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The Ugly Side of Poker




I don't know what to say. It's 5:18 a.m. here in Tampa Bay, Florida. I just finished a successful 7 hour, 2/5 cash game session, ending up +$2000. But I am feeling empty.

Tonight was the first time I saw the evil side of what I consider a fun game. Typically I play online poker so I never have to see the bad players or gamblers in person as they consistently lose playing far from optimal.

There was a man, a lawyer, probably in his mid 50's. Someone who probably makes more money than I will ever make in my life. He sat down with the table max of $800 and played every hand, raising every pot, and he quickly ran it up to $4000. For 3 hours he seemed unbeatable and was having a good time. Then in the matter of minutes, the man proceeded to lose it all. He didn't seemed phased. He re-bought and continued to play. He went on to lose another three buyins before declaring he was done. He walked away to most of the tables disappointment. This was a great spot for any poker player to add to their bankroll.

After about ten minutes, he returned and lost another buyin. Again he said "I'm done" and the table looked disappointed once again. One player at the table knew him quite well and said "he will be back, he has a disease" while smirking. Less than 5 minutes passed this time and he returned and he asked a player at the table if he could write him a check for another buyin. The player agreed and he sat down to play once again. This is when I started to feel bad. I no longer wanted to win. My guilt for the game kicked in. What am I doing with my life? I preach equality in the world and disgust for the rich who don't give back, but here I am with 6 other players at this table, preying on the weak. Someone who can't control himself. Someone who may or may not have the money to lose.

I can't quit this game. I've worked too hard to get to this point. But is this what my life has become? Am I just another filthy human stealing from those who are weaker than myself?

Poker was never my end game in life. I have a bigger purpose than this. I know that I have to continue with my goals in this game, but I don't ever want to forget what I saw tonight. When I am done with this game, I vow to do something positive in this world. Something that not only makes me feel good, but something that makes others lives better.

This is an ugly game we play.

Chris Perkins



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Don't wait until you're done with the game to do something positive in this world. You can do it now. GL

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i am thinking the same thing and that also makes me wonder what i am doing. now i am in a faze of thinking to quit poker as a job and finding something more that makes feel good about myself. this means that i have to start over in another domain but at least i will feel better not making another human being feeling so miserable ( i also know the feeling when you lose when i am in a downswing) it is something when you play for fun a few buyns but it's another story when you are can't control it..

Edited by jaghuar

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I understand how you feel, however you shouldn't feel this way. You can't stop people from destroying themselves. I have resolved to myself that if I am ever in a situation like this where I am the direct beneficiary of a sick individual that I will try to have a private talk with them and advise them to find another hobby. If they don't listen, that's their problem and I will go on playing poker with a clear conscience.


I used to behave very similarly to this man at the poker table. I grew up rich, and if I lost all my money at the tables, I would just go and ask mommy and daddy for more. That is the same situation that this man is in, except instead of mommy and daddy, he will just go back to work at his 6 or 7 figure profession. I still struggle with compulsion and addiction, just not at the poker table. Where this man plays poker in a compulsive fashion, I use methamphetamine and rack up massive overnight bills with prostitutes. I do not struggle nearly as fiercely with my own compulsions since resolving to support myself rather than relying on family money. Essentially, people behave like him because they can afford to. This same behavior can be seen with many of the prostitutes I have frequented in my life. They can clear 3-5k in a good weekend, so its not uncommon for them to develop 100-500$ a day drug habits. In short, we all struggle with our own demons. In Ace on The River, Barry Greenstein said that most poker players are borderline compulsive, so perhaps we struggle more than most.


Today, I do not allow myself the luxury of relying on my family's largess, and I mostly play poker for a living and I am a solidly winning player. I was a massive fish in NL Cash games, so I no longer play them, but I am a big winner in MTTs and LHE so I focus on those and apply a discipline I have had to learn through bad beats and hard knocks, both on and off the felt. From time to time I have to supplement my poker income with other jobs, however this is almost never due to poor poker performance and almost always due to inability to control myself in life away from the table.


It was not easy for me to become the player I am today. I learned through the school of hard knocks. I struggle with bipolar disorder and addiction. I've been homeless sleeping behind truck stops. I've eaten food exclusively out of cans and boxes. Had my heart broken more times than I could count. However, that's what made me the man I am today, someone I can be proud of. Today I have a strong work ethic and am a good person. I became a good player through hours and hours of training videos, discussions with better players, etc. Poker helped teach me discipline both on and off the felt.


Right now I'm dealing with the consequences of a downswing proceeded by a relapse. I'm working 40hrs a week in a warehouse, coming home and grinding small stakes all night. However, a few months ago I was in South America hitting a music festival with a good friend, and I got some new expensive tattoos this year, so I can't complain. For me, the bad times just help me to appreciate the good times. I have to say that on balance this game has brought so much happines, and a sense of achievement to my life, and a desire for success at poker has motivated me to live a more stable and healthy life so that I could bring my best game.


Like you, I have struggled with guilt from the darker side of the game, however I believe that this guilt is misguided. It is only productive if it motivates you to be a better person off the felt. Today I don't use my family's wealth to support myself, rather at the end of every year I use my trust fund to make a charitable donation equal to 25% of my income. Yes, I do receive a modest financial gain from this in the form of reduced tax liability, but it accomplishes both the good of giving to good causes as well as depriving the government on money it would spend on wars, corporate welfare, and the war on drugs. Since taxation is theft anyway, I am okay with it. I try to be active in my church and my community, and give my best effort in my side business as a math tutor. I always pick up hitchhikers, no matter how grimy, because I was once homeless on the side of the road myself. Use this guilt to drive you to become a better human being.


Don't quit poker, because when I was coming up, I needed people like you to look up to, to motivate me, to show me what a successful poker player was and wasn't. For every degen like the man you described, who would simply find other ways to destroy his life if you or poker weren't around, there is one of me, a kid who desperately wants to live this kind of life and needs good role models like you.

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Hey Chris,


It's better that you see it now, then later. You will run into these scenarios and as a Poker Pro you want to get as much money as you can..., however as a Human Being you have the moral obligation to go say something to that guy or just go to another table (you don't have to, but every time you take advantage of someone in an awful situation the further away from humanity you fall).... but it is the nasty truth of poker.

Here in Chicago, I know of a few (Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, Business Men) that combined had dumped more than 300K into the local 2/5 games over the course of 2 years.


These guys exist in every casino and it is the very reason why aspiring to be a "Pro" Poker player is a very awful career objective. It is a Zero Sum game and in order for there has to be winners there has to be losers.. The game does not add value to the world. It can be fun and challenging, but it doesn't add value.


The people we love to play against, "the gamblers", tend to be compulsive and very destructive. They maybe even started off playing well within their bankroll because of how much income they generate, but ultimately what happens is they start eating into their personal savings, retirement money, children's tuition money, etc. They then take that stress back to their professions and homes and continue to destroy. It has an effect on everyone around them that is actually quite miserable. Next time you go to Vegas, go play in a game around 2/3 in the morning and look into some of the older players eyes. You will see what I mean. A lot of these people have become very nasty individuals because they allowed this game/addiction, the very symbol of the "age of decadence" to destroy them.

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