Poker Coverage: Poker Legislation Poker Business Poker Tournaments Daily Fantasy Sports

Dusty Schmidt: This Is My Brain, This Is My Brain On Poker

Schmidt Says, 'SuperNova Elite Is Not Good For Your Brain.'

Print-icon
 

Card Player columnist and blogger Dusty Schmidt posted a blog on Feb 19. The contents of the blog, a discussion of “his brain on poker” and the results of a battery of medical tests he underwent in trying to understand “subtle changes in my brain,” is important for the poker community. As such, Card Player has re-posted the entire contents of the blog below.

“After not blogging for quite some time, I figured now is as good a time as any. I have a significant life update to report and I feel it is important for people in the poker community to hear what I have to say.

Over the course of the last 7-8 years playing full time online poker, I have noticed many subtle changes in my brain. Many things in my brain seemed to improve tremendously while other things became noticeably worse. For example, I gained an ability to read and process information at ridiculous speeds. I became able to take a subject I had little to no experience with and understand at nearly an expert level, all of the moving parts to the subject. Thoughts began moving quickly and often. They began moving so quickly that if I was speaking about something important to me, if I tried to get the words out as quickly as they were coming, I wouldn’t make sense to anyone. But when writing, I was able to get them all down and I was able to come up with some really useful stuff in poker and other areas of life.

On the flip side, I was deteriorating in many other ways. Anxiety had started to take over my life. Since thoughts were coming in so quickly and swirling around in my head so fast, I was “stuck” on these thoughts and unable to process what was immediately in front of me. My wife became very frustrated with me because we were unable to effectively communicate in subtle ways. We could have good conversations if I was locked in on her, but otherwise she said it became like speaking to a brick wall.

Equally as frustrating was how this impacted my kids. My kids and I have an amazingly good relationship. I take my daughter on “daddy daughter dates” on nearly a weekly basis as well as play with her as often as I was able to control my anxiety. But I was unable to simply play with her on her schedule. It always had to be on mine because I never knew when I would be tortured by rapidly paced and intense thoughts. I never knew when my skin would stop crawling from my anxiety. As a result, I can only try and move forward because I will never get back all of the cool little moments your children provide you each and every day that went right over my head.

In February of 2012, I went to my general practitioner (big mistake) and began explaining what was going on. That same day I was given 100mg of Zoloft and was told to start with 50mg for the first week and move to 100mg from then on. She told me to check back in 6 months or sooner if I had any major problems.

A couple of months into the medication, I was feeling great. I felt like I was trending back towards my old self. About the 3-4 month mark, I noticed a significant change. I was starting to feel my anxiety coming back, but since I was feeling so good internally, I decided to take the summer mostly off of poker and just enjoy the summer. I began playing some golf and drinking/smoking pot way more than I ever had before. When I drank, it only took 1-2 drinks and I was already feeling completely amazing due to the compounding effects of the medication. Unfortunately I kept on drinking and found myself getting too drunk too often. It wasn’t an every day thing, but it was becoming a 2-4 times a week thing.

This past fall didn’t bring me any closer to where I wanted to be and at my wife’s urging, I began seeking a psychiatric evaluation. Fortunately, I knew exactly who I wanted to see. My best friend is a poker pro named Matt Amen. Matt Amen is the nephew of Dr. Daniel Amen of www.amenclinics.com. Dr. Amen is well known around the world as perhaps the most innovative and successful psychiatrist in the world. His Clinics are world class and utilize something almost no other Clinic in the world utilizes, SPECT brain imaging. For those who are unfamiliar with his work, Dr. Amen is the psychiatrist who is using brain scans in the official concussion study being done by the NFL. His work is world renowned. I knew for a problem of this magnitude and because he specializes in the tough cases (like someone who 15 tables online poker for a living), the Amen Clinic was the way to go.

