The Gambler

An Interview With an Addict

Q: How did you get into gambling?

A: I took a road trip with my brother and my uncle out to Colorado, and every night we’d stop and play cards for five to six hours a night. They’re the ones who taught me. It wasn’t too competitive. It was more like 50 cents and dollars. And then the stakes started increasing a little bit. I was probably up to win or lose $50 a night by the time I was 17. By the time I was 18, win or lose $400-$500 a night. As for the evolution of the game, we started off playing lots of wild card games and draw poker. As the stakes got higher and higher, we played fewer and fewer games. It’s pretty much limited down to Texas Hold’em.

Q: Why poker?

A: It’s all about mathmatics and psychology, combined with decision-making and self-control. You have to gauge what your opponents’ behavior suggests—that’s the psychology part of it. You have to take the information, quantify it, and calculate your odds—that’s the mathematical part of it. And then you have to have the self-control to make the right decisions, and not get upset when the right decision turns out defective. When you play roulette, the odds tell you that the house is going to win most of the time. When you play craps, the house is going to win most of the time. When you play poker, it depends on how well you play. It’s really neat how there’s a poker community in every city. It’s a subculture. There are places where I’ll go in the city, sit down and be familiar with people that I would otherwise have no reason to interact with, and have some very enjoyable conversations with some random people that otherwise I have absolutely nothing in common with.

Q: How much do you play each week?

A: It depends, I know people who’ll play 40 hours a week. You know, 40 hours sounds like a lot, but you get it done in very strange times. I have buddies who just last week played from 4 in the afternoon until 4 in the afternoon. Me personally? I play close to around 20 hours. I try not to do it everyday.

Q: Right now, how much money could you win or lose?

A: I’d say any given day I could lose $300-$400 dollars. Or win it. But you’ll find that anyone who is a consistent player doesn’t lose...much. I lost $500 in the last couple of days, but I’m still about even for the year because if you play a lot you can’t afford to lose all the time. If you wanna keep playing, it just can’t be too expensive for you to play. What happens with the regulars is that the money gets mostly pushed around in a circle. So the only way they’re going to make any money playing poker is to invite new people who aren’t good. That’s how it works—it’s very, very social until people come in and play, lose some money, and then leave. When stakes are low—say I lose $50 in a night—the thing that happens is that the people who win those games go on to the next stakes. It’s very progressive.

Q: Does gambling interfere with your life at all?

A: I’ve learned to control it, but it definitely has the potential. I’d say poker taught me far more lessons than it cost me, in the sense that I’ve learned to emotionally control it. If I lose $500 in a couple of days, and I’ve stayed up until five in the morning with a paper due the next day at 10 a.m., I realize at five in the morning that I’m in a pretty tight spot. I just spent nine hours losing $500 when I should have been writing a paper—that’s really tough to swallow. And the fact that it happens as often as it happens has allowed me to take a rational view towards it—to not worry, not get stressed. I’ll still be able to come home, take a deep breath, maybe punch the wall a couple of times, and then sit down and write my paper. It’s good for stress management.

Q: What is your primary reason for gambling?

A: I wish I could say it’s the intellectual challenge, because poker really is a tremendous intellectual exercise. But I can only say that that is why I play poker. Because I love to gamble, and I don’t really know why. I feel that it would be very, very difficult for me to not gamble at all.

Q: Would you say that gambling is an addiction for you?

A: Definitely for me, probably for most. The reason that I’m almost certain that it’s an addiction is that most people in my family have it—it’s not just me. I don’t think it’s a bad addiction—as long as I can control it. It’s only bad when it interferes with your life. I just quit smoking not too long ago. And that’s a bad addiction because it interferes with your health. Poker takes up your time, but I would liken it most closely to someone who’s addicted to working out at the gym. Because it’s something that when you put in your time, you get better at it. And if it’s something that you enjoy, it’s a skill that you develop. So if you can control it, the only thing it costs you is time. Because if you play regularly you should not be losing a significant amount of money.

Q: Do you wish that you could stop gambling?

A: No, absolutely not. The closest I’ve come is when I tell myself I’m going back home at 1 on a Wednesday to get my homework done, and I don’t end up walking through the door until 5:30 in the morning. I wish that I could get up from the table at 1, and the next day I’ll wish I could have gotten up from the table at 1, but you know, four hours is nothing to get upset about.

Q: Is there any tensions in the Harvard gambling scene?

A: Nothing physical. People get upset, but it’s really taboo to lose your cool in front of everyone else. You wait until you go home, and then you start yelling and shit. Think about it. Subjectively, $300-$400 feels like a lot of money because it can buy a lot of beer. But in the objective sense it’s not a lot of money. It’s not enough that anyone’s gonna risk actually hurting themselves, hurting somebody else, or breaking a friendship. It’s just not enough money. One of the big safety mechanisms of people that play poker, especially the people at Harvard, is that people have a lot more to lose than their cash. People have their futures. People have their academic standing. So there’s an inherent safety method that nobody’s gonna try anything too sketchy. It’s actually really lucky that you can have these people who are going to be your competition because they’re intelligent, and you can, to some extent, trust them the first time you put down. I’d say Harvard’s a really good place to start playing poker more seriously.

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