Poker burnout is a real thing for pros

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Burnout affects all pros at some point in their careers. It’s extremely difficult to identify because there comes a point when the game loses its luster and starts to feel like a real job. There’s a key difference between the standard “I don’t feel like getting up to go to work today” and the legitimate burnout, where you’re making poor decisions.

I’m writing this in the midst of another WSOP, a place where you’ll see the most burned-out players on the planet.

Every day there are thousands of people playing in tournaments they aren’t winning. Most of them aren’t cashing and many of them have backers or have sold packages and feel obligated to play the next day.

These players might even have a schedule so demanding that they play multiple tournaments at multiple venues in the days that they bust out early from the tournaments at the Rio. The carrot that the WSOP dangles out there for glory and riches can only go so far.

A true pro takes a step back and says, “Nope, I’m not playing right; I’m not there mentally; it’s time to visit the Grand Canyon for a few days and recuperate.”

Identifying that is important. Maybe a four-day bender at the Vegas night clubs is how you unwind, who knows? That probably won’t help much, but each person has their thing.

Tournament poker is especially brutal since it’s a constant negative reinforcement.

So every day that you don’t win a bracelet, or a ring, or chop up your local nightly, your tolerance for failure gets slightly weaker. No pro is happy with anything less than first place in most tournaments.

When you feel yourself headed to play poker with that voice in the back of your head saying, “Not this again. I’d rather be home,” take a few moments to give that voice some time to speak. Find out if this is a true burnout situation or if you’re just like every other person and you’re not particularly fond of your job.

Are you getting angry at the old guy across the table for something small that you’d never be upset about normally? Are you quick to make a snappy comment at a dealer because they pitched your card on the wrong side of your chips?

These are serious signs and are cause to take a look at your game and wonder if it’s the skill that you need to improve. Or just go have some fun.

— Brent Philbin is a poker pro who lives in South Florida. You can reach him at Brent.Philbin@gmail.com.