20 Questions: Poker Player Takes the 'Are You A Problem Gambler?' Test
Between the recently completed World Series of Poker and other summer holiday trips to gambling destinations, many of us have been playing a lot of poker lately. Some of us play a lot of poker all the time as we are professionals, semi-professionals, or committed hobbyists.
As you've played a lot of poker, if you're like I am, you've thought at least once or twice about the possibility that your enthusiasm for poker might mean that you are a problem gambler.
Being a responsible adult, I've sought out the answer to that question in the conventional way, by taking a survey put out by Gamblers Anonymous meant to help people determine whether they might be problem gamblers.
I thought I would present that survey to all of you here to answer, if you'd like. I've also provided my own answers, and afterwards added some thoughts about what I would consider some of the inherent problems of applying such a test to poker players.
1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
I have scheduled time off from work to play poker, so strictly speaking my answer is yes. That said, I have never failed to come into work because I couldn't drag myself away from a poker game.
2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
I don't like losing — at anything — which means my mood after a losing session might not be quite as upbeat as it normally is. Still, I would have to answer no to this question, as playing poker has never been the cause of arguments or stress in my family. And my home life has never been unhappy.
3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
Sure it has. My reputation is shaped, positively and negatively, by what I do with my time. Some people may think less of me because I am known to play poker; others might admire me for it. Surely, though, in the spirit of the question, I don't think I have a bad reputation because I am a poker player. So my answer here is no.
4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
I might have felt bad about a decision I made. I might have been sorry that I was outdrawn. But no, I've never felt guilty or sheepish about the fact that I've played poker.
5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Strictly speaking, I have used my earnings from poker to buy things for my family. But I've never thrown caution to the wind and plunked down more than I can afford in the hope of covering some debt with future wins at the tables, which is what I think is the intended direction of this question. So my answer is no.
6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
No, not in the least.
7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
When I quit after a losing session I do so with some expectation that I will eventually earn back what I've lost and then some, given that I am generally a winning player. But I don't feel compelled to return to win back what I've lost. I also don't feel any urge to return quickly. So I answer no to this one (though it was a close call).
8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
When I quit after a winning session, I look forward to playing again and winning more. But I don't feel compelled to return quickly to do so. Again, it's a somewhat close call, but my answer is no.
9. Did you often gamble until all your money was gone?
I guard my bankroll very carefully. I will never do this. No.
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
I have forgotten my poker bankroll a time or two and borrowed money from a friend for a playing session (repaying it immediately), so technically I have done this. But I think the question goes after the deeper debt and borrowing that is involved with people who go bust and then borrow money, something I have never done. I answered no to this question, though if I were being 100 percent literal about the question it would have been a yes.
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Once again, a strictly literal reading of this question would require an answer of yes, as I once used the sale of some old comic books to fund my first poker bankroll. But since I think they're really looking at someone who is broke and desperate, selling or pawning some object of value just so he could get back into action, and since I've never done that, I answered no.
12. Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
I have always kept my poker bankroll separate from my normal bankroll, only using my poker funds sparingly to purchase items in my regular life. So I answered yes.
13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
No, never. Not even a little.
14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
I have surely stayed in a game longer than I initially thought I was going to stay, because the game was really good and my skills had not diminished. Yes.
15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, loneliness, grief or loss?
I enjoy playing poker as a holiday from my job and my day-to-day life, much as I enjoy getting away from it all when I go fishing or when I go for a long walk. So I have to answer in the affirmative — yes.
16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
Absolutely not. No.
17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
I have difficulty sleeping, but playing poker doesn't have anything to do with it. I have never been so upset over a losing session that I couldn't sleep. But I have stayed up late in many a poker game, depriving myself of sleep I might otherwise have gotten, so I answered yes to this question.
18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
I enjoy poker regardless of arguments, disappointments, or frustrations. They don't create any urge for me to play more — no.
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the previous one — no.
20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
I've been upset by a particularly bad loss from time to time. But no, it's never made me feel even slightly self-destructive or suicidal.
Gamblers Anonymous says that if you answered "yes" to seven of these 20 questions you have a gambling problem. I answered "yes" to five, but I could have easily answered "yes" to six additional questions. That would have brought my total up to 11, making me unquestionably a problem gambler.
Truly, though, I think the questions need to be adjusted for poker players, at least for those of us who are professionals or semi-professionals. It seems to me that the real test of whether you're a problem gambler is whether the gambling has a serious and negative impact on your life, and that you can't or won't stop.
If you started your poker career by selling your motorcycle, or if you stay late in a great game to maximize your wins, or if you are eager to return to a poker game to make more money, or if poker provides a refuge or respite from your day-to-day life or job, or if you shelter your poker bankroll from your day-to-day expenditures, or if you borrow money to play sometimes, or if some moralistic idiots judge you harshly because you play poker, none of those things mean that you're a problem gambler in my book.
But then, maybe I'm just a problem gambler in denial!
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold'em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.