Resolve to stay healthy at the poker table this year

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This column first appeared in Ante Up Magazine in January 2010.

This seems like the perfect time for some New Year’s resolutions, poker-style. I’m not referring to strategy, as there are plenty of qualified pros to give you one-liners worth remembering next year. Doyle Brunson says, “Never go broke with a queen in your hand.” His son, Todd, says, “The third raise is always aces.” Daniel Negreanu warns not to overvalue a pair of 10s. “After all, they’re just 10s.” And our friend, Lee Childs, advises simply to “Decide to win.”

I’m also not going to focus on any of my personal poker goals. I have some such as, “Always try to keep count of the pot,” and “Play more razz.” But those are really of no concern to anyone but me.

No, I’m supposed to be the medical guy, so I thought I’d review the most important nuggets of healthy advice I’ve given you in my columns over the past year or so and ask you to consider taking some of these good health habits into the new year.

No. 10: Get a swine flu shot. You’ve gotten one already haven’t you? I sure have. Regular poker players are at a particularly high risk because they sit at a table with nine people and pass cards and chips around. The swine flu has gotten a lot of press this year because it’s so darn contagious, but even standard old seasonal flu kills 35,000 Americans every year. If you play a lot of poker you should get a flu shot EVERY year, especially this one. And if you do get sick, do everyone a favor and stay home. Have some soup.

No. 9: Wash your hands, a lot. … after a bathroom break, before eating, and at the end of your session, wash up. If you can’t find soap and water, use hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your nose or mouth during play. Sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hand. If someone at your table is sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth.
No. 8: Get enough sleep. If you’re planning to play late, catch a nap earlier in the day or sleep late the next morning. Don’t replay hands in your head while you’re trying to get to sleep, especially those bad beats. Let them go.

No. 7: Limit your caffeine. …and not just coffee or Red Bull. Colas and even green tea “energy” drinks are loaded with the stuff.

No. 6: Don’t hold your bladder too long. Limit your fluids during the latter stages of a tournament when the blinds escalate and take advantage of breaks in the action to take care of business. Did I mention washing your hands?

No. 5: Don’t let a blood clot sideline you. Sitting at the table for hours can cause blood to sludge in your legs. Point your toes and contract your calf muscles every time you get the button. Get up frequently and walk; do deep knee bends; exercise your legs; wear elastic socks.

No. 4: Don’t lean on your elbows. This goes for online and live play. That little watery blob at the tip of your elbow is a bursa. If you traumatize it enough by leaning on it, it can swell up or even get infected. And, for gosh sakes, don’t stick a needle in it. If it’s hot and red, see a doctor. If it’s not, leave it alone.

No. 3: Exercise your mind and memory. Pay attention to the play, especially when you’re not in a hand. Look for patterns. Resolve to remember them. Challenge yourself. Learn other games, such as razz!

No. 2: Don’t use drugs to improve your game. The slight and temporary performance improvement you might experience by using speed or coke isn’t worth the enormous danger to your health. If you don’t have ADD, forget Ritalin and Adderall. They’re just as risky. Pharmaceutical quality speed is, after all, still speed.

And my No. 1 Healthy Poker Resolution for 2010: Don’t smoke at the table. … cigars, cigarettes, anything. And don’t let others smoke at your table. Clearly you’ll have more control over this resolution if it’s your home game, but you can voice your objections and refuse to attend games where smoking is allowed. And, if you have a choice, choose a non-smoking cardroom. No matter how good a game might be, it’s not worth breathing carcinogens.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the readers of this column and especially those who have taken the time to send in questions or comments (favorable or not). I encourage your questions, comments and particularly any ideas you may have for future columns. You can write me at editor@anteupmagazine.com.

— An avid poker player, Frank Toscano, M.D. is a board-certified emergency physician with more than 28 years of front-line experience. He’s medical director for Red Bamboo Medi Spa in Clearwater.