By Ashley Adams
Ashley Adams lives in Boston, Massachusetts and has been playing poker for decades. He is the author of two poker books and his specialty is 7-card stud and no-limit hold'em.
I was obsessed with poker a while back – even more than I am right now. I had a game at my house just about every other Sunday. I played in someone else’s game one night a week or so. I visited my nearby casino at least one day each weekend. I was also completely absorbed in the subject of poker – with friends and strangers alike. I was constantly reading a poker book or magazine. I talked on the phone and chatted on the internet with poker playing friends and acquaintances. I even dreamed about poker. I knew I was obsessed. But did I have a real problem?
I didn’t seem to evidence any of the classic symptoms of being a compulsive gambler. But I wasn’t really sure what the “scientific” definition was. So I decided, first, to test myself by answering the twenty questions that are asked by Gamblers Anonymous to determine if someone is probably a “problem gambler”.
Here’s the list, taken from their website. My honest answers follow each questions. I suggest you supply your own honest answers if you want to see where you stand.
1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Not in the sense that I skipped work or school because I felt compelled to gamble. But I did schedule a vacation day so I could play in a big 7-card stud tournament. And I did schedule two weeks of vacation to visit poker destinations in the United States. I answered “no” to this question.
2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Not in the sense that my wife was upset because I was gambling too much or otherwise dipping into the coffers to fund my habit. But my mood may have been down after a large poker loss. I answered “no” to this question.
3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
I think the fact that I am known to be a professional poker player and writer has improved my reputation with many people – though I suppose it might diminish it in the eyes of others. But to the extent that the author of the question probably means it, that I’m seen negatively as a degenerate gambler, the answer is surely “no”.
4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
I’ve never felt guilt about gambling too much, though I’ve surely regretted errors I’ve made at the table – and wished that I could take back a call, a raise, or a fold. I put this down as a “no”.
5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Not in the sense that I had to gamble to make up for gambling losses in the past. But since poker is a positive income stream for me, I have used money earned playing poker to buy items for my household like a used car and a piano. I have played with the expectation that I would earn money that might be applied to household expenses, including paying off loans for my daughter’s college education. In that sense I did address financial difficulties with gambling money. Nevertheless, my answer to this question was “no”.
6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
Surely not. Playing poker is fueled by and fuels my ambition to win.
7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
No, though I did want to return to earn money again. The desire to return was not brought on by a bad session.
8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Yes, though not because of a desire to gamble, but rather because of a desire to earn money. I answered “yes” to this question.
9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
No. I have always maintained a healthy poker bankroll that has never been close to being depleted. When it goes down by 25%, something it’s done a couple of times, I just drop down in stakes until I earn back what I’ve lost.
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
No, though I have had backers in tournaments that I have had to pay back when I won.
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Though I think this question is designed to see if someone has diminished his or his family’s life in some way by selling off an item of current value like a car or a piece of furniture, I honestly answered “yes” to this question because I sold off a bunch of my old comic books to help start my poker bankroll.
12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
I protect my poker bankroll so it is always healthy enough for me to play the largest game I can safely beat. That being said, I have used it on occasion to make purchases for my family. But I am surely reluctant to use it frivolously. I have never scrimped or deprived myself or my family of any necessities (or even luxuries) because of my desire to use the money to play poker – which is what I think the author of the question is probably getting at. Even so, in the interest of being completely honest, I answered “yes” to this question.
13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
Surely not. I may be careless about their welfare from time to time – especially when I drive too fast. But part of the incentive to play poker is to provide for my family’s welfare.
14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
Yes. I have stayed longer than I had planned in games that were better than I expected in which I was better able to stay alert for a longer period of time than I initially expected.
15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
I play poker because I enjoy it more than doing many other things and because I am good enough to make money at it. “Escape” implies that I play poker as a sort of drug. I answered “no” to this question, though I think I might have answered “yes” had the question been worded slightly differently.
16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
I have never stayed awake worrying about playing poker or gambling – which is what I think the question is trying to determine. But, I have stayed awake longer, and slept less than planned in order to play poker – and in that sense avoided sleep. I have had many cups of coffee to stay alert at the table – and this diminished my ability to sleep. Even so, when considering what I thought was the intent of the question, I answered “no”.
18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
No. I have a regular urge to play poker that does not increase or diminish based on any outside factors save illness.
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
No. See above for more details.
20. Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
Gamblers Anonymous adds at the bottom of the questions that anyone who answers “yes” to seven or more of these questions is generally considered to have a gambling problem. I answered “yes” to three of them – though if I had been more literal I might have answered yes to as many as ten. Even so, after going through the questions it became clear to me that I certainly wasn’t addicted to gambling. I enjoyed poker, I earned money from it, but I wasn’t in any way self destructive about it. And that’s what I think they were getting at.
Your answers may be different. If you think that you may have a problem, you might want to contact the local branch of Gamblers Anonymous. You can speak anonymously to a volunteer and attend a meeting in your neighborhood. There should be no stigma about working on a problem such as this.
Following what I considered to be this clean bill of health, I asked my poker friends and acquaintances what they saw as the signs and symptoms of compulsive poker playing. In my next column (Are You a Poker Junkie?) I’ll give you my synthesis of this investigation.
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