Working harder … Playing with a partner

Depending on the person, a significant other can help your game

On my podcast at my cohost and I recently received an unexpected question. “Alex, what is the influence of a wife for an MTT poker pro? I am single now. I used to have girlfriend and I am on my way to getting another one. Sorry if that is a tricky question … but anyway it will be good to know good and bad parts of that.”

Stick figure coupleI was taken aback by the question. The premise of the podcast is answering people’s questions on poker and life, yet no one had ever had this extremely important query: If I am going to be sharing my life with someone, how could it change my poker game?

Since the person inquiring here is single let’s start with what you should do while dating as a poker player. My advice might seem odd, but trust me it’s not: Don’t tell anyone you’re a professional poker player. Tell them you are an “investor” if you have to say anything.

The reason why I tell younger guys to do this is twofold. First off, any asshole can call themselves a poker player. I never tell anyone what I do now because of this. I walked into an electronics store the other day looking for some cheaper monitors. When the guy asked me why I could want so many of them I answered, for once, with what I actually did. He said, “You too? I must have gotten 20 kids this week saying the same thing.” This is in Costa Rica too, which has not had poker for very long. The problem becomes much worse when you’re in a country where poker has been more present (I’m looking at you, USA).

Of course, it pisses me off that some kids whose mom hasn’t kicked them out of the basement yet and once paid for an online porn subscription with poker winnings can call themselves a pro. Yet, this is how the world works. There is no licensing committee to come to our houses and witness us waking up early to get in a grind on a fringe network. The media should have no vested interest in someone falling asleep at their keyboard in front of an opened Flopzilla readout, hand history, and Word documents. Expect to be lumped in with the other jackasses when you say what you do, and avoid it.

Now that doesn’t mean never tell the person you’re dating what you do for a living. This is a tactic to discover who the person really is. Gauge how this person treats you before they know what you do for a living. Assign a number from 1 to 10 as to their level of interest.

When you do tell them what you do, tell them, “Look, let me clarify what kind of investing I do.” Don’t make any apologies. Society has made you play a little closer to the vest.

Now, pay attention to what this person’s interest in you is. If it goes way down, drop them. I don’t care how good they look now. You’re going to be so sick of their shit within six months, guaranteed. Move along, you don’t have time to deal with prejudices.

If their interest goes way up that’s not exactly a good sign either. Many women think poker players are free cash machines. If her curiosity is piqued because she’s always found the game interesting on TV, that’s … OK. But if you’re suddenly the new Jesus Christ of your neighborhood then expect for this relationship to turn unhealthily parasitic.

What you want is someone who could not care less. They recognize it’s your job, not who you are. Then you can explain how while you work at home that doesn’t mean you’re always available. You can demonstrate through an unbalanced payout on a coin toss how you make your money, but that once in a while someone can get a lucky streak on you. You can say while you work long hours, sometimes a good deal of pay doesn’t come in, and other times you’ll work briefly and make a fortune. Neither is a correct representation of your fiscal prowess. Save all this for someone who is actually going to listen.

Now, if you’re going to tell women poker does not define you as a man then you need to walk the walk. You can’t bring your own personal garbage into the relationship. Try, if you can, to make specific hours where you’re done playing for the day. That means no poker talk after you leave the office. Give them a small idea as to what happened, but then leave all that other crap at the tables.

If you start becoming sour when poker isn’t going well and stupidly jubilant when the luck is with you, then you want someone to call you out on this. All poker players are prone to this in a way. It’s just better to have someone who recognizes it and will expose it for what it is.

This approach should carry into how your significant other views all of your professional life. It is OK for them to ask as to how things are going, but not OK to chase after the exact amounts you lost. If they begin fretting over what money is leaving the house, then they are also assuring no money will ever come in. It’s hell on Earth playing poker with someone who does not trust you to manage the money effectively. It’s even worse if they second guess your methodology for the game.

However, you don’t want someone in your house who is a mute. They are their own people, and if they love you, they have a natural ambition to enrich your life. Don’t hurt them by being abrasive whenever the conversation leans to work. Just be sure to always calmly remind them that you are the one studying to do this for a living and you’re fairly sure you know what’s going on.

But be sure to listen! It’s incredible what a great significant other can do for your game. Some of the best developments I’ve created in my MTT game were the result of some observations my wife made.

If you want to show you are a true professional, you also can’t let poker dominate your entire life. You will want someone who challenges you to try other things. If they let you sit in your room all day and every day, then they’re enabling your addiction; they are not supporting you.

My wife, for example, can always tell when I’m getting too far up into my head. She’ll demand I do something else. I, of course, used to resist, but now I trust her. She taught me how to refurbish furniture, paint, and garden. At first, I thought it was ridiculous I was doing these things. Think of the hourly I’m missing out on. It was only later I realized focusing on something tangible that I could look back on had helped me relax when I did come back to the game.

She also encouraged me to develop new hobbies. I never was a “patron of the arts,” but she’s taken me to the opera, plays, musicals, dance performances, and concerts of music genres I’ve never heard before. Now, I look forward to seeing these types of shows. It helps my mind get into another place. It allows me to feel like I’m getting to know the world more.

When she saw I was becoming antisocial, she’d force me to go to parties around here. Of course, as an American I stick out like a sore thumb here, and I never wanted to struggle with Spanish for an entire night when I could stay home and make money. But now, I have a number of friends from here and my Spanish is passable (albeit still horrendously gringo).

As my friend Barry Chalmers put it, “a woman is like a magnifier. If things are going well, and you’re in a right place, they’ll only make it better. If you’re not in that place, it will only get worse.” Search for the right one carefully, but make sure you’re holding up your end of the bargain as well.

I have more to write on this topic, but I will save it for another piece, away from Bluff magazine. If you’d like to read this article’s continuation, along with every other strategy article I write, then contact me at Ask to be put on the mailing list, and you’ll receive, for free, every podcast and article before anyone else gets to see them.

Good luck to all of you.

August 2014