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Stay Young; Play Poker

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: May 29, 2013


Alan SchoonmakerPrevious articles discussed delaying aging while playing. This one describes self-development plans that can help you to stay young and sharp and also increase your long-term profits.

“Self-development” usually means working on knowledge and skills, an obviously valuable activity. You can read my articles about planning this type of self-development at But you should work even harder on preserving your physical and mental health. They are much more important than your poker profits, and, if you don’t feel and think well, you can’t play well.

This article will focus on:

Eat and exercise sensibly.
Emphasize mental stimulation, social interaction, and active learning.
Emphasize novelty.
Create a scorekeeping system.
Optimize stress.

Eat and Exercise Sensibly

Obesity is one of Americans’ major health problems because we eat foolishly and don’t exercise enough. We spend billions on diet and exercise programs, but much of it is wasted because so few people stick to them. The problem isn’t the diet; it’s poor discipline.

Faithfully following almost any well-designed program will reduce your weight, improve your health, help you to live longer, stay younger, feel stronger, think better, and (indirectly) help you to win more money. So try several programs until you find one you can fully accept and then stick to it!

Emphasize Mental Stimulation, Social Interaction, and Active Learning

Of course, you should study Card Player and good books, but studying is a passive and socially isolated activity. Increase mental stimulation, social interaction, and active learning by getting poker buddies, joining discussion groups, and participating in online forums. The give and take and disagreements are much more stimulating than any type of passive study. You’ll learn more, and the stimulation will delay aging.

Emphasize Novelty

Doing the same old things day after day will make you old before your time. Get out of that comfortable rut by trying something new every week or two. It can be a new game, changed stakes, a different cardroom, shorthanded versus full table, tournaments rather than cash games, almost anything that forces you to think and act differently. You need new challenges to stimulate your brain and stay young.

Create a Scorekeeping System

No matter how good your plans are, you probably won’t stick to them without a good scorekeeping system. “Good” means that your goals are clear and measurable, and it’s easy to keep and understand your records.

You can’t accurately measure the effects of applying these Stay Young principles. For example, you can’t determine whether your thinking ability has deteriorated more or less than it would have done if you had acted differently.

So focus on what you will do, the actions you will take. Make written plans for the number of minutes you’ll walk each day, the amount of time you’ll spend discussing poker with poker buddies or at online forums, the type of novelty you’ll seek, how often you’ll experiment, and so on. Then make written records and compare your actions with your plans.

Of course, you can keep track of some results such as your weight or the time you take to walk a mile or go up five flights of stairs. Set targets and measure how well you reach them.

Frequently compare your actions and results to your plans. When you don’t stick to your plans, analyze the reasons and take corrective actions. That is, do whatever it takes to develop yourself as a player and slow down the aging process.

Optimize Stress

Dieting, exercising, disagreeing about poker, playing new games, setting goals, recording your progress, and so on will force you out of your comfort zone.

Good! You need some stress to stay young.

But don’t overdo it. Get enough stress to be stimulated, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed, get discouraged, and give up. In fact, many people quit self-development programs because they set overly ambitious goals, fall far behind, and get discouraged.

Set goals that push you a little out of your comfort zone and honestly measure how well you achieve them. You’ll benefit more from planning to walk 20 minutes per day and doing it, than by planning on 40 minutes per day, then giving up (or cheating) because you can’t or won’t do it. Create enough stress to stretch yourself, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed.

You’re Not Too Young

If you’re younger than forty, you may think you can wait many years before staying young becomes a problem. You’re wrong.

My friend and Card Player colleague, Matt Lessinger, recently joined It provides mental exercises that keep subscribers young and sharp. In fact, its research greatly influenced this series.

Since Matt is only 38, I asked, “Why?”

“Because I see signs of mental decline and want to slow it down.”

Most young people don’t even think about “losing it,” but Matt is smarter and more self-critical. Instead of waiting until the decline was too obvious to ignore, he recognized the problem quickly and started working on it.

I’m much older than Matt and wish I’d recognized the problem sooner. You may think that mental decline is a problem only for middle-aged and older people. But research proves that deterioration begins at about thirty and slowly accelerates.

Because I waited too long, my abilities have declined substantially, and next year I’ll be worse. That’s a painful admission, but it’s obviously true. However, because I now apply these principles, I’ll deteriorate more slowly.

You may know some pitiful older players who used to beat big games, but now lose in small ones. Because they didn’t seriously try to slow down the inevitable aging process, they slowly shifted from excellent, to very good, to good, to mediocre, and occasionally even to terrible.

Johnny Moss was a tragic example. He’s in the Poker Hall of Fame, but ended up as a heavy loser, living on the Binions’ charity.

There’s an old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s immeasurably easier and smarter to prevent problems than it is to solve them.

If you want to continue to play and live well, start working on yourself now. Eat sensibly, exercise regularly, study and discuss poker with friends, and apply all this series’ principles. It’s not fun to work so hard, but it’s essential.

Good decisions are the essence of winning poker, and this one is more important than any you’ll make at the tables. You can decide to start working now to slow down aging, or you can wait until the deterioration becomes obvious. By then you could easily be broke or worse.

“Dr. Al” ( coaches only on psychology issues. For information about seminars and webinars, go to He is David Sklansky’s co-author of DUCY? and the sole author of four poker psychology books.