Overplaying Pocket Jacks and Managing Fatigue

The WSOP, well, it's truly been a grueling tournament comprised of fifty-seven different championship events. Even the best players were challenged, intellectually, physically and emotionally, and many succumbed to mental mistakes that resulted in bad reads, sloppy bets, mounting losses, and early exits. In most cases, the cause of those mental miscues was extreme fatigue.

That's exactly what did me in at the 2007 World Poker Tour Championship. I had the chip lead on Day Four but finished in 18th place when I overplayed pocket jacks. I've looked back at that hand many times over the last few years and wish that I had folded my hand against Thomas Wahlroos' pocket aces.

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Even though the flop was 9-8-5, I should have been able to escape. I didn't make the correct play because I was mentally fatigued. I knew that I was tired but I still expected to play championship caliber poker. Unfortunately, without enough sleep, I lost my competitive edge.

Okay, so here's today's lesson: You simply must figure out how to manage your fatigue, especially in major tournaments like the WSOP, if you want to give yourself a decent chance to finish in the money. No doubt about it, in order to win the WSOP Main Event, plenty of stamina is required. It'll take eight all-consuming playing days just to make the final table of nine players. It's just damn hard to play competitive and competent poker for twelve hours a day – and for eight days in a row! That's a lot of poker, even for a skilled professional player like me.

I used to think that I was naturally-blessed with a bucket load of stamina. Recently, though, I've noticed that the ability to play long hours of error-free poker is my most noticeable flaw – and it's a flaw that needs to be addressed.

There are two ways that lack of sleep affects my play: I'll play too many hands and I'll lose the ability to effectively read my opponents. Fortunately, I've found a great way to alleviate this problem, especially at tournaments like the World Series of Poker — the late-night workout.

After play finishes, usually around 2 AM during the WSOP, I rush off to the gym and get in a hard workout. Exercise clears my brain of the stresses of poker's ups and downs, and allows me to re-focus my mind on the next day.

Yeah, I'd love to be able to get a few extra hours of shuteye but a good night's sleep is a rare commodity during the WSOP. Sometimes I think I'd be better off if I could even squeeze in a 15-minute nap in the middle of play! Truth be told, I've done that more than once in the past.

Better yet, I'll occasionally fall back on an old trick of mine. I'll leave the table eight minutes before a scheduled 15-minute break and grab a nap, and then do the same prior to the hour-long dinner break.

Or, sometimes I'll use a different trick. I'll rest my head in my hands on the table and take a catnap during the hand. When I feel the dealt cards hit my hands, I know it's my turn to look up and act.

Prestigious events like the Main Event at the WSOP are marathon races. Fatigue is sure to set in. When it does, try some of my tricks — or invent some your own.