I get some pretty interesting reactions from people when they learn I’m engaged to a professional poker player. Some people are fascinated, others cast judgement, but it’s pretty clear that nobody really understands it. And that’s fine. I don’t expect them to. It’s a pretty uncommon thing.
But it’s not a bad thing, and that’s why I chose to talk about it today. Here are some common questions I get:
What’s it like being engaged to a professional poker player?
It’s pretty awesome. I think the other poker girlfriends/fiancees/wives I know would agree. Of course it depends on the man (and I say man because high-stakes poker is an incredibly male-dominated field), but it’s definitely possible to maintain a healthy, happy relationship and a successful poker career. Here are some of the perks I’ve enjoyed during my relationship with J:
- Fabulous vacations (Bahamas, Las Vegas, Cannes… all coinciding with poker tournaments)
- Lots of time together
- His schedule is very flexible
- He has a lot of free time to help out around the house
- A very comfortable lifestyle
- A great group of friends within the poker community
- My man really, really, really loves his job, which makes a huge impact on his happiness and quality of life
Obviously not everyone in a relationship with a poker player would say the same, but I think J’s career choice gives us a nicer life than we would have if he worked a “regular” job.
What are the biggest challenges?
You might expect me to say that stomaching the financial swings is the hardest part, but you’d be wrong. If a player is managing his bankroll (the money he uses for buy-ins) well, and living within his means, even a major downswing (several losing sessions in a row) doesn’t have to impact his daily life (NOTE: This means not going crazy when you win big, either!). Here are some of the things that have presented challenges:
- Sleeping schedules. Poker players are notoriously nocturnal, while I’ve always worked pretty standard office hours.
- Too much time together/too much time apart. When J and I started dating, he immediately cut his travel schedule in half. I didn’t ask him to do it- he did it because he wanted to. Until me, he says, there wasn’t really a reason to be home much. Now he’s gone 20-25% of the time, which works perfectly for us. Since I work from home, we see a lot of each other when he’s in town. And if he has to be gone for more than 10-14 days, we arrange a trip for me to visit wherever he happens to be.
- Benefits- since neither of us work for corporate America, neither of us have benefits. No healthcare, no IRA, nothing. This means you have to really look out for yourself to make sure you’re planning ahead and covered in case of an emergency.
What’s your fiancé like?
He’s awesome, duh! He’s introverted, quirky, and highly disciplined. He’s incredibly grounded and modest, and pretty much the best friend I could ask for. He works hard to balance our relationship and his career, but I think he does a stellar job and I’m pretty sure he thinks it’s worth it.
So how much does he actually “work”?
These days, not that much. When I met J, he played both live and online. Evenings and Sundays when the online “action” was “juicy” he’d sit and play for anywhere from 3 to 10 hours. He probably spent 30 hours a week playing tournaments and cash games online. When he plays online, he plays as many as six tables at once (more if he can fit them all on his screen). This is highly advantageous to a player like him, because it means he goes through a lot more hands than he could sitting at a single live table. And the more hands, the better. Being a great poker player doesn’t mean you sit down and win every hand. It means that, in the long run, over hundreds of thousands of hands, you end up on top… way on top. So while the payouts are lower in online poker, it’s can still be a great day’s work because you can cash (make money) in multiple tournaments. You don’t have to win a tournament to make money- you just have to be one of the last ones to lose all your chips.
So he would travel to a live tournament about once a month and play anywhere from 5-12 hours a day depending on how well the day went. And when he was home, he’d play online.
Then one day last April, he (and many other poker players across America) he woke up (probably around the break of 2 PM), opened up his trusty macbook, and learned that he couldn’t play online poker anymore. The D.O.J. (Dept. of Justice) had taken action against the two leading online poker sites (PokerStars and Full Tilt) without warning. Online poker disappeared overnight and hasn’t returned… yet. So now he just plays live poker. He still travels to tournaments once a month, but we’ve moved to California so that he can play regularly in the card rooms and casinos here. He doesn’t like it as much as he likes online, but he still loves it more than anything else he could be doing.
And then summer comes, and everything changes. J (and almost every other high-stakes player in the world) gathers
on the epicenter of the sun in Las Vegas for The World Series of Poker. They have tournaments at The Rio almost every day, and J plays as many of them as he can. Last year we planned my visits so that he could skip the least exciting events. He’s there for about seven weeks playing anywhere from 5 to 12 hours a day. It’s all poker, all the time. I’ll be there a lot more this year than I was last year, but it was fun being there and supporting him when I could. The endless cocktails and time spent poolside with other wives & girlfriends wasn’t too bad either. Las Vegas has some of the best shopping and dining in the world, so if you can get over the 110 (*F) temperature, it’s not a bad place to hang out.
Granted, my experience is pretty exceptional. I know that gambling in all forms can be an addictive, highly destructive thing. I know that poker and other forms of gambling have ruined lives and families. But I think poker has been a very positive thing in our lives.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them in the comment section. I’ll be happy to answer as long as you’re nice (true story: someone once said “The only thing worse than my daughter marrying a professional poker player would be her tying the knot with a male stripper”… in front of my dad.)