After answering thousands of questions, having two SPECT scans of my brain (one resting and one concentrating) and undergoing numerous neurological exams, I received the news. Essentially what I learned was that I had developed a pattern in my brain (while concentrating) that facilitated a very high functioning processing loop. This “loop” was able to move so quickly and so efficiently that it was no longer a mystery why I was able to play poker at such a high level and across so many tables. I was told that as long as I was functioning “within the loop” I was going to excel at it. But if I had to do anything outside of the loop within a few hours of being in the loop for a long period of time, I would get “stuck.” When you’re “stuck” you can hear the other person speaking to you and you may even want to answer them, but the words or actions just never quite happen.

Another very interesting thing came up in my brain scan. The part of the brain that makes you irritable or moody was significantly less active while concentrating than it was while resting. I was told this was highly unusual. I immediately called Jared Tendler (my mental game coach) and told him that he was a “freaking stud.” Before I worked with Jared, I was the exact opposite. I was easy going when I wasn’t doing anything and I was highly irritable when playing poker. Since Jared approaches the mind so much differently than most of his peers, he was able to go right to the core of my problems while playing poker. He quite literally rewired activity in my brain so I could become the unflappable player at the tables that I eventually became after working with him. I couldn’t believe it!

After hearing some exciting things about my brain, I then got the bad news. The bad news is that what poker puts the human brain through is unsustainable. I was told that if I choose to play online poker as a full time career, I will likely die of a stroke before the age of 50. They said that the human brain simply does not have the capacity to put itself through 8+ hour days of mass multi-table online poker. They said that playing online poker to that degree was quite literally one of the very worst things you can do to your brain and body. They said it wasn’t quite as bad as being an NFL player or someone who works full time around organic solvents, but it wasn’t far off. It was on the doctor’s urging that I retire from full time online poker.

It all makes so much sense when you think about it. Why should we expect mass multi tabling online poker to be good for our brains? When in human history has something like this ever bee done before? When has there been a multi-billion dollar industry rewarding someone handsomely for being able to crush 15 video games at once? For how long has anything like this been around? It certainly couldn’t have ever existed prior to this century before the internet exploded. My point to everyone is that we are the guinea pigs for this grand experiment. The results have been abysmal for me personally and I have the brain scans to prove it.

Before anyone gets ahead of themselves and concerned for their health, I need to point out one very important thing. I am certainly not saying to the average player that online poker is ruining their brain. I am not even saying that if you are an online poker professional that you are damaging your brain in any way. I am speaking out to a very small group of mass multi tabling online poker players (and those hoping to emulate them) and urging them to ask themselves if online poker is impacting them in a negative way. I also want to urge them to realize that the impacts are subtle. It’s important to be careful because much like the famous science experiment where you put a frog in a pot of room temperature water and crank up the temperature 1 degree every minute, only to reach a boiling point and notice the frog still hasn’t jumped out, mass multi table online poker can have that same effect. Even though it would be easy to just think you are feeling fine now and write off this blog post, if nothing else, I think it would be great to simply keep a journal by your computer and spend 5 minutes a day charting your happiness levels and thoughts you are having. At least if you start to notice changes at some point, you will have proof of how you used to feel.

My decision to write this blog post came after much consideration. I wanted to take a month to process it all before I said anything publicly. I toyed with the idea of protecting my personal privacy, but ultimately decided that doing so would be selfish. This information needs to come out and there needs to be more discussion about the impacts of doing things like chasing Supernova Elite. I love Poker Stars. They were my former sponsor and in my opinion is one of the most well run companies on earth. But I’m sorry Poker Stars; SNE is not good for your brain.

I was the first cash game player to make SNE in 8 months back in 2007. I made over a million dollars in the process and life seemed great. But I think doing so set the wheels in motion for my brain to change in a mostly bad way and I regret my decision greatly. The fact is, it wasn’t worth it. I wish I had just utilized my talent differently by playing 1/3 as much poker and enjoying a couple hundred grand a year rather than chasing a million. I can always make a buck, but I only have one brain. What good does the money do when it robs you of time with your children that you can never get back? I’d write a check for a million dollars right now if I could get back all of the priceless moments with my kids I missed while off in the wonderland I was living in while at home, but away from poker.

