisions when you're tired?

Doctors have killed patients when they are exhausted: A junior doctor gave a patient a fatal overdose of insulin after working 100 hours a week, as detailed in a 2006 court case. Studies have shown that tired drivers operate a vehicle about as well as those who have had a few beers.

So when you're exhausted, what makes you think you can make a good decision when you've got a set and your aggressive opponent might have just rivered his flush and just bet half a significant pot?

Stamina is a big part of poker. One of the most impressive traits of the best pros is their ability to stay focused after being at the table for hours (if not days).

So here's the thing. I can't see how you can remain focused on the game unless you are either exceptionally talented at focusing, like the top pros, or you've prepared your body to remain sharp even when you're tired.

And how do you do that? You get in shape and stay there.

I realize I'm biased. I realize I'm a mountain climber, runner and guide. I also realize there are many poker players who could not even run a mile, let alone beat me in a 5K. And I realize that many of those players are much, much better than me.

Then again, when we've been at the table together for many hours, my time spent training for six half marathons this year makes me just as good as they are when their energy level dips and I'm still focused.

I'll give you an example of training your brain to work through the exhaustion.

We run something called intervals with my running group on Wednesday nights. One of the things our leader works on with us is to put us through a tough workout, then make us run one more session, and on that last session, he emphasizes staying focused.

Stay focused, he tells us, and stay relaxed, and keep your form, even when you're tired. You might be exhausted (might, ha, I usually am), but you need to perform as well as you do when you're fresh.

It's easy to perform well, and in poker's case, play well, when you're fresh. The challenge comes when you are tired. Staying in shape not only increases your stamina, your focus and your overall mojo, it trains your brain to perform well even when it's tired.

You're going to need that if you want to be a great player.

You don't need to be able to run a marathon. You just want the stamina, the kind achieved through good workouts, to ensure that when your poker marathon comes, either in a tournament or a juicy cash game, you'll be ready.

Five simple ways to feel better and boost your energy.

• Eat well - Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less processed and fast foods. Google "power foods" and make a list of those foods and incorporate them into your diet. You'll be surprised how easy it is to do - you can sprinkle blueberries on cereal, for instance - and many of these foods are pretty cheap.

• Start slow - Start by walking a mile a day, then spend a few minutes on a treadmill, then run or bike a couple miles. The biggest mistake people make when they are starting an exercise program is they start too fast, so they get too sore and then they don't want to do it any longer. Recovery is just as important as working out.

• Find a partner - It's much harder to skip your workouts when someone else is waiting for you. Partners hold you accountable.

• Listen to music - Music is inspirational. You might need to find a different mix than the one you use while you're playing poker. Try "Rocky" and go from there.

• Get enough sleep - Sleep at least eight hours a night. If you can't do that, try to get a nap in every afternoon. Even a 30-minute nap can boost your energy.

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