Table Talk: Importance of Taking a Break

Take a break

I’m writing from my vacation in Italy. I planned to do very little work during my first vacation in two years, but I decided to write this column after checking in to my poker social media networks.

My holiday started with a week on the Amalfi coast in a rented Massa Lubrense villa, and I’m now in Rome for a week alone to focus on my novel, one that has nothing to do with poker, minus the occasional mention. This was a much-needed break from my usual seven-day work week, and the freedom from following everything about poker for more than a week has provided perspective that was long overdue.

Many poker writers, those who focus on strategy, suggest that poker players take a break from the tables on occasion. A series of downswings or frustrations with the game necessitate a step back, not only to examine their strategies and bankroll decisions but to focus on other things in life. They’re advised to take a short vacation, spend time with family and friends who are outside of the poker world, or whatever it takes to eliminate poker from their horizon for a few days or weeks.

I never realized how important this advice was – on many levels – until I took it myself.

Poker had been frustrating for me of late. Whether it was poker players who complained about their bad luck or general “runbad” or day-long discussions of a rule in poker that truly affects only a small number of professional players, the Twitter and Facebook updates were causing me to rethink my desire to remain in this industry at all. While I grinded out a living writing about million-dollar prize pools, players posted their disappointment with a second place finish or frustration with missing a chance to play a $10K buy-in tournament.

So I left it all behind for a trip to Italy, using every dime of my savings. Life bankroll management is not my strong suit, but I felt that my sanity was at stake. So here I am, at the rooftop bar of my hotel, seated on the patio with a glass of red wine, taking a few minutes away from my novel-in-progress to jot down some thoughts.

There is a reason that Europeans are generally happier than Americans. They take more holidays and work fewer hours. It really is that simple in many cases.

I see so many poker players who take few breaks from the live tournament circuit. They continue to travel and spend money in search of the big win that will satisfy their needs, justify their efforts, and bring the fame that they pursue. Some of them have nothing at home that brings the same satisfaction, or they don’t even give those things – friends, family, or other hobbies – the chance to offer happiness.

Those who seem happiest in our business take those breaks. They have meaningful and solid relationships with people uninvolved in poker, and they remove themselves from social media to truly enjoy time with them. Others nurture friendships and familial ties. Some read, think, sleep, write, draw, sightsee, enjoy food and drink, or focus on health. There are many ways to relax away from the poker tables.

My advice is to do it as often as your financial situation allows. And the breaks must include long stretches of time without connections to poker, such as social media.

If the separation from poker is not possible, seek therapy. I’m not being facetious or insulting, only suggesting that a therapist can help facilitate a true break from a world that can be all-consuming and overwhelming at times. As a poker writer – not a player – I can only imagine that the ties to poker are even tighter and less forgiving for players. Instead of waiting for a complete crash or breakdown, seek help to find balance in your life.

For more than a week, I haven’t followed who won poker tournaments, who busted on the money bubble, or any of the ridiculousness that political figures bring to the online poker arena. I am only distantly aware that my own US government has been shut down for a week. And it has been amazing to be away. I’ve focused on my own personal creativity, writing, and goals. I’ve eaten without worry, consumed copious amounts of local wine, and watched the Italian people go about their daily lives. It has been relaxing and joyful.

I will return to the daily grind by next week, surely to notice much of what I’ve missed and find much fodder for future articles. But as I do that, I will take more breaks – even on a daily basis – and drink a little wine with lunch.

Ciao and cheers!