Alcohol and Poker: Things to Consider
Think back to the first few times you played poker. Were you drunk? Our editors’ experience tells us that most people were. Let’s face it: the game of poker is inextricably linked with alcohol at its most basic level. For many, the game is synonymous with a husband’s age-old plight to periodically get away from the wife and kids, have a few beers with his buddies, and enjoy some time away from life’s other responsibilities. And more often than not, playing poker is actually the secondary activity — it’s something people do while they drink, not the other way around. But now that competitive poker is so popular (and lucrative!) people are rethinking what kind of effect alcohol has on the overall play of your game. In this piece we’ll look more closely at the relationship between booze and poker.
You here it time and time again: “Honestly, I play much better once I’ve had a few drinks”. Is that in fact true, or is it merely that people are less likely to notice their mistakes when wearing the beer-goggles? But, perhaps there is a valid argument to the idea that alcohol enhances the play of some. We only need to consider why many people drink booze in the first place to understand why it might be considered a useful tool in any player’s arsenal. Let’s see, it makes most people more confident, aggressive, and willing to try things that they might not normally consider – all important poker traits right?
Well, sort of. Aggressive play is essential in poker, true. So many ask what better way to loosen your inhibitions than downing a few bevies before a game? But it doesn’t take a genius to see why this strategy is fundamentally flawed. If I could summarize as concisely as possible the reasons to avoid alcohol when you play it would be this: impaired judgment. I’ll let you think about that for a second.
To have impaired judgment means you are not able to think as rationally about a decision that you must make, compared to when you are sober. Granted, you are more likely to trust your instincts when impaired, but instincts aren’t always right. Contrary to what you may think while impaired, booze does not make you stronger, better-looking, more intelligent, or any of the things that feel once you have downed 11 cans of Bud. If you are still deluding yourself into believing in these miracle effects, then I invite you to join my friends and me at our weekly game. I’ll provide plenty of liquor, so long as you come with a big stack of money.
Road to Ruin?
For those of you who do enjoy a drink or two while playing poker, this piece is not meant to be an attempt to persuade you of the dangers of combining the two forms of leisure pursuit. The idea that drinking excessively while playing poker is an unsound strategy is pretty obvious, and if you aren’t already aware of that, then we wish you nothing but luck (because you will need it). For the rest of you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with playing poker and drinking at the same time – just don’t do it for a living. We’re not claiming for a second that a lot of the best poker players in the world don’t combine booze and poker, but there is a very dangerous misconception out there that alcohol gives players a certain edge that somehow improves their play. Most people drink and play poker for the same reason: because they think it’s fun. But if you are like many professional poker players and you enjoy a drink or two, then try to and keep them independent of each other.
Often considered two of societies biggest sins, drinking and gambling are continually blamed for many problems. Their relationship also leads many people to conclude that they are somehow responsible for each other. All of this speculation brings up a kind of “chicken-or-the-egg” debate: Which came first the compulsive gambler or the alcoholic? The two have gone hand-in-hand for as long as any one can remember, and no one seems to know.
In one of his illuminating editorials, poker guru Daniel Negreanu speaks of his younger days and particularly his experience with alcohol and poker:
“We usually played for about six hours a night, almost three nights a week. I don’t think I ever played a sober session of poker until I was about 18 years old. Playing poker without beer just didn’t seem to be as much fun to me at the time”.
And it still isn’t for many of you out there. But rather than delude yourself into thinking that you can do both at the same time and not suffer for it, why not take the advice of nearly every teaching pro out there and drink after the game.
Playing a Drunkard
What about when facing an obviously intoxicated person? Well, this is actually a lot tougher than it sounds. This is because, generally speaking, they will play rather wildly and it’s very difficult to predict how they will behave under usual circumstances. An all-out bluff is less likely to work, due to the enhanced confidence brought on by the alcohol. Thus, a patient, tighter approach should be considered. An intoxicated person will be looking for blood and eager to face off with just about anyone. If you spot this edginess, be weary of a showdown unless you have the hand to back it up. Time is clearly on your side in this situation, as the predator will eventually grow listless and open himself up to a range of potential hazards.
Once again, trying to dissuade people of the effects of alcohol and poker is of course not our intention. These pages are meant as a place where people can read some additional commentary about the game you love, and we hope you find them useful or at least mildly entertaining.