Dealing with Poker Guilt and Depression


‘Twas a humid summer morning back in August 2004. After watching Rounders and a re-run of Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP victory on ESPN, I became hooked on the idea of playing poker. As many of you know, I live in Mexico City, where casinos and B&M card rooms are nonexistent. So, with my American Express Card in hand, I purchased a $50 phone card from Pay Pro, and thus began my online poker career at Party Poker, playing $0.50/$1 Limit Texas Holdem.

Within a couple of hours, I had downloaded a few beginners’ guides that mainly contained Starting Hand charts and vocabulary. At around 3:00am, I received an e-mail from Party Poker security stating that I would need to contact them by phone in order to verify my identity. Taking a break from my new vice, I dialed the number provided and was treated with respect and courtesy. I had turned my original $50 into about $107 in a few hours, and I was certain that most of the red-carpet treatment was due to the ‘fact’ that the Party Poker administration knew I was a winning player based on the awesome results I had initially shown in my first few hours of play…+$57!!! That was around $20/hour and I was playing the lowest limits available! The online poker world was about to witness the rise of an unknown player!

The next afternoon, I asked my wife if she would support my decision to play poker seriously, and she sighed and replied in Spanish, “Do I have a choice, David?” So, with $107 in my account, I logged-on and began a 10-hour session that ended with me busting out. I quickly deposited another $50 and managed to get that up all the way to $500+ through a combination of Limit MTT’s and Limit Sit & Go Tournaments. I had cashed in four straight $30 S&G’s, and I showed my wife what we could ‘expect’ to earn if my results continued. And why wouldn’t they? After all, I already had FOUR sample tournaments to base my future earnings on. For sure, I could expect to make at least $200 per day, every day, for the remainder of my poker career. I was on my way…

Well, to make a long story short, I eventually busted out again….and again. Fourteen times I busted out over nine months; establishing the price of my introductory poker education at $700 and 1,000+ hours of online play. Somewhere in the middle of all that late-night poker playing, it occurred to me that perhaps it took a little more effort than I had originally thought to be successful at this game. My marriage was suffering as well, since I was doing all this online “work” without any positive monetary benefits to show for it. I began to doubt my game, my talent, my dedication, and myself personally.

Then, at the beginning of March 2005 (after continued study and even more online play than before), I was finally coming around to playing break-even poker at the low buy-in levels. I was becoming more patient at the tables and gradually controlling my emotions and avoiding tilt. It was at this point in my very short poker career that I went on my first genuine bad run while playing $10 S&G’s on Party Poker. For 5 weeks, I pouted, griped, fumed, and whined about the beats, until the cards starting cooperating again in early April. But it was at the END of the bad run when I had a true revelation: After all the bad luck I had endured, I hadn’t lost any money! My account was still at a healthy 50+ buy-ins. It was now clear that I would be okay if I could just keep my head on straight and weather the bad runs. It was then that I knew I was capable of playing winning poker.

Since that time, I’ve been able to earn back the cost of my introductory poker education, and then some. My wife has come to appreciate the convenience of being able to cash out on demand, and she has shown an understanding of the mental concentration and ability it takes to encourage a positive outcome at the tables. Now, the amount of money I make per month playing poker online is laughable to many pros, so although this supplemental income has provided a boost to my family’s well-being and circumstance lately, most would regard $1,000-$2,000/month as ‘extra’ money. On a recent post, one top player suggested that a poker player who only makes $60k per year is not a very good player, but a pro nonetheless. So, this correspondingly puts me into a category somewhat inferior to ‘not very good’ when it comes to poker earnings. However, I am not discouraged by this at all. It simply provides a foundation on which to build upon as I improve my game and endeavor to experience and learn the non-trivial subtleties of online poker.

Having disclosed a brief summary of my young poker career, I would now like to move on to a subject that may be of some interest to many online poker players. For those who have not read any of my prior posts/articles, I am originally from Gonzales, Texas, and a 30-year-old married father of twin boys living in Mexico City. I multi-table low buy-in Sit & Go Tournaments on Poker Stars nowadays, and have had a certain (albeit moderate) amount of success since my Pre-Intermediate poker education began back in April. With that being said, let’s now talk about dealing with poker depression & guilt, and how it affects your game.

Now, this article is aimed at helping those who are still in the beginning stages of their poker career, although some other players may find it useful as well. First of all, I’ll state the obvious: no matter who you are, somebody – somewhere, in your family or among your friends, is going to have a negative opinion about you playing poker. So let’s take a look at some of the common examples you may encounter.

Let’s use my personal situation described above as the first example. In this case, I was feeling guilty and depressed about playing poker so much, as well as receiving criticism from my wife. And why wouldn’t I? After all, I spent most Sunday afternoons in bed while my wife and twins (12-18 months old at the time) went out by themselves. I KNEW what I was doing was incorrect parenting, and was breaking MY OWN set of values and beliefs by not spending time with my family; thus becoming depressed. So what adjustments did I make? Well, the first step was admitting I had a problem… not a problem with gambling/poker/etc., but a problem with raising my kids and spending time with my family. So, thankfully I exchanged late-night poker for early-evening poker, spent (and enjoyed) a lot more time with my family, and regained my children’s’ love and my wife’s respect. My family became #1 and my poker playing became #2, and BOTH benefited. This allowed me to become a student of the game and dedicate a reasonable amount of time to improving it, while not having to worry about depression and guilt.

