22 March 2006

Relationships and Poker: Part I

I truly think the following is the worst beat you can have: I check with 94o, flop comes Kh9s4h, I bet and am called, 8s comes on the turn and I bet/raise/I raise/capped; Ts comes on the river, I bet and am raised/call. QsJs for a straight flush? These are the mysteries of poker, calling for a gutshot and backing into a straight flush.

I watched my TiVo'd High Stakes Poker (from Monday night). Quick thoughts on this: Daniel should have gotten up from the table after losing his first quarter million. He's playing absolutely horribly, exactly the fish we look for at the tables. We aren't seeing all the hands, granted, but way too many speculative hands that we've seen. Hellmuth's Hellmuth all-in call with somebody (board of KQx with guy having QQ and Phil having KQ)--I don't know of any of us who wouldn't have gone broke there. Phil then goes on not to necessarily play horribly (Q88 on board with 8 coming on turn or river, Phil has Q and Greenstein has the case 8). Esfandiari's AA cracked by Eli Elizra's TT (or JJ--hey, I have no short-term memory), man I think I've had the same look that the magician had.

Some great comments from yesterday's post on is poker a sin. I hope there will be other comments as you explore this for yourself. As I said yesterday, it is difficult finding people who share both my passion for poker and a similar faith that I have. I personally don't struggle with poker as sin, but similar to others who commented I feel that it is a potential pathway to sin. This doesn't mean it is unique by any stretch, but it healthy to recognize it as an area of risk.

I'd like to next address something related that may resonate more with folks who visit this site: the impact of poker on relationships. First, some background is probably important to set the context of my thoughts. I've been married to Sweetie for 15 years this August (name changed to protect the innocent). I have travelled heavily during major parts of our marriage (now closer to 10% travel from my 60-80% travel days). We have three boys, ten, eight, and twenty-two months. Sweetie is an introvert, has a BS in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. She is probably the least materialistic person I've ever met (never had the chance to meet Mother Theresa). I buy most of her clothes for her as she hates to shop and can't go in more than one clothing store without freaking out. We're in a neighborhood of beautiful people, and Sweetie has a quiet, unassuming way that welcomes her into any group. I provide this more as a backdrop of where I'm coming from as I think it is difficult for me to step outside of the context of my marriage and experiences.

Having said that, I'd like to tackle poker and our personal relationships; specifically, our wives (for the ladies here, I don't have a husband, so I'd rather not stretch my limited thoughts, but you can chime in). The name of this blog reflects my personal situation, that I play poker largely hidden from my wife. It is a topic that she doesn't much approve of but tolerates. And is poker really dangerous to marriage and relationships? A couple of facts: 28% of Gamblers Anonymous members reported being separated or divorced because of their gambling. Divorce rates in Harrison County, MS (Biloxi/Gulfport) increased 300% after introduction of casinos. I understand gambling and poker are similar but different (unless you repeatedly play 87s or chase gutshots), but go with me here.

I'd like to break this into three areas that I'll explore this week: why wives disapprove, what are danger signs in the relationship, and what can we do. Today, I'll tackle the first topic.

Why Wives Disapprove
  • Financial loss We all like to think that we are great and are winners, but no doubt each of us have either started by losing our bankroll or replenishing our bankroll. I think I initially lost online buy-in's of around $2,000-2,500 or so before last December. In general, poker players like other gamblers are net losers. On the far end, addicts can lose it all, especially action junkies. Linda told me a story of a guy who was up some obscene amount in the craps pits, taking his payroll check and turning it into $200,000. He said that he couldn't sleep for three nights until he had lost it all, wanting to take a chance at winning some serious money. Counties with casinos have 18-25% more bankruptcies than other counties.
  • Addiction One thing most marriages can't tolerate is uncertainty. If poker moves from either a hobby or even a supplemental income source to an obsession, then the pursuit becomes all-consuming. I assume we've all been there; at least, I have. Characteristics including playing at 5:00AM, using responsible time to play more (responsible time meaning time when you're supposed to be doing something else). I've seen the abyss up-close before, and it is real. Especially for wives who don't play or gamble, it is extremely difficult to understand any separation between responsible gaming and addiction. The default fear is that you're married to someone akin to a drunk or drug addict.
  • Becoming distant There is risk that we change when we become poker players. One of the easiest to spot is that we start to separate emotionally from our spouse. Why does this happen? Constantly thinking about playing, about losses, about the game we want to be at, about chasing or not chasing, about how to stay disciplined on hand selection, about how to master value betting when scare cards appear. There is so much to think about, so much to master, so much to read. And it is so difficult for us to see that we've become distant.
  • Changing persona Related to becoming distant, more broadly, is that we just plain change from the wonderful guy she married. Maybe we become more arrogant. Maybe we become verbally abusive. Maybe we become insular. Maybe we quit doing the things we used to like to do. She not only loved the old you, but she liked the old you. Maybe now she's not as sure.
  • Time consuming The biggest reason I don't get to play much golf (handicap between 9-12) is that it takes forever. Well, poker doesn't take forever, but we play forever. Weekends. Nights. If you sneak in play during work, well no big deal. But how many hours a week do we have for our family? 60 hours maybe if you're lucky? How many are we devoting to our pursuit? And of course, I never have any agreed-upon amount with my wife, so I'm slipping in a few hours here or there.
  • Influence on children I called Sweetie for the last two, and this is the first one she mentioned. This I probably don't understand very much. I mean, my eldest, first-born plays brilliantly. Maybe she means our middle son, All-In. I have not been able to influence his aggression at the table as he'll come over the top of anyone at any time. OK, all kidding aside, I can understand this. These boys are precious vessels with absolutely unpredictable futures. I try to be a great father, a great buddy, a protector, a challenger, a confidante. Kids are sponges, though. My neighbor is verbally abusive to his wife--his kids are incorrigible brats and are on a path of dysfunctionality. Gray areas are difficult for kids. If they see their dad pursuing something, won't they want to jump full-force at any chance? Who will they be in fifteen, twenty years? And did my poker play have a positive or negative impact on that?
  • Secrecy OK, she didn't mention this but agreed when I did. There is risk that poker creates a marital culture of secrecy. Bankroll management. Wins and losses. Time invested. What we're doing with our time. This is a problem for me, although I know that for several of you it isn't a problem.
  • Becoming alone There are basically two ways that a poker player and their spouse can be apart. One is separation or divorce. The second is death. I don't think the latter is a common concern, but consider this: in the first year after casinos were introduced in Biloxi/Gulfport, suicides went from 30 to 141. I've sat with more commonly the smitten guy; let me describe him. He's a former lawyer, married with two kids. One died at 12 years of age. He's now divorced, living in a ramshackle apartment, splitting time as a dealer and assistant tourney director at a Tier 3 Vegas casino. He's made a run at playing professionally, taking time off from his job to play full-time and tourneys. He's cashed once for $5000 or so. He's asked me to back him, even as much as $100-200 at a time.
There may be other reasons wives disapprove, like secondary behavior changes (drinking more, chasing wild women). Again, this series isn't meant to be judgemental; heck, I play poker, I love it, I like to think I'm good at it. This is an exploration for me of this topic which is very important to me regarding a passion I enjoy and the woman that I love. As a quick aside, I've always tried to stay true to one fundamental belief in marriage: that my wife is more important than my children or anyone else. This may sound a bit heretical, and by no means does it indicate that I neglect the boys. But I try to live this way. I mean, I like to think I'm all grown up now (at age 41), but I speak to my parents two-five times/week. I love them, but I have my own life. These boys will transition through thinking I'm a jerk, hating me, running off and doing things I disapprove of, making bad mistakes, bringing home hot girlfriends (OK, that's more for me), having lots of daughters, and occasionally including me in their lives. And Sweetie? I hope I'm holding hand when I leave this world, and she'll be as beautiful that day as when I first kissed her on her stairs in her parents' house. So that's my philosphy on marriage: put her first, do lots of little things to make her feel special, not because you have to but because why wouldn't you?