I have not played a single hand of online poker in nearly 2 months now. I am not quitting the game. But I will need to play it in a much healthier fashion which for awhile will be about 5-10 hours a week. When I decide to start playing again, that is the plan. I was told that a good way to avoid severe damage to my brain would be to go on a schedule of playing for 2 hours in the morning followed by lots of exercise and then for 2 hours more before retiring from any other strenuous mental activity for the day. For now, I am happy to take a little more time away from the game.

Since I will no longer play poker full time I am pursuing a publishing contract for a golf book I have long wanted to write. I will not give out any further details than that because the information is sensitive, but I am greatly looking forward to taking on a project away from the game of poker. I have also decided that I will begin easing into golf tournaments (I know I have “quit” poker to play golf a time or two before, but trust me it’s real this time hehe) starting next month with the aim to play full time in 2014. I have long wanted to return to golf. It is unquestionably my primary passion and always will be. Now that it is doctor’s orders, they don’t have to twist my arm, I’m ready to do it now.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading this blog post. I will keep a pulse on the discussion of this blog and try and post a follow up blog in the near future that describes in more detail my experience. For now, my hope is simply to explain my story and what the doctors told me. Keep in mind, I am obviously not a doctor so everything I said should be viewed with a grain of salt. If anyone is concerned for themselves, I would recommend seeing www.amenclinics.com before they make any decisions about playing poker. The brain scans see what a regular psychiatrist can not. For that reason alone, I think if you are concerned for yourself, Amen Clinic is in my opinion your best play."

Dusty Schmidt is the author of the books Treat Your Poker Like A Business and Don’t Listen To Phil Hellmuth. In his online poker career, Schmidt has played over 9 million hands and won over $4 million. He previously played online mid- to high-stakes cash games and is one of the biggest online winners in the last four years. Find out how to get his books for free at his website or purchase them at Amazon.com.

 
 
 
 

Comments

pokercrucible
almost 2 years ago

I found this article interesting to say the least, however one problem I have is that you are one person. I am not sure how you can say that because it is bad for you, it is bad for all people. We are not all wired the same way as you are.

Could it be possible for someone else to be just fine doing what you are doing? I am thinking it would take years of research, scans and testing to see if this is true throughout all who play massive amounts of online poker.

I would be careful making blanket statements assuming that because it happened or is happening to you, that it will happen the same way.

 
Reply
 

Leonard1
almost 2 years ago

Tell leather ass to stop playing so many tables, and join the real world. Guess what all football players don't die at 50. There are plenty of old ones walking around still. You will be alright,just treat your anxiety and stay off the other drugs and calm down with your alcohol intake. IF YOU CAN'T CONTROL IT THEN YOU HAVE TO QUIT ALL TOGETHER. GOOD LUCK,

 
Reply
 

swallsjr
almost 2 years ago

I was wondering if any of the results of your brain scan correlated to these findings on internet and gaming addicts.

www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/2/3/347/pdf

 
Reply
 

Jesse2
almost 2 years ago

GL to you sir on your golfing. I think being outside spanking the ball around all day would def. be a good thing. :)

 
Reply
 

popskull
almost 2 years ago

This is an interesting case study, but it has one major flaw. You indicate that you have done two things that most people do not do: play a crazy amount of multi-tabling poker AND have gotten some mental training to help you stay calm while playing. It seems to me that you cannot logically pin down the source of your issues to one or the other and it is therefore a fallacy to try do pin it on multi-tabling online poker.

 
Reply
 

crsseyed
almost 2 years ago

Best wishes to you Dusty. That being said, it's very dangerous for a lay person such as Dusty to comment/write a blog on medical conditions(see Dusty's past notes on his "heart attack" at age 23).

