How Eliminating Alcohol While Gambling Dramatically Improved My Results

by Chris Ross
on July 5, 2017

If I could give you one tip that could dramatically change your gambling game almost instantly, would you listen? It all started about six months ago when I decided to experiment with something relating to my local poker game. I found that by making a simple change I could drastically change my performance for the better when gambling.

Background

I’ve got a pretty kickass home game in my neighborhood. One of my neighbors hosts a monthly poker game. It has become a very solid gathering. Each week between 20 and 30 players arrive to play. The game is extremely well organized and runs smoothly. On top of the monthly games, the host also tracks standings on an annual basis for an end of year tournament of champions. This game is by far the best home game set up that I have ever been a part of.

We’ve been gathering as a group for this home game for a hair over 1.5 years. The neighborhood that we all live in is new construction, so most people moved in there without knowing anyone else. The home poker game became a great way to meet neighbors. I’ve been lucky enough to develop several close friendships with people I met at the game.

During the games in 2016, I did not consistently place well. Most times I found myself knocked out well before the final table. If I remember correctly, I only cashed 1 time that year out of the 11 tournaments that I was able to attend. My performance for 2016 was very lackluster.

Like most others at the game, I typically had several cocktails while playing. Crown and coke is my drink of choice, and I’d typically toss back at least three of them during the monthly tournaments in 2016. While I never got drunk (like many others), I definitely caught a good buzz. It’s a very good thing that my house is only eight doors down from the hosts home.

A good buzz was about the only thing I was catching at these games. I definitely wasn’t pocketing much cash. Even though I consider myself a decent poker player, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. As part of my 2017 New Year’s resolution, I took a deep look at my poker game to see how I could change things up for the better. I had no idea how easy is could be.

The Experiment

For the initial tournament of 2017, I decided to try something new. I wanted to test how my poker game would go if I skipped alcohol altogether. I went completely dry including my typical drink that I would enjoy before the game even started. I filled up my Yeti stainless steel cup with water and ice as opposed to Crown and Coke and I headed down the road to the hosts home.

That night I didn’t feel odd not drinking. While the vast majority of attendees drink while playing, a handful of others do not. It was nice not to feel judged for abstaining from alcohol.

One thing that I immediately noticed that night was that my clarity was on point. I had never felt that focused before during a poker game. The best part was that my clarity remained perfect through the entire tournament. In tournaments past when I had been drinking, my clarity decreased with time as I consumed more alcohol throughout the night.

As it got later that night, I began to notice how sloppy some of the other players were getting. These neighborhood tournaments can take upwards of 5 hours for us to finish. I had never noticed how drunk some people got during the game. I felt like I was a step ahead of the competition while I was sober and most of them were at some degree of drunk.

Fast forward to the final table: I managed to take second place that night! This was my highest placement ever in this home game series. I felt great and I walked out of there with a couple hundred extra bucks in my pocket. As I walked out that evening, I remember asking myself if that was just a fluke or if I perhaps was onto something.

Rinse and Repeat

I had to wait another month before I was able to test my theory again. I was anxious to see if I was really onto something or if I had just lucked out that last tournament. I went into the February tournament with the same plan as I did for January. I’d skip partaking in any alcohol for the entire evening.

As with the January tournament, I found my focus and clarity to be very good for the February game. I noticed once again that the vast majority of my colleagues were drunk towards the end of the tournament. I also took note of the fact that some of the players that I know, who are actually very good players, made consistently poor choices later in the game.

One great thing about remaining sober it that it allows you to be aware of poor decisions that intoxicated people are making during the game. On several occasions now, I’ve noticed an intoxicated person attempt to fold their hand when they didn’t realize they were the big blind. After someone alerted them to this, they’d pull their cards back in and post the blind. If it got around to me and no one else was in the hand yet, I’d instantly raise regardless of my hand knowing that the intoxicated person was on weak pocket cards. 100% of the time in this scenario the drunk person folded and I scored an easy blind.

