The connection between rest and learning is not as widely understood as the connection between rest and performance. When you study and play poker, you absorb information like a sponge; when you rest, it’s as if that information is squeezed out. Try and remember an instance where you kept thinking about hands long after you had finished playing, per- haps at a time when you were trying to sleep. The brain is digesting that information and uses it to grow new neurons6, make stronger connections between existing ones, and eliminate old ones. This not only helps your poker skills to become more solid, it also clears your mind and makes absorbing new information easier the next time you play.
The importance of rest is similar for both the mind and body. Getting intensive mental repetitions while working on tilt control, bet sizing, or preflop calling ranges, is similar to working out with weights at the gym. While lifting weights, you tear muscle fibers. This is normal and hap- pens as you push your muscles beyond their current capabilities. Resting allows the body to repair these tears so your muscles can grow stronger; without it, these tears cannot heal and so instead, your muscles become weaker7. The same is true as you learn to “lift” more mental weight play- ing poker. When you get proper rest, your knowledge base becomes stronger, so your decisions are clearer, quicker, and easier. Mental game issues become less of a problem because you have returned with more strength and can remain in control at times when you previously couldn’t. When your mind is overworked and unable to recover, it won’t be able to handle those issues and will crumble under their weight.
Many poker players, especially high-volume grinders and those who live close to a casino, have a hard time taking breaks away from the game. Players who find themselves playing all the time don’t realize the unin- tended consequences this has on their ability to improve over the long term. Their shortsighted attempt to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, can ultimately lead to a decline in their long-term profitability. They rely on the momentum of playing to help them main- tain high-level play. As a result, when they come back from even a short break, their game has slipped so far that it’s difficult to recover. The rea- son this happens is that their minds can only absorb so much of the data that they are accumulating during their nonstop play. So the information that hasn’t had the time to truly be learned ends up dissolving and can no longer be accessed. This means that each time they come back from a break, they have to recapture that data all over again in order to start rebuilding their game.
Rest replenishes the energy you need to perform at a high level, and enables you to return to your game in a better place both mentally and physically.
FANTASY OF THE FRESH START
Some players view rest, not as a way to improve their skills over the long term, but as a way to wipe away a downswing, tilt, or a streak of bad play. The time off is a good way to clear their minds and come back fresh, ready to play at a high level. While that can work, some players take this idea to extreme levels. They delete a losing Hold’em Manager database, ignore previous mistakes, or wake up and say to themselves, “Today is a new day,” and automatically think something is different. They believe that their past is holding them back and that these actions somehow give them the power to escape it. Unfortunately, they’ll be repeating the past until they’re able to learn from it.
You don’t want to wipe away poor results and mistakes because learning what not to do is valuable. When you make mistakes, you’re basically paying for your education. The important question isn’t whether you pay to learn, it’s: Are you repeatedly paying for the same information? If learning is like completing a complicated maze, why would you want to forget all the wrong turns you took? Mistakes help you to learn what is right, and so “starting fresh” really only means that you’d have to pay for all of those valuable lessons again. Using rest as a way to get a fresh start is reasonable only if you also directly address the real problems in your tactical and mental game. Otherwise, they will force you to keep taking time off from playing. Rest is best used as a tool to help you learn and develop a stronger game, not as a way to wipe out your past without learning anything from it.