Drinking alcohol goes together with poker like peanut butter and jam. For many players, poker is simply the excuse to be drinking. Almost all poker rooms allow and serve alcohol. Playing poker professionally can often be an extremely boring and tedious task. When you are a professional, your bankroll usually dictates you have to be there. Amateur players always have the choice of going home whenever they like. They play poker to have fun and for many, this includes drinking alcohol.
I must admit that I enjoy drinking also. Many nights I indulge in my favourite vice, beer. It makes the boring nights more tolerable. It makes the sports more enjoyable. It makes the music sound better. It makes the people at the table funnier or even tolerable. It can turn a boring work environment into a fun one.
What else does alcohol do? It makes you miss valuable information your opponents give away. It makes you think less clearly and makes your decisions worse. It gives away more information to your opponents helping them make better decisions about you. It shifts the play of most players closer to the LAG quadrant, playing too many hands too aggressively. It is expensive, particularly at a casino (some places it is free). It can steal energy from you for the next day preventing you from getting back to the tables at a reasonable time. Clearly this makes drinking alcohol a -EV activity while playing poker.
I do it all the time. It is a leak in my game, certainly. However, because many years of experience, I can have several drinks before experiencing any noticeably deterioration of my poker skills. My poker knowledge is absorbed mostly into subconscious knowledge. I rarely find myself in situations that are new or unique. Few are the decisions I need to make that require high level thinking. Admittedly, the effect I experience cannot be zero. But I am confident I can beat most low level games even with up to six beers in me. For me this has become a perk of my job as a reward for years of study.
This will not be the case for new players. If you still trying to learn this game, do not make the mistake of adding alcohol into the mix. A professional treats playing poker like his work environment. You wouldn’t drink alcohol at an office job. Make a point of not doing it at the poker table. If you do feel the need to drink, here is what I recommended as a balanced solution: Order one drink one hour before last call then another at last call. This can have the added benefit of giving others the impression that you are a casual player there to have fun. It also puts you at the table at the time of day that is often the most profitable. Now when you are done with your two drinks, you can drive home without fear of getting pulled over by the police. You can even have another couple when you get home if you need to unwind further. Drinking every night is obviously something to be avoided as it is -EV in the long run.
We now live in the age of legalized marijuana. You can’t smoke right at the tables of course, but many players do smoke outside and then come immediately back to the poker table. The smell is often obvious. I’ve always found high opponents to be much more tolerable than drunk ones. Drunk people are generally obnoxious and can slow the game down considerably. High people usually are just funny to observe.
I have also played under the influence of THC. The effects can be profound and certainly are not the same as alcohol. It is a common saying that marijuana should not be used while learning a new activity. However, many masters of their craft use it to deepen the their understanding and to enter a flow like state where they completely get lost in what they are doing. Musicians are the classic example
of entering a flow state while under the influence. Many musicians spend much of their lives in high states and yet are able produce great music. Many other crafts are similar.
I found that THC allowed me to relax and intensely focus on what was going on at my table while blocking out most distractions. It also gave me the ability to sit still for longer periods of time almost motionless, quietly observing others. These are valuable skills to a poker player. There were times when I felt the drug gave me the courage to overcome fear to make a more optimal aggressive play. My overall anxiety levels toward the game drop as well. Some of my best nights of live poker play have come while I was high on THC. Not all the effects were positive. I did have some difficulties when I found myself in hands that took more than a couple minutes to complete. Occasionally I found it difficult to keep track of how many chips were in a pot, which is important. Overall, however, I felt like the use of marijuana products actually made me a better player.
It needs to be pointed out here the difference between a novice and a master. Until poker becomes an unconscious skill for you, you should not attempt playing while high. The consequences are obvious. Making mistakes at a poker table is not life threatening, but it can have dire consequences to your bankroll. If you feel the need to try it, first have a baseline of how you perform sober. Then perhaps try a small dose for comparison.
If you choose to do drugs or alcohol, do so knowing the consequences and potential benefits.
Excerpt from “Calling is for Losers” by Jason Grad