The example above is just one of many times that I’ve won chips due to the fact that I was sober while another player was not. It’s no secret that alcohol impairs your decisions. Knowing this can be a powerful tool when you use it to your advantage. Be sure to keep this in mind if you ever decide to try gambling without alcohol.

As I sat at the final table once again that night a light bulb went off. My experiment had worked again for the second time in a row. I finished in third that night and cashed for the second time in a row which was a first for me at this tournament. I was definitely onto something!

The Results

As of the time of this blog, I’m now six months into my experiment of not drinking while playing at my local home monthly poker game. I’m happy to report that I have successfully cashed in every one of the six tournaments thus far this year. I’ve seen a complete turnaround in my results.

As an added bonus, I’m currently ranked 2nd overall out of 40 players in our annual standings. I’m hoping to continue to maintain a top 10 standing through the remainder of the year so that I can earn my way into the tournament of champions at the end of the year. My guess is that if I continue to avoid alcohol while playing I should be able to accomplish this feat.

At the end of the day, the only variable changed was the removal of alcohol. I’ve not changed anything with my poker game nor have I studied any form of poker strategy over the course of the last year. My guess is that the alcohol in 2016 contributed to me making poor choices as the evenings went on which lead to my poor performance overall that year.

How Alcohol Impairs Your Decisions

It should be no secret that alcohol impairs your decision-making ability. There is a reason that we have a legal limit when it comes to operating motor vehicles. Once you’ve had too much alcohol, you’re more likely to make poor decisions.

Regardless if you’re operating a car or playing a card game, poor decisions are poor decisions. I often found myself going all in with crappy cards on a regular basis when I was drinking while playing poker in 2016. Something in my brain told me that it was a good idea when in reality it was not. Now that I’ve remained sober while playing, my decision making is much sounder.

Casinos are notorious for handing out free drinks while you’re playing at their casinos. While this is a nice perk it also works out in the casino’s favor. First, it tends to get you to stay longer at their casino. Secondly, casinos know that intoxicated people are more likely to make poor decisions which gives the casino an opportunity to make more money. By providing you with free alcohol the casino will most likely come out ahead.

In 2005, the Journal of Psychopharmacology published a study focused on the acute effect of alcohol on decision-making in social drinkers. The study came to a conclusion (not surprisingly) that alcohol impairs risky decision making. Specifically, they mentioned that alcohol can impair a person’s ability to alter responding in light of changing prospective rewards in order to make favorable decisions.

In summary, when you’re drunk, you don’t properly weigh out risk well when it comes to decisions. This creates a major issue when it comes to gambling which is a minefield of risk and reward decisions. By staying sober you’re able to better determine the risk and reward trade off scenarios.

Tips If You Plan to Drink While Gambling

I am fully aware that not drinking a drop of alcohol might not be a solution for all people out there. I still enjoy having drinks; I just choose not to do it when I gamble since I’ve witnessed improved results. Understandably, some people still want to drink when they gamble. If you’re one of them, I’ve gathered a few tips about drinking when gambling.

  • If you want to play well, know your limit. The more that you drink, the more your decisions become inhibited. If you’re just there to have a good time, don’t worry about it much.
  • Consider asking someone to keep an eye on you. If you have a close buddy at the game, ask him to let you know if he thinks you’ve had too much.
  • Alternate water with alcohol. I’ve used this trick before in casinos. After each alcoholic drink down a glass of water. Not only does this help slow your intake that night but it also helps reduce the likelihood of a hangover the next day.
  • Drink items with a lower concentration of alcohol. If you’re normally a cocktail fan, consider trying a few beers instead. The lower concentration of alcohol should slow your buzz.

At the end of the day, what worked for me might not work for you. I’m happy with my results, and I have no plans to drink while gambling for the near future so that I can continue to play with a clear mind and hopefully continue to cash on a regular basis as well. Thanks for reading and best of luck in your gambling!

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