Can Playing Poker Make You Smarter?

Last Updated on November 12, 2019 Author:Adrian Sterne

poker on the brainPoker is considered to be the most played and popular card game in the world, with millions of people playing it daily.

It is a card game that requires not only knowing its basic rules and how betting works but also great mental and cognitive effort entwined with the knowledge of psychology and how emotions impact people.

All these prerequisites entail exceeding mental intensity, which can have the most beneficial effects on your brain. Understanding what happens to your mind at each stage of the game can help you harness those powers that come with playing poker and which can help you not only with your game but with life in general.

We need to view poker as a game that involves making a lot of decisions at an incredibly fast rate, and these decisions are hopefully based on the problem-solving and critical thinking skills of the player, resulting in that player winning the hand. The ability to understand and analyse the situations that arise throughout the game is fundamental for every poker player, and it belongs to the group of those mental abilities where concentration and good memory are of paramount importance.

5 Ways Your Brain Adapts To The Game Of Poker

The possible grand impact that poker might have on the player’s brain, mental activity, and capabilities has intrigued many cognitive scientists looking to link playing poker and cognitive progress.

In this article, we look into the ways in which playing poker affects your brainpower and how playing poker can make all of us smarter. Also, in this article, you will learn about:

Buckle up, for this is going to be an exciting ride through the dark corridors of uncharted brain territory, so make sure you pay attention.

# Playing Poker Affects the Prefrontal Cortex and the Thinking Processes

During a poker game, as pointed out earlier, you need to include a lot of critical, logical, and strategic thinking at all times. Virtually no other activity demands such high levels of different thinking at the same time, which speaks volumes on how poker impacts the brain. The part of the brain that manages this critical thinking and reasoning is the prefrontal cortex.

Anticipating player’s next move, or trying to read their facial expression stimulates the brain cells in the prefrontal cortex, which fosters their growth and, consequently, your cognitive capabilities.

What also leads to cognitive improvement is the unyielding focus and concentration when playing a game of poker. Concentration is one of the skills most commonly related to playing poker as, without the focus and concentration, one can’t hope to win the hand.

With being able to maintain your focus throughout the hand, you will train your mind to pay close attention to the dealer, what cards are on the table, what bets have been called, who folded, and what the opponents might hold in their hands. This will ultimately lead to a greater attention span and the ability to acquire new information much faster.

# Poker Can Safeguard Your Mental Health

The benefits of poker on a player’s mental health have been at the core of many research papers, like this one from Yale University. Namely, diseases like Alzheimer’s belong to a group of disorders that cause huge problems with thinking, memory, and behaviour. The symptoms start slow and might finally lead to a complete loss of memory and the ability to function in everyday life. The aforementioned research, and many other similar ones, most notably the one conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, have found a link between playing card games and the perseverance of mental health.

Patients who play card games have a 50% less chance of suffering from brain-related diseases. Playing poker and other card games stimulate the brain, and when the mind is forced to work, the blood vessels are active and functional and the brain cells get the oxygen and nourishing they need to stay alive. These conditions are predominantly related to the elderly, but with such prevention that comes with playing poker, younger players can hope to avoid these issues as they grow older.

# Poker Will Teach You Internal Calculus and Mental Math

poker mathsPoker players are known for having the ability to count, tally, multiply, and divide at very high frequencies, as poker is indeed a game of odds and calculations where players need to foresee what are the possible endings and outcomes of the hand they are playing.

These mental math processes make you exert all your mental and cognitive prowess and, as this mental training continues, it is bound to lead to further growth and development of your cognitive abilities.

Also, the calculation process included is reserved not only for the mathematical process going on. Calculating the risk involved and understanding when is the perfect timing to pass on a hand or when to push forward with your bet is another type of calculation essential to the game of poker. These mental processes are invaluable when it comes to the growth of your cognitive capacity, and can help you with your decision-making in all areas of life, not only poker.

# Getting Better at Poker Means Getting Smarter in Life

It must be noted that the real growth in cognitive abilities does not come from the moment you start playing poker. The real difference is seen when players have played a game for a while and got better at it. For example, it has been noted that, during the deal, beginner players experience the influence of Theta brain waves that are associated with emotions and emotional reactions.

As players get more experienced, the Beta waves take over, and they are associated with logical thinking and concentration. Of course, one does not exclude the other, but as players get more confident about their game, it is more likely that they are going to experience the effects of Beta than Theta waves.

This confidence will transfer to other areas of life and improve the overall decision-making, which will be based more on logical thinking than irrational emotional outbursts.

# Playing Poker Can Rewire Your Brain and Improve It

rewire brain for pokerIn order to be able to understand the impact playing poker can have on your brain, you first need to understand a bit more about the brain’s structure and how our activities affect it.

First, when you repeatedly perform an action, a change in your mind occurs, and this change is actually a creation of new neural pathways.

All nerve fibers that are in charge of transmitting neural impulses across the neural network are covered and protected by what is called a myelin sheath.

This myelin sheath is in charge of not only protecting the nerve cell, but also nourishing it, and the more often the impulses get transmitted, the thicker the sheath becomes, thus making these neural pathways stronger.

Our brain has this unique ability to employ brain cells where they are needed the most and create more of them with the growth of these new nerve pathways. The bottom line is that playing poker consistently will lead to the creation of more nerve pathways and more myelin sheaths, ultimately changing our brain.

The possibility of our brain to change in the first place comes with what is referred to as the brain’s neuroplasticity. This change comes from all the experiences and information processing that occurs when learning something new or being engaged in an operation that requires a robust mental effort such as playing poker.

Final Thoughts

The salubrious effects of poker have been well-documented in many papers and research, and one of these effects is definitely related to the improvement of cognitive capacities. In this article, we discussed how exactly our brain and intelligence can get better and what are other various positive aspects of playing poker.

If you disagree with anything written here or would like something to add or want to give poker a go why not try some of our new poker sites.. please feel free to do so in the commenting section.

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Hi, I am the Chief Editor of, this site is dedicated to all thing poker. I have been working around the poker industry for the last 15 years, with different brands. The main purpose of this site is to keep you uptodate with the industry and offer you the best deals around.

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