Tomorrow Part II: the danger signs.

ADDENDUM: Just so you know, Sweetie's not perfect for sure. My wife snores and is, in a word, petty. OK, maybe two words, petty and controlling. How else can you explain her decision to ban me from going to Best Buy anymore? I need my fix!

32 Comments:

Blogger Shelly said...

I consider myself quite lucky. My boyfriend (of 3 years, who lives with me... someday I'll have a ring... someday) taught me how to play poker. These days, I play more than he does (mostly at the casino, meaning time away from him). He doesn't mind though, and actually encourages and supports my playing. He still plays, so on occasion it's something we can do together. We always set aside at least one evening a week to hang out, which offsets any issues with being apart while either of us plays cards. We don't yet share finances (we maintain our own budgets separately, and since I own our home, he pays me a fee monthly to share the expenses and that's it) - so we don't have issues with money... yet.

12:54 PM  
Blogger d said...

nice post

1:16 PM  
Blogger Mr Betting said...

I like your post!

Check this about poker: http://sportsbetting1.blogspot.com/

5:03 PM  
Blogger Big Jim Slade said...

I think there is a basic disconnect between what men and women generally need and that has a lot to do with why wives get uncomfortable because of poker.

Outside of poker, in my business life, I enjoy making lots of money when I can, and at times I make little or nothing. On average, I make a lot more per year than most people. I do this, not with poker, but with computer technology. The women in my life, don't seem to care that I make lots of money, they critisize me for not working every day and for having months where my income is lesser. The fact that I actually make a yearly gross average of four times what they make does not make them happy. Women want security of things being regular. So I can see how the loss of $200,000 at the craps table would upset a wife. And I understand why a guy would have fun at it.

While others here leave comments of "nice post" or "I like your post" in an effort to spam your blog and get links to their site, I actually read your article first and have comments on it. (Of course I could have skipped this bit of honesty, but you are dealing with feelings in relationships because of poker, so I wanted to add some extra honesty.)

1:23 PM  
Blogger FatBaldGuy said...

Men and women do generally want different things from a relationship, but if you are up front about the things you want to do, women will usually go along. They are more flexible that way because the overall saftey of the relationship is not affected. When you get secretive, or start losing money you can't afford, then her safety and the safety of her children are threatened. One thing I have learned, don't threaten the security of a woman's children. Honesty is the key, and compromise is essential.

Well thought out post.

8:24 PM  
Blogger e-e baby said...

CC,

This post makes me very uncomfortable. I hope my hubby read it too. The interesting thing about it is that even though you love your wife and she is "first" you still insist on playing poker and keeping it a "secret" (she knows) even though she doesn't like it. My hubby and I go back and forth about how much respect we give each other's opinions on such important life issues and what compromise really is. I look forward to contuining reading.

E

5:31 AM  
Blogger sooted said...

Great post. I just discovered your blog via TripJax's blog.

Something occured to me as I read your post - a lot of the things you list as issues with poker playing are similar to issues that come up when a husband in a marriage gets involved in pornogrpahy - online or otherwise. The distance between the spouses, the influence on the children (should they discover it), etc. Wow. I never thought of it like that.

Oh, and I play poker, too - primarily online - so I'm not getting all high and mighty or anything.

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