Different people use their brains in different ways. A janitor one way, an airtraffic controller another way, a professional athelete another and a poker player another. This obviously affects the brain patterns. This is not groundbreaking news. The whole point is don't let 1 thing dominate your life/have some balance. Control your life, don't let your activities control you.

 
Reply
 

Benjamin2
almost 2 years ago

Awesome post, especially since you have the brain scans to confirm the difference between playing and at rest. I used to multi frequently, and only do so occasionally. I had already sensed the exact same changes in myself so I really have backed off from the volume that I used to play. To hear that there is some science confirming it really helped me feel better about my changing my habits. I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that this article is helpful to others. I'm not saying that anyone should quit because of what you say, but maybe through raising awareness it will help others make more informed decisions. It's probably like a concussion in the NFL, if you already have had some instability or problems associated with multi tabling then you are more at risk for further damage if you continue.

 
Reply
 

dustys64
almost 2 years ago

This is Dusty Schmidt responding on my old account I created here when I was first learning poker. The above post by Benjmin2 is very well stated. I am simply trying to raise awareness with this blog post. I am not a doctor. No one on earth should play less poker simply because they read this post. But I do know that no one talks about this stuff. I think it would be greatly beneficial to everyone if some discussion can ensue as a result of what I went through. I know there are countless others who will come out of the woodwork with similar experiences. I know people myself who play poker that feel a lot of the same things.

 
Reply
 

THEJOEF
almost 2 years ago

In other words , Dusty cant win anymore.
Poker Players its always something

 
Reply
 

shakhtar
almost 2 years ago

Why anyone gives any publicity to this self-absorbed attention seeking nobody is puzzling to say the least. At least he didn't inject some of his far-left political dribble into this as he usually does.

Let's see if this post is "civil" enough for the word police at CardPlayer, since my initial thoughts must have been considered too inflammatory.

 
Reply
 

mikeyb111
almost 2 years ago

What utter nonsense. As though looking at 15 virtual poker tables and making some decisions can lead to a stroke.

 
Reply
 

KingaDimuns
almost 2 years ago

Wasn't sure what to believe after reading this. But now that mikey and IP have stated that it's nonsense, I'm inclined to believe Dusty.
@pokercubicle, +1. Pretty much what i thought too.

 
Reply
 

bmpek
almost 2 years ago

i will not comment until TEX speaks on this. as you all know he is the expert on all things of the mind. hopefully he can get away from his nurse and skip his daily dose of pills.

 
Reply
 

L2K4FC
almost 2 years ago

If you push yourself too hard in any arena, or lose balance in life then you are going to encounter what is known as dis ease. It has nothing to do with poker per say, and everything to do with an imbalance of work, stress, nutrition, exercise, etc. I think it is great that he is trying to get healthy. To label poker as the problem though is not accurate or fair. My concern is that he will move into working too hard on something else, say a golf book.

 
Reply
 

blisteringfx
almost 2 years ago

I agree with the majority of others here...

1. Don't generalize based on a single study
2. Stop mutli-tabling
3. Stop binge drinking
4. Stop smoking weed

Where you come to some conclusion that the majority of us online poker players multi table, binge drink and smoke weed is kind of, what words can I use "beyond ridiculous on your part"? The fact that you have generalized your study to apply to all is a clear indicator that you believe all online poker players act like you?

Look in the mirror and accept your flaws for what they are and correct them.

Your points should be taken into consideration by all reading them, however stressing or panicking about them would make absolutely no sense without conclusive studies being completed on a large sample group for an extensive period of time.

 
Reply
 

dustys64
almost 2 years ago

blisteringfx,

I have noticed many people commenting on this here and various other places that my drinking and smoking pot had a lot to do with this. However, if one reads the article closely, I was very clear that the alcohol and weed were coping mechanisms for problems that had already been created by overdoing it poker wise. I have never had a problem with any of that stuff until as recently as 6-7 months ago.