But many of you will not be able to relate to my situation, since the negative impact often comes from parents, grandparents, uncles/aunts, good friends, etc. Sometimes, it’s just impossible to persuade others that poker isn’t exactly ‘gambling’ in the way that word is perceived by most. If this is the case in your personal situation, then I would advise you just to leave it alone as much as possible so both parties can be happy. Nothing can be gained if there’s no room for understanding or ideological compromise (this goes both ways), so just let it be.

However, in today’s society, many middle-aged adults are quite capable of grasping the basic concept of online poker and how it works, as well as how the websites charge rake and therefore have no need to make money by rigging the game against any specific/non-specific player. With a little time for discussion, most can come to terms with the fact that there’s potential for long-term profit making in poker, since you’re ultimately playing against other players instead of the unbeatable ‘house’. But here’s where the next step of traditional thinking kicks in – and where poker players and concerned parents/loved ones clash time and time again: — Even if everything we say about poker is true, it still takes an above-average amount/combination of talent, discipline, dedication, commitment, intelligence, and knowledge to make money over any meaningful amount of time. Your skills don’t necessarily have to be prodigal, but they’ll have to be above-average if you’re going to be successful.

This is traditional thinking that actually speaks loads of truth when it comes to poker. Unlike the ‘bet the nuts, fold the trash’ mentality that often leads to weak-tight disease and unsuccessful play at the tables, a lot can be taken from common-sense approaches to bankroll management and overall poker ability. In this conflict between poker player and critic lies an opportunity to reach a general understanding and acceptance. The poker player must endeavor to improve his/her game and play within his/her bankroll, and the critic must accept that decision and provide support (or at least refrain from becoming a negative influence) to our beloved beginner.

Once the outside influences have been taken care of, beginning (and quite a few more-experienced) poker players must still deal with depression and guilt that occurs after a losing session or any significant loss to their bankroll. The best deterrent to this problem is basic bankroll management a.k.a. playing within your means. Not always an easy thing to do, mind you, but a winning move nonetheless.

One very common misconception among poker players is ‘The higher the level someone consistently plays at, the better he/she is.’ While someone who consistently beats a $5/10 Limit game may very well have more overall ability than another who can only beat the $1/2 tables, ‘x’ poker player is not necessarily a “winner” just because he/she frequents the high buy-in/limit tables. In fact, the majority of poker players are inevitably long-term losers because of the rake. And this concept correlates to every level, from penny tables to the biggest games. The gap between winning & losing players isn’t all that far apart percentage-wise, since most sites (arguably) don’t charge exorbitant rake fees, but a gap exists.

So with this known information, let’s compare two individual cases. For demonstrational purposes only, let’s assume that PLAYER A and PLAYER B are novice players who have similar financial situations and poker ability, and that both can afford to lose about $100 per month playing poker, whether it be from bad play or bad cards. PLAYER A deposits $100 into an online account and routinely buys-in for $20 at a $.25/.50 Limit table where his/her long-term expectation is -10% ROI. PLAYER B deposits $2,000 (a good portion of it borrowed) into an online account and routinely buys-in for $400 at a $5/10 Limit table where his/her long-term expectation is -20% ROI. PLAYER A plays for a month, and eventually loses 100 Big Bets, losing $50. PLAYER B plays the same amount of hands for a month, and eventually loses 200 Big Bets, losing $2,000 and is worse than broke. PLAYER A is satisfied with his/her play, and believes that success can be achieved with just a little more time and dedication. PLAYER B simply needs another $2,000+ so he/she can go out and chase all that rent money currently in the hands of donks/superior players. While this comparison may seem a bit extreme, it’s actually a realistic account of what can/will/does happen quite often in poker.

So, which of our individuals has an overall better chance at eventual success? Which one will have more problems with poker guilt and depression? Sure, every now and then you’ll come across someone who isn’t really bothered by being too far in debt, but that just makes things WORSE in most situations. That’s when you start to hear short-term promises and red-flag catch phrases like “I guarantee I’ll make money tonight” or “Give me ‘x’ amount of money and two hours, and I’ll be up at least ‘x’ amount of money”… it’s nothing more than mindless dribble from disgruntled players, regardless of their overall talent.

The next time you sit down at an online table, consider ways to make it easier on you emotionally. Show pride in your ability to make money or avoid losing what you can’t afford, and in how you make time for others outside of poker. Think of how poker could be (or has been) a positive influence in your life, then think about how to incorporate your hobby (or job) into providing for the well-being of your loved-ones not only financially, but emotionally too. Remove the guilt and depression aspect from poker and you’ll improve your bottom line as well.

Good luck at the tables!



  1. Nice story dhubermex ! I think was very difficult to take some decisions especially when you lay down your poker hungry for your family. Well i have friends who don’t have this power. Even if they don’t have families. But they lose friends, jobs etc. I’m a new poker player. I like to play but i never be catch in such gambling problem. There are days when i win cash for a pizza and days when i lose money for a pizza. But nothing more. Is true that i’m not to good prepared for online poker because maybe if i know very well the game then i maybe play for great sum of money. But i like this way. To play short limits…Anyway is a good story I’m happy that now you’re a good poker player and with good relation with your family. Thanks for your advices maybe in one day will be useful. Regards!

  2. Good read. I’ve been yo-ing recently.I find when I’m in the zone, my reads and moves are great. Problem is when I play when I can’t be bothered and start to throw money away. Last month I was on the bubble about to win $240 and pushed to collect the blinds. My thinking was I’m here to win. Jeez any other normal-person would wait for 5 mins to collect the money. We all sometimes forget the value of money.Its tough to make a profit in poker. Over 95% are losing players.

    Now Ive cashed out like 2k. I’m gonna start from the bottom $65 in both PS and FT. Then work my way up . Bankroll management is essential.