My daughter (a poker player too) and I were talking earlier today. She said that she'd played a tournament the night before with a few friends. "Howíd you do?" I asked.
"I finished second," she said.
"Second?" I asked, knowing that she was highly skilled and usually beat her friends. "I had poker ADD, Daddy. And the winner didnít," she added.
Poker ADD. Thatís "Attention Deficit Disorder" for those of you not familiar with the popular buzz phrase from child psychology. Itís a rampant problem among todayís youth, especially young boys. It makes them unable to focus, constantly agitated and hyperactive. Itís probably the number one reason for children being put into Special Education classes today. Itís an epidemic in our country. And when I was a child, 30 years ago, it was unheard of, either nonexistent or undiagnosed. Who knew?
But Poker ADD is very real and always has been. Itís a symptom that affects many players, young and old alike. And itís something that the good player wants to find in his opponents, because it induces good players to play poorly. And if you find it in your own behavior you need to get treatment right away.
Hereís what happens. Players who are otherwise good get impatient. They know how to play correctly. They know that they should fold 9-6 suited in a tournament. They know that they should fold their pair of 4s for a preflop raise. But they shove their better judgment aside because they have lost the internal discipline that is necessary for winning poker. Theyíre impatient and they canít resist playing yet another hand.
Iíve suffered from it from time to time. Sometimes, in Texas Holdem poker, you just get tired of not having decent hands when youíre in early position, or getting absolute garbage when youíre in late position. So you lower your starting requirements, saying to yourself that the game is looser than it really is, or convincing yourself that an early position raise with J-9 suited is an excellent semi-bluff. Or you decide your all-in raise when youíre on the button makes sense because the raiser often has nothing. So you play too loosely and too aggressively, refusing to employ the careful, selectively aggressive behavior that you know to be effective and that you have consistently won with in the past:
You start calling hands you know you should fold. Or perhaps you start raising with hands that you really shouldnít be playing at all. In any event, you act not because you have the cards to do so but because you just want to have action. And thatís a recipe for disaster.
The treatment for ADD these days is generally a drug called Ritalin. Itís a drug that acts on the central nervous system of the sufferer, chemically calming him down. It helps him concentrate, quiets his nerves and keeps them from becoming hyperactive.
In poker there are a number of things you can do if you suffer from poker ADD. None of them involve taking drugs. Here are my suggestions.
First of all, if youíre feeling anxious or otherwise impatient because of any personal problems or distractions, then donít play poker. Stay away from the game. You have complete control over your poker schedule. No one can dictate when and whether you play. Itís very different from just about any other sport in that regard. If you donít feel that youíre at your best, thereís no game scheduled that you canít back out of; no teammates to be let down. Just donít play. Thatís the safest route.
If, on the other hand, youíre in a game and you feel the onset of poker ADD, then you have a few treatment options, none of them chemical. You can quit for the night. Or what I generally do is just take a break. Give yourself some time to think about whatís going on. Get a bite to eat, go for a walk, but get away from the poker table. The nice thing about suffering from poker ADD as opposed to the regular variety of the illness is that once you leave the poker table the malady ceases to be a problem.
If you canít actually leave the table, then I recommend that you just decide to fold the next 10 hands. Be out of the pot from the very start, as you think about what youíve been doing. This is a rare cure, usually only necessary if you find the onset of poker ADD in the middle of a tournament or something. But if it happens in the middle of a tournament, take yourself out of the action entirely for at least a short spell, declining to play until you have regained your poker equilibrium.
Treating poker ADD is never easy. But if you fail to recognize the symptoms or otherwise fail to take remediating action immediately the risks are very real. Players have been known to be publicly humiliated, lose their self-respect, and lose their entire bankrolls with the symptoms left untreated. So a word to the wise: If you find yourself suffering the symptoms of poker ADD, leave the playing area immediately and seek professional assistance right away. Just remember that the poker career you save may be your own.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 42 years, since learning the game literally at his grandfather's knee. He's been playing seriously (and winning) in casinos, poker rooms, living rooms and kitchens all over the world, for the past 12 years. He started playing seriously in 1993 at the poker room in Foxwoods Resort Casino and he's been winning just about ever since. He's won No Limit HoldĎEm and 7-Card Stud tournaments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and Nevada.
He is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and articles in Card Player Magazine, Poker Player Magazine, Live Action Poker Magazine, Southwestern Poker Magazine, 5thStreet Magazine, and numerous online sites. He is under agreement for his next book, Winning Low Limit/No Limit HoldĎEm, due to be published by Kensington in early 2006.
He is by profession a union organizer and negotiator, representing broadcasters, health care workers and now teachers. He has two daughters, both of whom play poker.