As a writer, I am completely used to people skimming or not fully understanding what I have written. Often those same people rush to the comments section and speak out against something that was never even said or even implied anywhere in the article. This is standard everywhere on the internet. Rather than attempting to think about something a different way, many will read stuff like this and dismiss it. Which of course is totally fine and mostly expected unfortunately.

I will keep everyone posted as I learn more!

 
Reply
 

Joseph7
almost 2 years ago

"I have never had a problem with any of that stuff until as recently as 6-7 months ago."

That's very faulty logic. For example, a guy asks his doctor why he has been diagnosed with diabetes and the doctor says lifestyle factors, and the guy responds with 'but I've been living this way my whole life before now without problems'.

Eventually things catch up to us. Not saying that is it necessarily, but just because it didn't use to mess with you doesn't rule it out as a factor(the drinking and whatnot).

 
 

ps0054
almost 2 years ago

What!!?? Stop smoking weed!!!! I mean, lets not overreact. All the other stuff, okay -- but no weed??!!!

 
Reply
 

notCIA
almost 2 years ago

I can only think how lucky it is your best friend is the nephew of the one psychiatrist who is capable of handling a problem of your magnitude.

 
Reply
 

notCIA
almost 2 years ago

The great part is after working on Dusty, Dr. Amen will be able to cure air traffic controllers.

 
Reply
 

rumptapper
almost 2 years ago

Well %@#* me sideways! Just when i get to where i can 12 table profitably, u drop this %$#&! (all my inspiration was derived from reading your book,TPlaB btw.) Lucky for me I'm not so sure that multi tabling is the cause of your uh... condition? Any number of factors could be the cause of changes in your brain, and for you to assume that poker is the problem, and then announce publicly that its from poker is very irresponsible on your part dusty. Going without sleep for 2-3 days because your grinding can hurt your brain and body,(and i KNOW we've all been there!)(but staying up 2-3 days doin anything will cause u problems,not just poker!)and there are diff. nuerological effects from long term weed and alchohol use. After all the bad publicity the online poker community has gone thru in the past couple of years because of a few very greedy people, please dont add to it with assumptions Dusty.

 
Reply
 

rumptapper
almost 2 years ago

whats going on with your ear in this pic??? Theres something u might want to get checked out! lol!

 
Reply
 

princesspoker1
almost 2 years ago

Amazeballs post and it's really got me thinking.

My day job is in academia and during my post-grad studies my friends started calling me 'the ghost', because I'd focus intently for hours on my research but ask me if I wanted to get a coffee and I really had to stop and think about the answer. It was (and is) not a good look on me, but it seems from this post that any high level mental activity for long periods of the day puts the average person at risk of ill health.

This anxiety problem may or may not be related to the use of other substances (I personally have never been a smoker of any sort) but I'd well believe the all consuming nature of some activities to play its part.

 
Reply
 

JohnMomomo
almost 2 years ago

Literally the most self-obsessed, arrogant, hubristic person in the poker world (the whole world??).

I mean what's next Dusty? You going to claim you can spit on dirt and cure blind people?

They should do some tests on that noodle of yours to see what money and quasi-fame has done to you. I guarantee a hell of a lot more (observable) damage than grinding has!!!

Get a grip!

 
Reply
 

Brendan1
over 1 year ago

haha you guys are a bunch of clowns, you're all taking something helpful and throwing it in the gutter

 
Reply
 

Jim31
5 months ago

Great article. Hopefully, not fallen on deaf ears. I am more of a live tournament player and I see some of these online multi tablers and they are like robots, you know something is wrong with them. They are living in that wonderland you mentioned.
Glad you and your family addressed this and that you found out what was going on. I guess that as it's important to have a balanced approach at the tables, you have to have a balanced brain. GL

 
Reply