For the last few years, I’ve been tired. I do my best to stay sharp in every way possible. If I’m traveling to play tournaments in places with different time zones, I make sure to arrive three to four days in advance. I try to eat clean, never drink too much, and always have a physical and mental workout plan that is centered around me being able to play my best for long periods. Even my sleep schedule is pretty solid (as solid as a sleep schedule can be for a traveling poker player).

The tired I’m speaking of isn’t necessarily a state of physical exhaustion. Sure, sometimes I play the mega cash-game session and can barely walk back to my hotel room by the end of it. Sure, sometimes I play tournaments for a week straight and end up losing 8-10 pounds by the time things wrap up. Even after all of the adrenaline-fueled days where I purposely abuse caffeine and starve myself of carbohydrates to make sure my brain is performing at its best, it usually only takes me a few days of normal life to feel like my physical health is almost back to 100%.

But I’m tired.

See, seven or so years back I started playing high-stakes. Over the years, the stakes got bigger and bigger. In some sense, the feeling of playing high-stakes is all relative. When I started, it was the typical story of playing the micros and grinding my way up. I keep this old email from college days when my internet dropped and I lost my buy-in to a two-dollar online tournament.

‘Will I get all my money back from the tourneys? the 2 dollar rebuy i was in i had several buy ins invested can you track that?’

This may sound absurd, and I can’t precisely recall the feelings I had when playing micro stakes, but I think at certain times the small-stakes felt more intense to me then than the nosebleeds feel to me today. If you’re a competitor, losing is painful, regardless of the game or stakes. For better or worse, I’ve used that pain as inspiration to keep getting better.

I’m sure most poker players who are reading this can all relate to the feeling I’m describing. It’s as though there is a callus that has thickened around my soul. It’s not that I don’t care about the results, and it’s not that I don’t get excited to show up and compete. I still experience the positive and negative emotions that accompany playing poker for a living, just not to the same degree that I did in the beginning. I believe at its core, the feeling I’m describing is a defense mechanism to help maintain homeostasis in between the massive swings of high-stakes poker

There has been a recent Twitter debate lately regarding how watching high-rollers is like watching paint dry. Some argue that the high roller regulars don’t show emotion when they win and it’s boring never to be able to tell who’s the winner and who’s the loser. (They haven’t watched Triton events!)

To play your best you have to be detached from outcomes. Emotions lead to attachments that become barriers to optimal performance. If you are jumping up and down with joy every time you win or suffering in agony every time your ace-king loses to queens, you won’t be around very long. I frame it as something like, “do these feelings help me play better poker?” If not, they are doing me a disservice as a poker player.

The calloused mental state can help you perform at your highest levels in poker, there is no doubt. That said, I’m not sure it’s a place any of us should linger for too long. In my opinion, it’s essential for us to try to reconnect with our human side as often as possible. The only way for me to achieve this is to get back to the basics of things that provide fulfillment in my life. Getting outside, being around loved ones, exercising, or slowing down for a minute to appreciate a beautiful sunset.

Maintaining peak performance for extended periods of time is difficult. It’s exhausting. It takes a toll on my physical and mental states. Trying to out-work and out-think the best players in the world takes an enormous amount of effort. I’m not sure how much longer I will be pushing myself to perform at the highest levels in poker. I’m still hungry. I have a lot of fight left, but as long as I’m here, I’ll be tired.

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