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Tommy Angelo Presents: But It’s Not Gambling!

Tommy Angelo Presents: But It’s Not Gambling!


  • It’s tough to convince the uninitiated that poker is a game of choice, not chance. Tommy Angelo explains.

  • Poker coach Tommy Angelo on how the only way to prove that you can live a happy life as a poker pro is to do it.

“I would rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me.”

The novelist Dorothy Allison wrote those words, and my sister sent them to me, lettered and framed, when I became a Professional Poker Player. (Insert regal trumpets here.)

Allison’s tone is more rebellious than I am, but the sentiment rings true with me and many others: Dear family, friends, and lovers, You can’t make me be who you think I should be.

When someone who’d rather go naked discovers poker, and then more poker, followed by lots and lots more poker, and learning poker, and understanding poker, and oh my god winning at poker, the rules of life can change in the space of one thought: Maybe the poker path is my road to emotional and financial freedom.

And then comes this conversation:

MOTHER TO SON OR DAUGHTER: “I’m worried about you. I’m afraid you are turning into a gambling addict.”

SON OR DAUGHTER: “But mom, poker is not gambling!”

And the mother thinks, “It’s even worse than I thought. My child is in complete denial, actually believing that betting money on a card game is not gambling.”

While at the same time, the budding poker pro thinks, “She’ll never get it. None of them will. My family wouldn’t know an EV calculation if it bit ’em on their polarized ranges.”

And then there’s your friends and acquaintances. Here’s an email from a client that captures the issue perfectly:

“I hate that look people give me when I try to explain short-term luck and long-range edge. They look at me like I’m a moron when I’m basically explaining to them the meaning of life.”

The fools. The pitiful fools. If they would but open their eyes, they would see. But it’s tough. It’s tough to convince the uninitiated that poker is a game of choice, not chance. And that the advantage belongs to those who make the best decisions. And that poker players are a cohort of gallant warriors engaged in an exercise of prowess that limns all facets of human nature, good and bad. And that…

As hard as it is to explain that today, it was harder yesterday. Way.

Imagine a time before Phil Ivey. Before poker on TV. Before — and I know this is a stretch — before PokerNews. Back then, if a guy called himself a professional poker player, men raised eyebrows and women ran away.

These days, not so much. What used to be a club for degenerates only now lets anybody in. I had a father write to me about his son. The father had planned to bankroll his son in law school. Now he wanted to support his son’s poker career instead, by hiring me to coach him.

Why do you think the father was convinced that his son could thrive as a poker pro? Do you think it was wishful thinking — that maybe he had been watching rich young poker players on TV, and figured his son was smart enough to pull it off?

Not even close. The father told me his son had worked his ass off at poker for three years and had been winning steadily for the last year. He had seen, so he believed.

Let’s talk romance. Here’s another insightful question I heard from a client:

“How can I get my fiancée to understand that poker is more likely to provide a stable long-range income than working for some A-hole who could fire me on a whim?”

Here’s how:

If you are a poker pro, or you plan to be, and you enter into a romantic relationship with someone who thinks that card reading is what fortune-tellers do, that’s what writers call “different scripts.” It’s a device that’s guaranteed to generate conflict, and often humor. For example, John arrives at the restaurant expecting to dine with Mary on a blind date. And Mary thinks she’s meeting up with a long-lost relative. It’s a messy conversation, until they sort out the mix-up.

In the story of your new relationship, your script has you playing stellar poker for decades and making plenty of money, and your new partner’s expectation is poverty and support groups. But that’s okay, because scripts can be rewritten.

It’s up to you, the professional-mindset player, to do that work — to rewrite the scripts for your family, friends, and lovers, and get everyone on the same page. Only you can quiet the skeptics, and it can’t be done with words. The only way to prove that you can live a happy life as a poker pro is to do it.

As they say in the writing trade: Show, don’t tell.

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