Stay healthy at the poker table in 2011



It’s New Year’s resolution time again. Of course, I’m not writing about strategy resolutions like “never min-raise” or “don’t go broke in an unraised pot.” This is a poker health column, after all, so I’ve searched through my articles from the past year to come up with 10 practical and useful resolutions to keep you healthy and happy at the poker table.

NO. 10: GET THE SHOT. For the past two months I’ve dispensed plenty of useful tidbits about this year’s upcoming flu season. I promise no more flu advice until next fall. Meanwhile wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick and get the shot.

NO. 9: PUT IT OUT. Tobacco is a bad thing. Whether you chew it, dip it, sniff it or roll it up into a little stick, set it on fire and inhale the smoke, it’s bad. It causes heart disease, lung disease and half a dozen different cancers. Plus, when you come back to the poker table after your smoke break, you smell bad. But you know this stuff.

Here’s some practical advice and some help: The odds of successfully quitting without some kind of help are about 8 percent, about the same as the chance of hitting a two-outer after the flop. Add Chantix and some support counseling and your odds of success look more like an up-and-down straight draw with two to come. Much better. Worth a shot.

NO. 8: CALL A CAB. If you’re hosting a home game, you can drink a few beers and maneuver successfully from your table to your bed. But if you drove to your local cardroom to play, it’s much better to abstain completely. You may truly believe you’re capable of driving home safely after drinking a few but the legal limit doesn’t measure “intoxication,” it measures “impairment,” which, it turns out, is much lower than you’d think. Don’t risk it.

NO. 7: PAY ATTENTION. And while we’re on the subject of impaired driving after playing poker, don’t text, surf, tweet, e-mail or even converse on the phone while you’re driving home. Just drive.

NO. 6: LAY OFF THE ELBOWS. Okay, after all the more serious resolutions, this one may be a little trite, but work with me here. Leaning on your elbows for long sessions live or at your computer desk can cause some problems. One of those fluid-filled sac things could pop up at your elbow or you could even irritate your ulna nerve causing a shooting pain down into your hand. Give your elbows a break. Forearms are better suited for leaning.

NO. 5: GET SOME SLEEP. Apparently, there’s something macho about staying awake all night locked in an epic battle against fearsome opponents and dodging bad beats and coolers dropped like thunderbolts from above by the Gods of Poker. Forget the romance. There are good studies that prove ignoring your natural sleep pattern is bad for your heart, brain and psyche. Set reasonable limits and listen to your body. When it’s nappy time, go to bed.

NO. 4: TIME IS MUSCLE. If you’re at risk for a heart attack (think high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cigarettes, obesity, family history) there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk. There is, however, one vital thing your local poker room manager could do to help you survive “the big one” if it hits while you’re playing. He could purchase an automatic external defibrillator. An AED costs about $1,700 and might be just the thing you and others like you need to jump-start a failing heart. Ask the manager to spend an hour or two of his rake on one of these nifty devices that are easy to use and just might save your heart muscle and your life.

NO. 3: TIME IS BRAIN. People have heart attacks (see No. 4) and strokes at the poker table all the time. If suddenly your arm feels weak, your foot drags or you begin having trouble finding your words, don’t hang around for another orbit or two. Call 911. Your brain is exquisitely sensitive to a lack of blood flow. A blocked artery in your brain may not be painful but still, your brain cells could be dying by the thousands. A stroke center has tricks to get that artery opened again but the window of opportunity snaps shut fast. Don’t delay. Get help.

NO. 2: LEARN CCC. People have strokes (see No. 3) and heart attacks at the poker table all the time. Maybe you can be a real hero. There’s a new way to do CPR that’s easier, more effective and doesn’t involve that messy mouth-to-mouth stuff. Continuous Cardiac Compression is simple enough that I can probably teach it to you in this column next month. This resolution, then, is my teaser. Tune in next month and I’ll explain how you can save a life.

NO. 1: PLAY MORE POKER. At least one of my resolutions has to be fun, right? Playing a complicated intellectual game like poker challenges your brain, sharpens your thought-processes and staves off dementia. Don’t stop at hold’em. Try double flop or triple draw or badugi; it doesn’t matter. Just play more so your brain can get some valuable exercise. Tell your spouse the doctor said so.

— 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 medicaldirector for Red Bamboo Medi Spa in Clearwater, Fla. Email your poker-healthquestions to

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine