Keeping Peace and Playing Poker

By Ashley Adams | March 7, 2011

I first learned how to play poker when I was five years old. My grandfather taught my brother and me how to play. I played for money in high school and college, but I’ve only been playing poker seriously as an adult since 1993, when I first visited Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut.

When I made my first venture down to the casino, I had been married for ten years. Since that time I’ve spent roughly 20,000 hours away from home pursuing my favorite hobby and part-time job. I’ve managed to keep a happy, and for the most part, peaceful home life during that entire time.

Friends, relatives and fellow poker players have sometimes marveled at how it is that I have retained domestic tranquility even while spending so much time away from home playing poker. “Doesn’t your wife get upset?” “How do you get away to gamble so much?” they query.

There are four key ingredients, I think, to retaining an active poker life while also maintaining a happy home life. Here are the rules that I live by to insure that I can continue my poker playing without jeopardizing what for me is the most important relationship in my life.

Rule Number 1 – Keep a separate poker bankroll.

From day one of my poker career I retained a separate bank account for poker. I funded it at first with a few thousand dollars that I won in an insurance settlement. I supplemented it early on by selling a few hundred old comic books. Had I neither of these assets I would have started smaller – perhaps with money from taking on some temporary work or with some money I would have otherwise used for entertainment. What was critical was that I didn’t have to continue to reach into the family checking or savings account to fund what was at first my hobby.

The advantage of this was that I didn’t have to rub up against what might have been my wife’s understandable protectiveness of our then-thin household budget. I could keep the issue to one of time; avoiding any concern she or we might have had over our ability to sustain even a small loss at the tables.

I was able to continue to do this by starting with a very conservative strategy, minimizing my variance. Though I surely did not start off by winning, because I began at very small stakes, and because my swings were very small, I did not have to supplement the initial stake as I paid for my poker lessons at the felt.

As time went on, and as I developed my poker skills, my poker bankroll grew. I moved up in stakes. Once, when it shrank sharply during a period when I ran bad for a few months, and I grew concerned that I might deplete my poker account, I dropped down to smaller stakes and built it back up.

As I won, I resisted the temptation to spend winnings on “real world” items. At first, I didn’t take anything out of my bankroll except the money I needed to play. Gradually, it grew to be large enough so that I could occasionally dip into it for trips, college tuition, a used car, and other items without any risk to its future viability. But I have treated it with great deference – and it has paid me back by allowing me the luxury of funding all of my poker expenses without ever requiring any discussions with my spouse about spending money for poker.

Rule 2: Set a weekly time for your loved one that you always keep.

This has proven a very valuable rule for my relationship with my wife in general. No matter what, for 27 years, we have kept an appointment with each other on Friday night. I have never and will never play poker or be out of town on that night. It started as our way of keeping the Jewish Sabbath, but it has grown to be a critical staple in our marriage. No matter how much our busy lives keep us apart and distracted during the week, we each know that on Friday night we are together. It has involved some long flights and long drives, and it has put a crimp in some of our work and travel schedules. But the product of that faithfulness to time together has been a secure relationship that can withstand the occasional bumping and bruising that poker (among other things) can cause.

Rule 3: My wife’s wishes are always and instantly more important than playing.

I have seen to it that my wife knows that if push ever comes to shove on the question of playing poker, she wins. So on the very few occasions when she has asked me to not play – whether because she had a social event she wanted me to go to, or she wanted to see me for dinner when I had already planned to play, or just because she felt like having me home, I have instantly given in – no argument, no pleading, no nothing. She leaves me to play the rest of the time, secure in knowing that if she ever wants me home, I’ll be home. In a way, this puts some burden on her. Since she knows that with regard to poker, what she says goes, she is less likely to ask me to stay home except when it is truly important to her that I do so. Were she less certain, she might be more inclined to nag and cajole – hoping to succeed only some percentage of the time. This would surely cause unnecessary friction.

As it is, my dutifulness to her only rarely-expressed desire for me to stay away from poker works especially well – perhaps because of Rule 4, below.

Rule 4: Marry a saint.

Choose your spouse or life-partner wisely. If you’re seduced into a relationship by the first or most pretty face you meet you may be setting yourself up for trouble. I chose a beautiful woman who happened to also have a life of her own, a secure ego, and the confidence to find her own amusement and interests even without wonderful me. I found someone whom I fully respected and who fully respected me for what I was – who wasn’t jealous about time spent away from her, and who wasn’t morally opposed to gambling. So as long as I adhere to the three rules mentioned above, she is able to accept my time away from home playing poker.

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.


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