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Poker Addiction - More than Just a Game

Updated on January 11, 2010

The world of poker has grown fiercely over the past decade. Millions have been won, fame has been captured, and in a wildfire frenzy of an enticing game something has been overlooked; for every winner there are many more losers, for every famous player, thousands who will never be heard of.

Let's examine the flip side of this glamorous game, a side filled with anxiety and regret. We will delve into Poker Addiction: What it looks like, The story of an addict, Why it is so different from other addictions, and What you can do to stop playing or help someone else with a Poker Addiction.

What Poker Addiction Looks Like:

--To the Addict:
If a player does not recognize the addiction, he or she will often believe themselves to be having a losing streak, a string of bad luck, or simply playing against superior players. While any of these factors may be true, the difference between how the addict deals with these situations, is very different than how a rational person would.

A player who is not addicted would recognize that for every loss there is a win, and that in the long run the cards all even out, maintaining optimal playing strategy at all times. When facing superior opponents, such a player would try to adapt, and if still out-classed, would seek a more suitable, and ultimately profitable, game.

The addict however, will react much differently. He or she will allow for a more broad spectrum of starting hands to counteract bad luck. Further, while the addict will try to adapt to superior players, they will not be able to pull themselves from the game - even when they know they are the fish amongst sharks - until much (if not all) of their money has gone away.

--To an Outsider:
For those on the outside, watching a loved one who is addicted to poker can be difficult. They will be very preoccupied with the game, constantly bringing up their most recent wins, and sometimes sharing big losses and bad beats. They will often look sick from countless nights spent trying to recover lost funds. And they will adamantly refuse to accept your concern that they might have a gaming problem, claiming that poker is not like other games. Poker is a game of skill not a game of luck; it is on this basis that poker is so addicting. Unlike other forms of gambling, where the old adage "the house always wins" holds true, with poker, there is no house, and the only edge one can have is his or her mind.

Below you'll find a quiz that will reveal if you have a gambling problem.

Adapted from the National Council on Problem Gambling - Pathological Gambling Criteria

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How often do you play live poker?

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Next let's take a look at the story of someone very dear to me, we'll call him Corey.

How Easily Someone Can Get Addicted:

Corey originally took interest in poker as a young boy. His grandfather taught him how to play 5 card draw while teaching him about the finer things in life: cigars, wine, women. While Corey was very interested in his grandfather's stories, he was much to young to truly appreciate them. As Corey was growing up he would play a little cards here or there with friends but never more than a couple of times. It wasn't until 2003 that poker really began to capture Corey's interest. He was a young man, attending college with plans to become a restaurateur. Corey was watching, along with so many others, as Chris "Moneymaker" Bryan swept the WSOP tournament Championship after having won himself a seat to the event on a $39 online satellite. And so, Corey went to Barnes & Noble, grabbed himself a copy of Doyle Brunson's Super System, and began studying. After gaining a thorough understanding of how to play basic Texas Hold'em, Corey signed up with an online poker site and began to work on his skills using "play money." In his sophomore year of college, Corey still had another year before he could play poker legally, and it was his intent to use that year to learn as much as he could about the game. Playing online with free money, Corey found that it was difficult to rack up chips, and searching the internet for more help decided to blame it on the online players' poor strategy and lack of skills. Learning to adapt his play, Corey slowly began to build a chip stack, of fake money and false hope.

Soon enough, Corey started playing at home games hosted by friends, and friends of friends. Eventually he was playing with people whom he'd never met, and had over 50 contacts who would be down to get a home game going, any night of the week. Attending three regular games a week, and intermittently hosting a game here or there, Corey left the free play internet poker scene behind. It was time to start cashing in on his studies. After all, it was the idea of getting paid to play that made this game so enrapturing.

In the beginning of these house game, Corey lost, not badly, but he was never in the money. Usually coming in third or fourth place, he was uncertain of his game, but he knew how to get some help. He headed back to the book store. Browsing through books of the poker greats, nightly reading their words of wisdom, Corey began to understand why he was losing at these games, and how to end that. Continuing to frequent these games, Corey soon became known as "The Kid" and he was known for winning.

Corey's birthday was just around the corner, and he was excited about being able to get into some real action. One day his father asked him if he knew anything about craps; his father, knowing his devotion to the game of poker, figured it was likely he did, as it was another form of gambling. Admitting he didn't Corey decided to go to the book store once again and learn a little about the game of craps. About a week later, Corey's father was in town and took him to a buffet in one of the local casinos. Over dinner Corey told him what he had learned about the game, and the two decided that after dinner, they might give luck a chance and play a little. Corey explained to his father that it was merely a game of chance, and there was not an element of skill, as there is in poker, nonetheless, the two agreed it would be great fun. Half an hour later Corey was up $29 and his father down about $15, needing to get back home Corey's father decided to call it a night and left. Excited about the prospect of winning money at another game, as well as that of playing while still underage, Corey decided to stay at the table, he stayed until his $29 had disappeared, and another $86 along with it. It was an $86 he could not afford to lose.

