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Top-10 lessons from my third (and final) 24-hour poker game

6 December 2010

Over the weekend, the players in the Casino City home game managed to get together for our third 24-hour poker marathon. Here are the top-10 things I learned about poker, myself, and why I don't think I'll ever do it again.

10. Phil Laak is insane
I've played poker for 24 straight hours three times in my life. Well, more accurately, I've done it twice and failed in my most recent attempt. Laak played for 115 hours a few months ago, shattering the Guinness Book World Record for the longest poker session. Granted, Laak got a five-minute break every hour and could "bank" that time, giving him at least one 30-minute nap along the way. I tapped out at about 10 a.m. on Saturday for a for a three-hour nap before returning to finish out the game. Without that nap, I might have crumbled. I can't imagine lasting almost five full days with little to no sleep without losing my mind.

9. Pacing is important
My home poker game is a social game. As such, we usually have a beer or two while we play. During previous 24-hour games, I've had a beverage or two, but I always stuck to my rule of no more than one per hour. This time I broke that rule, and (surprise, surprise), my play and my results suffered.

8. Deep stack poker is a different game
After I went through more than a few buy-ins, I started to build my stack up again. I was up to about four buy-ins when I flopped a huge draw — an open-ended straight draw and a flush draw. After missing on the turn, I raised my opponent all in only to get called and find myself up against two pair and the nut flush draw. I missed my six outer and found myself back at square one. I wouldn't normally say that it was a bad play, but that's because my relative stack is rarely that large; I just don't have the time to build one that big, especially if I'm already down a few buy-ins, when we only play for a few hours. In this case, given the situation, I think it would have been better to play it a little more cautiously, keeping the pot small and seeing what happens on the river before committing my whole stack.

7. Dice prop bets in Binglaha are just as exciting as Binglaha
I'd never played Binglaha before, but we decided to try it for the 24-hour game. And as soon as the die came out, the prop bets were everywhere. Players celebrated like crazy when they won a prop bet equal to two big blinds. And Todd had the biggest coup – getting 6:1 from two players that the roll would be a one, and hitting. The prop bets were just as exciting as the game – and that's saying something, because the game was a blast as well.

6. The connection between poker and massages
Walk around the tournament area during the World Series of Poker and you'll see dozens of massage therapists rubbing players' backs, arms, legs, heads and even their hands. While players get a break every two hours, sitting at a poker table for long periods of time can wear on you. I could have used a massage after eight hours, and likely would have paid handsomely for one.

5. Even a little sleep can make a huge difference
I'm an early-to-bed, early-to-rise guy. Even though I'm usually out of bed before 6 a.m., I need at least seven-and-a-half hours of shut-eye most nights to feel well-rested. When I took my break, I felt like I might sleep for a full 20 hours and wake up the next morning. But after three hours of sleep, I was refreshed and ready to finish out the session. I know I couldn't get away with this on a regular basis — and I still have some catching up to do in the sleep department — but that three-hour nap made it possible for me to finish the game.

4. One can desire too much of a good thing
Rosalind asks if it's possible to desire too much of a good thing in Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Yes, Rosalind, it is. I like playing poker in just about every venue — brick-and-mortar casinos, online, and home games. But my favorite place to play is in our home game. The camaraderie, the goading, and the laughter all add to the enjoyment of my favorite card game. But 24 straight hours of poker (even with a three-hour nap) was too much. People's nerves frayed, tensions rose, and each of us was pretty miserable at some point during the whole affair. I don't think I'll feel a need to repeat that, or deprive myself of sleep in such a way again.

3. We're not in our mid-20s anymore
Almost six years ago after we finished the first 24-hour poker game, we decided to play a no-limit Hold'em tournament, because apparently we hadn't had enough. This time, while we were all pretty psyched that the game lasted for all 24 hours (especially the four ironmen who made it through all 24 hours), we were ready to be done. Most of the players had significant others who were eager to have them back, and about half had kids to get home to. We were ready to be done. The chips were cashed out and the basement was cleaned up less than 15 minutes after the last hand was over.

2. I have generous friends
For the first time in the history of our 24-hour game, we decided to make it a charity event. The group raised $215 for the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in honor of Ryan McLane, a former colleague here at Casino City and regular in our home game. Ryan is now on his way home from Afghanistan after serving his second tour of duty (the first was in Iraq in 2005) with the Army National Guard. When Ryan's not on duty overseas, he works as a Veteran Service Representative for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, helping veterans understand the benefits that are available and assisting them in getting the benefits they deserve. It only seems natural to make a donation to a charity that would help the veterans who need it the most to honor Ryan's service.

1. I'm a lucky man
No, not at the card table. My final tally at the end of the game shows that (though admittedly, most of my losses were due to bad play and not bad luck).

I'm lucky because I grew up in a family that loves card games. Sometimes we played 31 for nickels, but usually it was just for fun. I'm lucky because I have an understanding wife who puts up with my shenanigans. I'm lucky because I have an amazing soon-to-be four-year-old son. I'm lucky because our family is about to grow yet again.

With just a few hours left to play, after spending too much time thinking about how poorly I'd played and how "unlucky" I'd been, my son came down the stairs and sat with me. He counted my chips, we laughed and he had fun joking around with my friends. My attitude and outlook did a complete 180. I think it's no coincidence that after he first came down I ended up winning a little bit of my money back.

After the game had ended, I went upstairs and sat down on the couch next to my wife, feeling very grateful to have such a loving and supportive family, and never wanting to miss another day with them to play 24 hours of poker.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.