I have recently moved back in with my folks for various reasons, although mainly because it’s cheap, and the pressure of trying to set myself up as a freelance writer/part-time tournament grinder whilst paying someone else’s mortgage in the form of rent was beyond my emotional capabilities.
I moved out when I was 17 years old into the coldest, dampest flat in South East England, and so have been away from the crusties for the better part of twenty years. During that time I have mainly lived with homosexual men, on the basis that heterosexual men and most women generally keep their distance from me, whereas gay men seem to love the fact I am a foul mouthed creature who thinks cleaning, cooking and general domesticity is men’s work.
For most people my age, the idea of living with their sexagenarian parents would sound like hell on earth, but my folks are pretty cool. My mum is also the best housekeeper that has ever lived, and for the first time in nearly two decades my clothes are actually clean, and I have lost that odd, musty smell that used to be my trademark.
I’m eating properly too, actual food, not only takeaways, pot noodles or (my culinary speciality) scrambled eggs on toast. There is weird, colourful stuff in the fridge that they call “fruit” and I feel physically better than I have in long time.
There is one slight issue in that neither of my parents understand poker, not the game nor the lifestyle. They are very happy about the writing part of my life, and that’s why they agreed to support me for a while; my mum is convinced I’m on the same path as JK Rowling, and not a day passes where she doesn’t ask if I’ve introduced a wizard character to my novel.
“Wizards sell, darling. The people like wizards.”
“Not the same people who read weird, dystopian Science Fiction, Mum. They fucking hate wizards.”
I know that they are both making the effort to wrap their heads around poker; they understand that it is popular and they know that I have technically made my living from poker in the past as a cardroom supervisor; but they don’t understand how anyone could possibly profit from what they think is gambling, or why anyone would even want to try.
I have set up a desk in my Dad’s study, and we sit in there together, him working away on the case files of delinquent youths (he’s a criminal lawyer) and me working away on the bankrolls of degenerates of all ages. Sometimes I look up and catch him squinting at my laptop screen with incredulity.
I’m pretty sure my Dad would be good at poker if he had the time to give over to get involved. Maybe when he retires it might capture his interest properly; until then, I just have to find some way of helping him understand the game that takes up so much of my thoughts and my life.
I’ve spent so long around poker players and gamblers, that I have forgotten that it can seem like an alien and exclusive world to those on the outside, and it’s not just that my parents don’t understand the game of poker, it’s that they are actually worried about me. They want to be supportive, but they have a nagging doubt that I’ve gone a bit wrong.
My lack of respect for wizards, the fact I eat bowls of cereal at 3am, urinate at 55 minutes past the hour, every hour, and sit in front of my laptop for nine hours at a time for a losing session and then go back for more the next day is all irrefutable evidence that their firstborn is entirely broken as a human being.
My folks are not especially proud of my poker player side; it’s definitely to be understated in social situations: “Tell them you’re a writer. Please, tell them you’re a writer.”
To make matters worse, I don’t even apologise for it.
I keep comparing poker with the stock market, because I know they’d be thrilled if I was a stock-broker; one can really brag to one’s middle class friends about that!
I try to explain variance, and how it’s unavoidable to have a losing day, or even a run of losing days. I attempt to make them understand I don’t have to play every hand I’m dealt, and how/why I choose which ones to play, and I endeavour to prove that studying poker videos and articles is definitely not more boring than reading about wizards.
I had a good week last week; as a large field tournament player, that meant I went deep in a lot of tourneys; I had three 14 hour days in a row. As I returned to my laptop at 22:59 on Tuesday night, I had the following exchange with my father:
“I’m going to bed. You should too.”
“Can’t Dad. Can’t stop till I’m out of the tourney, or I win.”
“Hmm. I think you’re getting addicted.”
That comment caught me off guard a bit, after so many years of hanging out with poker players, I wasn’t used to that accusation. For most serious players, recreational or professional, it’s taken as a given that behaviour that may indicate addiction in other realms is not applicable to the poker world.
You have to play long hours to turn a profit, you have to be emotionally absorbed in the game, you have to be passionate when you talk about it, you have to study if you want to be better.
If I was playing Roulette or BlackJack for the amount of hours I play poker, then I would be worried about addiction, but I would also be losing, guaranteed.
You can’t just be “addicted” to poker if you’re winning… can you?
I didn’t know how to prove to my Dad that I wasn’t addicted to poker, and I became worried that was because I didn’t know how to prove it to myself. I decided to do a little bit of research on addiction, to arm myself with weapons to prove to my beloved old Pa that I was not a gambling junkie.
In 2013 The American Psychiatrists Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) reclassified addiction to gambling as “behavioural addiction”, to separate it from substance abuse addiction, although the specific effect on the individual’s physical life and psychological wellbeing were recorded as being very similar in the way they affect the brain and neurological reward system.
Therefore, the term “behavioural addiction” could be applicable to any activity, from aerobics to golf, and a person could be addicted to poker irrespective of their results or their skill level; being a (marginally) winning player is not, in itself, evidence that I am not a “poker addict”.
The DSM changes definitions with every publication, such is the mutable nature of the fairly nascent academic field of Psychology; one theme that is consistent within multiple definitions is that true addiction is destructive, socially, emotional and practically, and that those suffering with an addiction have a compulsion; they cannot stop, even if they don’t want to carry on doing the thing they are addicted to, even when they know rationally that it is ruining them.
I had to ask myself if poker was a destructive force in my life, and whether I was compelled to play, and I promise you that I thought very hard about the answer.
Poker has definitely not destroyed my social life, in fact it has improved it; I have met many fascinating people through poker, both online and in real life.
Poker has not destroyed me emotionally, although it has tried to, the bitch; again, it is the opposite. I have been forced to become more in control of my emotions, because I know nothing knackers my game like tilt.
Poker has never destroyed my practical existence, I have always paid my rent and bills, and the only time I’ve played above my reasonable buyin level is when I have won a satellite seat.
I am not compelled to play poker, I love to do it, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to earn a small part of my income from poker; but I know if I play when I’m not feeling up to it, I will not play my best game, so I don’t. In last week’s blog, I stated that I had a clear month away from playing because I felt like I needed a break- this is not behaviour compatible with the definition of an addict.
I don’t think a non-poker player will ever truly understand poker, or the lifestyle that comes along with it, whether it’s as a recreational pastime, a profession, or somewhere in between.
Next time that somebody implies that I am a poker addict, I can say: “You clearly don’t understand poker, and are you sure you understand the term ‘addiction’?”
If there’s one thing poker has taught me above all else, it’s that I can always afford to increase my understanding and knowledge, and that should be a compulsion for us all.