Thursday, February 26, 2015

She Will Lie to You

That's right.  Playing poker for a living (or even as a serious hobbyist) will cause your girlfriend to lie to you.  Before I get sexist banned let me clarify that it would probably cause your boyfriend to lie to you as well, but since I've never had a boyfriend I can't be sure.  I can say though that it will also cause your parents, friends, friend's parents, parent's friends, and girlfriend/boyfriend's parents and friends to lie to you (and him/her) as well.  Basically choosing to take this game on at a serious level will most likely poison your relationships with many of those you care most about, or at the very least put them under a great deal of strain and stress.  Here's why, I think.

First of all it's important to realize that almost all poker players lie to themselves and that most of us actually lie to the important people in our lives.  I'd like to believe I only ever did the former, but that's just not true.  I didn't tell my mom I was playing full time for close to 6 months after I started because...well I don't really know.  I didn't want to disappoint her?  It just seemed easier?  I thought I might quit/flameout and just never mention it?  So the point is that I did lie to her.  And beyond that I definitely lied to myself over the years about all sorts of things:

1.  How happy is this making you?
2.  Are you playing well?
3.  Are you getting better?
4.  What is your win rate in this game?
5.  On and on forever and ever amen....

Once you lie to yourself, about anything really, you set yourself up to be lied to by the ones you care most about.  They really have no choice, and most of the time they start off lying to themselves about whatever it is just so they can tolerate /reconcile your obvious inability to understand what's going on. The specifics aren't even that important, but here are some examples that could happen:

1.  It makes him happy
2.  He's obviously a rockstar
3.  I support whatever decision he makes
4.  It's his choice I have no right to intercede (this may be correct, but the person telling himself that likely doesn't actually believe it and therefore he is lying to himself)

So now what you have in the relationship (whatever it is) is two people who are lying to themselves, and that is just a ticking time bomb that's going to blow up again and again, piece by piece, all over the living room or over the phone or wherever because let's face it we're all not as open minded as Terrelle Pryor.  You see, in really close, intimate relationships (or in really long term ones, like with your parents), it's often easier to lie to yourself than the other person!  Your partner will realize you're lying to yourself before you do, and he/she will take that as you lying to him/her.  From that point on only the strongest and most permanent of bonds can survive.  You need to get through the fact that you weren't lying to her, just to yourself, and then ask her to realize the same thing.  Danielle and I never got close.  I'm not saying poker destroyed our relationship, we both did plenty outside of poker to ruin it on our own, but it sure as fuck didn't help anything.

I have heard some of the most ridiculous stories from extremely successful poker players; keep in mind all of these people are top 3% players, who actually win a large sum of money from the game.  I know two that didn't tell the parents they were playing for YEARS after diving in headfirst.  I know another who has seemingly destroyed his relationship with his mother over the game.  One more who wouldn't even ask his wife about adding on to his bankroll after he'd won 6 figures over the course of several years playing part time (all of which exited his bankroll) and then went on a 30k downer.  I mean, sure, I also know people who seem to have solved it, have it fit into their lives just perfectly, so none of this has to happen to you.  But it very likely will and you should be prepared if you want to jump straight in.

Don't lie to yourself.  Take time to take stock of what the fuck is going on in your life (this isn't just's everything).  Be as open as you can with everyone you care about regarding what's going on as well, what you're trying to get out of playing and if you're succeeding at doing so.  If your significant other really is in it with you, she will understand you nearly as well as you understand yourself and can probably actually help you figure out what your value system looks like and where you're missing the board entirely.  Or maybe she can't but she'll at least try.  Or maybe it's on you to figure out what her strengths are, relative to yours, and use those strengths to bring into focus the pieces of your life that you cannot see clearly.  Or maybe you're just fucked, who knows, but the best way to guarantee you won't figure any of it is out is to lie t yourself about it.


Dan said...

