There are a lot of ways to make sure you are at your best when you are starting a long poker session, and a few extra IQ points can mean the difference between the right fold and the wrong call in a huge pot that could ruin, or make, your night. Things like staying in shape, getting enough exercise, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep can all make a big difference.
I can’t always manage those things, and neither can most of the poker pros I know. I’m not saying a healthy life isn’t a good idea, it certainly is, but even if you are already doing those things, there are some nutrients and supplements that can make you even sharper. I can’t teach you how to live better, but I can teach you about the supplements I take to keep my brain functioning at a high level.
New research seems to come out almost every day on which nutrients and smart drugs work the best and how well they work with each other, but there are some staples that we know have some effect and shouldn’t be toxic.
Before we go on, our lawyers here at PokerUpdate would like me to say that I am not a doctor and you should consult a doctor before taking any supplements or following any of my advice and even after you do that you are still doing this at your own risk. I’m not responsible for your actions. It’s your body, do your own research and make good decisions.
The best way that I have found to keep my brain functioning at a high level is a combination of simple supplements that give your brain the fuel it needs to keep working smoothly through a long day at the tables figuring pot odds and trying to decide if the guy in seat six really made his flush or not.
Alpha-GPC – This is the best available source of choline, a precursor that your body uses to make acetylcholine, which is essential to brain function. I think that a study of people using their brains heavily for hours on end would show that acetylcholine levels go down. I think this is a big part of why you lose IQ points as the day goes on. You can buy Alpha-GPC at nutrition stores like GNC, or online at Amazon.com and it is relatively cheap. I take 200 mg a day.
Multivitamins – I don’t take one every day, most studies say that this isn’t necessary and some say that it isn’t a good idea. I take two vitamins a week just to offer my body and my brain anything that it really needs.
Focus Factor – I also take an inexpensive product called Focus Factor that I buy on Amazon.com. According to my research, it has most of the good stuff in it, and not much that could be bad for me. I take it before a big tournament day or a long cash session.
What Do I Know?
Actually, I know quite a lot about these substances and many others, because I have tested them on myself after doing a ton of research. There are things that have even more significant effects, but using them can be complicated and you really want a doctor on board for any drugs that you might take, so we aren’t even going to cover those things.
I got started with nootropics, which is another name for drugs that enhance brain function, when I was playing blackjack for part of my living. Lots of people tell me they can count cards, and the basic concept of a point count system is not complicated, but being good enough to beat the house long term takes a significant amount of work and the vast majority of people who think they are winning are running good or are not keeping accurate records.
I kept perfect records, and I know that I was making money. Not enough to make it worthwhile given the bankroll I had to maintain or how hard the work was, but I was making money over a large sample size. By the way, I’m not recommending blackjack as an income stream, it’s the worst job I ever had.
Smart Chris, Meet Dumb Chris
The biggest problem for me was that after four or five hours of counting cards and acting like I wasn’t counting cards by chatting with the pit boss about how the key to my success was my good karma and my lucky crystal, my brain just ran out of steam. I’m not talking about getting tired, I’m talking about becoming a complete idiot.
In the space of a few minutes I would realize that I was Dumb Chris. Dumb Chris couldn’t count cards. Dumb Chris couldn’t find the cage to cash out, and sometimes Dumb Chris couldn’t find his hotel room without help. I can’t prove it, but I think Dumb Chris was just what happened when Smart Chris’s brain ran out of fuel.
To combat this, I started researching ways to be smarter and stay smarter for longer sessions of grueling number crunching. I should have been going to college, or learning a trade, or holding a sign by a freeway exit ramp, because any of those things would have paid more for less work, but the thrill of beating the house was irresistible.
When I took Choline precursors, multivitamins, DMAE, and a few other supplements, I found that I could play for eight hours or more without turning into a zombie who just wanted to drink cranberry juice and go to sleep (yes, cranberry juice, I don’t know why). For me, these things definitely worked. I stayed sharper longer, and on the rudimentary tests available on a computer fifteen years ago, my scores improved a little.
It wasn’t a drastic change in terms of intelligence, but in terms of staying power it was incredible. My brain was on steroids, and they were fairly safe in terms of potential side effects because they were naturally occurring compounds in foods we eat and there were no indications of anything serious in the literature I was reading. There are potential side effects, which is why you need to read up on these things and talk to your doctor before taking them, but in my case they just kept Dumb Chris from popping up so often.
What Should You Do?
My recommendation is that you look into smart nutrients and supplements for yourself. Start with my recommendations, they are fairly safe for most people. Research them and find potential side effects that may be a problem for you. Come up with a plan, and take that plan to your doctor, who may very well be fascinated with your research. Then try things and use a product like Lumosity.com to test your results after different supplements and different amounts of sleep and after various amounts of “work.”
If you keep records, you will almost certainly be able to find some things that make your brain function better and help you stay sharp longer. This is a significant edge at the poker table, especially at the end of a long tournament day when the blinds are big, the stakes are high, and your opponents are all running on empty. The only thing I can say for sure is that it helped me in a big way and I believe it has been an important part of my success in the tough world of professional poker.