This past fall, we examined some “Easy Self-Care Tips” that can help to keep you feeling fresh and happy. The tips ranged from getting out into nature to taking care of your health and nutrition – but you may have noticed that there were also some simple hobbies included. Things like cross stitching, colouring, and journalling are all very helpful when it comes to self-care.
In this post, we want to follow up with a few words on poker –– another refreshing hobby, and one that’s particularly trendy of late. With many having reportedly turned to online poker as a sort of entertainment and coping mechanism throughout the pandemic, it’s now estimated that more than 100 million people are playing online alone. Here, we’ll look into some of the benefits those people might be enjoying, and how a poker hobby can help you to keep your mind fresh.
First and foremost, playing poker will help you practice focusing on a single task. Whether or not you play with any actual stakes, you’ll quickly discover that when you aren’t giving the game your full attention, you’re unlikely to win. A good poker player needs to be mindful of their cards, attentive to the dealer, and, ideally, aware of the decisions others at the table are making. All of these factors impact how a given hand plays out, and you can’t monitor them all without clear, consistent focus. This is something we seldom practice in day-to-day life, given the constant distraction of technology, the common need to multitask, and so on. Poker, however, can offer you a rare and much-needed way to hone your ability to focus.
Emotional steadiness tends to be useful when confronting all manner of challenges. When playing poker, however, it is at the core of some of the most crucial elements of success. Per a piece at Poker.org, some of the best ways to become “great” at the game are to “learn to accept defeat” and “never get too high.” Learning to accept defeat means establishing the mental toughness to avoid emotional reactions and hasty decisions after a bout of bad luck; never getting too high means finding a way to steer clear of elation and recklessness when things are going well. These mental tactics boil down to practicing emotional steadiness, which will help you win at poker, but which is also invaluable in everyday life.
It also tends to be the case that poker can keep you active and engaged socially. In some cases, this is because the game provides a way for you to play in person with friends or new acquaintances. Even online however, social activity tends to be part of the game. The aforementioned guide to becoming great at poker, for instance, mentions networking with other players as a recommended strategy for improvement. And even if you’re playing more casually, you may well find yourself frequenting an app or online platform through which you consistently play and chat with the same opponents. Indeed, some platforms –– such as Zynga, PokerStars, and some newer VR games –– are designed to support in-game socializing. Poker may not be entirely unique in this category, but it does provide one more way for you to hone your interpersonal skills and stay socially sharp.
An article at Gamesver.com examining the benefits of card games in general argues that these games can help you boost your memory without even realizing it. The article explains that this is because when you’re concentrated on winning, you’re also focusing on remembering “which cards have been played, what moves have been made, and players’ general comments and actions.” This is the case across numerous card games, but perhaps particularly in poker. The game demands that you remember not only the cards in play during a given hand, but also how your opponents have played in previous hands. The more you’re able to remember as you play, the more information you have at hand to inform your own strategy. In this way, the game functions essentially as a memory exercise.
This is a point we’re actually borrowing, in a sense, from research on video games –– as well as one that ties into the prior note about poker building emotional steadiness. According to a report at VerywellMind.com, it has been determined that playing video games can relieve stress, in part because the games “provide us with a safe and fun outlet for developing our emotional awareness and coping skills.” In short, video games present challenges, and even frustrations. But overcoming those hurdles in a safe, contained environment disconnected from the real world effectively teaches stress relief. We’ll note that there is little research concerning the same benefits in relation to poker, but the same logic certainly applies. The card game serves as a safe, contained outlet wherein people can learn to cope in ways that help them avoid stress.
In all of these ways, this simple but beloved card game can train and sharpen your mind. Just a short time with the game may just help you improve focus and memory, hone your emotional resilience and social skills, and even learn how to handle stress.