Great post, Jesse. I've always thought what my GF thought of my playing & studying of the game. I feel I've been truthful but recently I told her that, as I've been moving up, I'm loathe to tell her about the actual amounts of money I'm winning or losing in a particular session or timeframe. She says she doesn't care because "it's your money, do what you will." but I'm not sure I 100% believe her. Yet I'm not 100% truthful with her either. If I had a good session or a horrific one, I'll tell here "Ehh, it was okay" or "Ehh, not so good." I can't bear to tell her I won/lost more in one session that she will make in a two weeks.

So I guess the solution for all of us poker players is to find out what the line is between truth and lies. Or at least for me it is.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jesse. I was pretty upfront about how I was planning on tackling limit hold em as a serious hobbyist. Of course, I've never told my mom about sessions where I torch $3k+ (which happen at quite the alarming frequency for a primarily 20 playing guy who's beating the game at ~ 0.8-0.9 BB/hr over nearly 1000 hours). She knows I don't touch my poker bankroll, though, minus paying taxes on it, which gives her solace that I'm not irresponsible with my play.

But yeah, the crap you hear can sometimes be depressing. I know tons of guys in my regular game w/ sometimes shocking backstories about how damaging poker is to their livelihoods. Of course, they'll always be the funny ones ("You don't understand...I HAVE to play at 4:30 am on Saturdays"), but it makes me wonder how I'll sustain my second career (which poker has effectively turned into) if I wind up finding a girl and settling.

Jesse Smithnosky said...

There is no line between truth and lies Dan. Well I mean....yeah there is one, and you really just can't ever cross it. I dunno, I got into this super toxic situation where she would ask me about my day and I really didn't want to talk about it or it was awful and I complained and then she'd want me to ask about her day but I quite frankly couldn't give a flying fuck what happened to her at the code factory and was a giant toxic soup of bad.

Ace Redman said...

Just caught up with your blog after a year away. Last time I read it you had just quit playing poker full time and gone back to software. This time you just quit your relationship and seem kinda bitter (not exactly shocking after so many years).

I quite like your blog because I have had similar experiences though Im a bit older in my 40s and probably nexer played quite so high stakes as you did. I am a software guy who quit to play poker full time for 3 years in 2008 then went back to software. Im also a married bloke (Im english) living in soCal and playing in some of the same casinos. I probably went back to software a couple of years before you did. Main difference is I like no-limit more than limit. In my time off I travelled all round playing tournaments from Monte Carlo to Australia. It was interesting meeting some of the same folks like Tony Dunst in different places, and watching Mike McDonald win $60k in a tournanment and still have a losing day after entering the $100k high roller.

So what now - I play poker once or twice a week, I have a successful software job which is good enough, I dream of making a big app one day but am too lazy because software is boring. But I still enjoy the poker. I do a bunch of other stuff during the week (soccer/pool/drinking) and keep the poker low-stakes and fun. I enjoy coming home 200 blinds richer at 1-2 or 2-3 just as much as I do at larger stakes but the losing sessions dont bother me too much. Poker is now a hobby and that works pretty well.

So back to your blog. I dont lie to my wife (about poker!) - no reason to. I also dont tell her too many details. Just if I had a good time or not, and some of the strange characters I meet. Money does not define us (she has hers, I have mine) but she knows its something I like to do and leaves me to it. She always tells me to win big and laughs when I dont. And occasionally when I do, she jokingly asks for her half. Ive tried encouraging her to play but she hates the game. I have flaws and she has flaws (I like to be super flexible and she does not) but we make it work.

I think (maybe) the pressure of playing the same high stakes as you did when playing full time might be putting too much pressure on you. My suggestions is to go back to playing with pennies and enjoy the small wins. This might help you start enjoying it again - go an dominate the 4-8 or 8-16 games. Laugh when you lose and celebrate (cheaply) when you win.

And pop over to Pechanga or go down to Oceans and enjoy some new scenery.

Whatever you do, good luck. I will check back once in a while and enjoy your musings.