Walking out of the casino, furious with himself for having been foolish, and anxious about the electric bill that money was supposed to pay, Corey decided there was only one thing to be done. The only way he could make that kind of money in the middle of the night was to play cards. Resolved that this was the answer, and empowered by having not been carded by the Floor, he drove home, grabbed a $100 bill and returned to the casino's card room, and began playing $1/$2 no-limit. While that night was very long for Corey, the short story was that he lost $500!

It was here that Corey began a painful journey that took him through both the highest and the lowest times in his life. Now, don't get me wrong, he didn't lose every time he'd play. There were many nights when he would win in excess of $400, and his all-time record was $1100 in one day. But in the end, after failing to pay rent, ruining relationships, calling in sick to work, because he'd been up playing all night, quiting several times and losing in excess of $5000 he was forced to realize, that this wasn't a matter of a losing streak. This was a matter of addiction. He had a bona-fide gambling problem, and for his own sake and the sake of maintaining the relationships he still had intact, he decided to do whatever it would take to quit for good.

Want to know more about how addiction relates to the Poker Player...

How Poker Addiction Is Different:

The Poker Addict views the game of Poker as an entirely different realm of play than other forms of Gaming.  Poker is a game of skill, it's not played against a house who always has better odds, and one can improve their skill set.

When a Poker Player loses, they will go study more and return hoping to have improved their game, and many times they will, but just as the above video says, the line is crossed when something begins to negatively affect your life.

What You Can Do To Get Help:

First step, STOP PLAYING. Tie your money up in other, more beneficial things, invest in a CD, pay off some debt, save it - hell you might even take a vacation.

Next there are several other should look at doing: Make people around you aware that you have a problem and need their support; let your poker buddies know to stop calling you about games, if they don't understand (and they probably won't) tell them it's like having a drinking problem, it would be wrong to ask an alcoholic out to drinks, and the same goes for asking you to go play Cards.

Finally Check out the resources below, knowledge is power, so use what you can, and learn what you don't know. On those websites you should also be able to find information about counseling and rehab.  Below the links you'll find a list of books that are can also be very beneficial.

Lastly, know that you're not alone in this one, there are many players just like my friend Corey, myself included.

Willpower's Not Enough: Recovering from Addictions of Every Kind
Willpower's Not Enough: Recovering from Addictions of Every Kind

Many people think that what the addict needs is willpower, but nothing could be further from the truth: When a person has already lost control over a drug or activity, attempts to control its use almost never work. Because the source of addiction isn't the drug or activity itself but a desire for a mood changer, successful recovery means ultimately changing the way we live, giving up the addictive life-style. Willpower's Not Enough will show you how to change your life-style and to recover from your addiction

Reclaim Your Family From Addiction: How Couples and Families Recover Love and Meaning
Reclaim Your Family From Addiction: How Couples and Families Recover Love and Meaning

In this breakthrough new book, author Craig Nakken describes just how typical families and couples who may have spent years creating a "we" can lose their identity and meaningfulness as a unit when a family member becomes addicted. Nakken helps readers understand the inexplicable-how the individual addict can abandon the "we" of family and return blindly and single-mindedly to the "me" of his or her pleasure. More importantly, however, Nakken reinforces a radical idea-recovery, both individually and as a couple, is possible.

The Gambling Addiction Patient Workbook
The Gambling Addiction Patient Workbook

"The addiction field has long needed a comprehensive set of exercises counselors could use to guide patients through good treatment. The workbooks developed by Dr. Perkinson take the patient from the beginning of treatment to the end. They are written in such a manner that Dr. Perkinson is your mentor and is conversing with you, sharing with you his vast area of expertise and knowledge about recovery. These patient exercises meet the highest standards demanded by accrediting bodies."

(Dr. Bob Carr, Director )

Stop Gambling for Good: Overcome Reckless Risk Taking with Dr. Prasad's Proven Program
Stop Gambling for Good: Overcome Reckless Risk Taking with Dr. Prasad's Proven Program

Learn to make responsible choices and put an end to compulsive betting, spending, and risk-taking.

Many people make trips to the casinos, or play their favorite numbers in the lotto. But when does a harmless pastime become a dangerous addiction? Even "successful" gamblers who don't bet more than they can afford to lose could still be acting out an unhealthy compulsion. Applying Dr. Balasa Prasad's method, gamblers-whether a regular at OTB or a reckless spender -can learn to identify their psychological motivations for gambling. The book's six-step plan shows readers how to take responsible risks in life without gambling away security, money, or happiness.

A Day at A Time Gamblers Anonymous
A Day at A Time Gamblers Anonymous

An essential recovery tool for compulsive gamblers. A Day at a Time offers hope, support , and guidance throughout the year. Addressing the issues and fears facing compulsive gamblers in recovery, these daily reflections and prayers remind readers of progress made and work yet to be done.

Taking Back Your Life: Women and Problem Gambling
Taking Back Your Life: Women and Problem Gambling

Today there are more than five million women who struggle with problem gambling in the United States alone, and this number is increasing as casinos, online card rooms, and other venues continue to multiply. Despite this high number, those who do seek assistance often find that their experiences as women—the taboo of being female and having a gambling problem, and the social and cultural pressures specific to women—are not addressed.



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