One piece of advice I have given people about poker tournaments is that sometimes after a long day you’ll find that players who have been playing at a high level suddenly start to make mistakes or play less well during the last levels of the night. It might be surprising to see this happen, but it’s understandable, because even the best players sometimes get fatigued.
You might say the advice is twofold — to be on the lookout for good players perhaps playing less well at the end of a long day, and to recognize in yourself whether or not fatigue might be affecting your play at night’s end.
If you see others slipping into some bad play at the end of the night, you can really take advantage and capitalize on their mistakes. By the same token, if you can stay alert and energized, you can avoid making mistakes yourself. Of course, if you do recognize that fatigue is starting to affect you and your ability to make decisions, you need to be able to adjust accordingly.
Despite my preaching to others about this phenomenon of fatigue negatively affecting performance, I had one event this summer at the WSOP where I fell victim to it.
The event was the $5K no-limit hold’em. It was a Day 1 and I had good chips — I was above average — but during the last two levels of the night I became tired. I had a headache, too, and so before those last levels began I’d consciously decided that I wouldn’t be able to play at my highest level and so I’d try to tighten up to finish out the evening.
The problem was I hadn’t had this happen to me in a long time — that is, to get tired at the end of a night — and so I wasn’t really prepared to change my game and try to play differently. Sure enough I made a few mistakes and wound up busting before the day was over. In other words, I’d done exactly what I’ve been instructing to others to avoid!
If I had come back on Day 2 with the chips I had entering the last two levels, I would have probably been assured of at least cashing and perhaps even making a deeper run. But like I say, I could sense some fatigue and a headache coming on, and so recognizing I probably wasn’t as sharp as I’d like to be I had decided to try to play a little more conservatively and perhaps avoid difficult situations for the rest of the night.
But it didn’t quite work out that way. There were three hands that stand out as I recall how the night ended up.
In the first one, I called a raise with J♦10♦ and the flop came jack-high. My opponent continued with a bet and I called, then the turn brought a low card. My opponent then made a three-quarter pot bet. Now if I was playing well and thinking clearly, I’d have known my opponent had me beat, but I called nonetheless. A king fell on the river which turned out to be fortunate for me as it caused us both to check, and he showed ace-jack and won the pot.
Then in another hand I had [A][K] and three-bet before the flop in a situation where I might have just flat-called an opponent’s raise. I don’t always three-bet with ace-king, and also when I’m not sharp I know I don’t want to play big pots if I can avoid it. But here I three-bet, he called, and the flop came queen-high. My opponent led out, I raised, and when he reraised back I had to fold. So I’d lost some more chips.
Then in the last hand I played I called a raise in the cutoff with [A][J] and both the button and big blind called as well. The flop was [A][K]-blank, and when the preflop raiser bet I just called, but I should have raised to see where I was at. The button called as well, then after the turn brought a  the original raiser checked, I bet, the button called, and the raiser folded.
The river was a blank and when I checked, the button went all in. It was about 18,000 to call for a 70,000 pot and I called, and he showed [A] for two pair and I was eliminated.
Looking back, I knew I hadn’t really gone into my tight mode as I’d told myself I would do heading into those last two levels of the night. For instance, three-betting with [A][K] is a great example of my not executing the plan to be a little more nitty during those last two levels, and it cost me. I was disappointed for that, but also because I had fallen victim to something I’ve instructed others against by letting fatigue affect my play at night’s end.
I’d played a full day of great poker, with my reads being right on the money throughout. I’d made a great call earlier in the day with ace-high that had been correct, and my radar was working great. But in the last two levels that radar wasn’t functioning, and even though I’d recognized that I still wasn’t able to adjust as I should have.
As I say I rarely fall victim to end-of-day fatigue — in fact, I can’t remember ever having done so quite this way — but it is quite common. I’d say more than 50% of players do experience it, and if you can rev up your engine at that point you can take advantage of a lot of bad play.
So if you’re sharp at the end of a night and can do it, push down that gas pedal and take advantage of others who might be struggling to close out a long day. But sometimes you have to apply the brakes yourself, too, and be able to have a “nitty speed” if you recognize that you aren’t as clear-headed as you’d like.
Chad Brown is a member of Team PokerStars Pro