By Guest Author Joel Wald
Most aspiring professional poker players remember what it was like when they first had the talk. No, not that talk. The talk often occurs when poker has become a bigger part of a player’s life, and they have enjoyed some success. On the one hand, this time can be exciting as the player now has an enjoyable hobby that provides additional income. On the other hand, the player often hopes to devote more time to poker and cut back on other commitments (sometimes including a more stable job). Anyone who expects this part of the conversation to go smoothly is in for a rude awakening!
Is this player you? If so, there are some things you can do to reassure your spouse and relatives about your poker hobby. Whether you are thinking about becoming a poker professional or you just want family to better understand your hobby, you can reassure your family about poker. The following are some of the top tips for having a productive discussion.
Understand Where Family Members Are Coming From
First, you need to empathize with family members and anticipate their worries. The two most common fears revolve around you losing significant money and the possibility of gambling addiction. Both of these concerns must be addressed. It’s essential to have a financial plan ready to show them that even in the worst case scenario, losing at poker will not harm you financially in any lasting way. First, explain how you have already identified the money you can sensibly afford to lose on poker in a given year. Show them that this amount would have no bearing on your overall quality of life (you did already think about this, right?). Then, talk about your system for dividing this money up. You want at least 30 pieces if you are a live poker player or 100 pieces if you are an online player to determine the highest stakes you can afford to play. You might play at a lower stake than this depending on your skill level. Talk about your policy where you abide by a daily stop loss of 3 buy-ins so you can never lose more than 10% of your bankroll in any one horrible day. And then show that by playing with money you can afford to lose (which is set aside in a separate bankroll from every-day finances), you can ensure that poker losses do not impact money that you need for the rest of your life. If you want to further refine your money management plan prior to having this discussion, check out this video here.
Next, you’ll want to prove that you can stick to a schedule and that poker is playing a healthy role in your life. As long as you still make ample time for your family and friends and are able to quit playing when it is time to handle other commitments, you can help assuage some of their addiction fears. Remember that merely spending more time on an activity is not a sign of addiction, as every serious job or pursuit requires a solid time commitment. As long as poker is not causing a negative impact on your health or leading you to neglect other essential priorities, you’ll be able to demonstrate how your family’s fears are misplaced. It can help to point out how poker motivates you to exercise, get enough sleep, eat healthy, improve your mindset, and maintain a meditation practice. Like most things, the activity of poker is not inherently healthy or unhealthy: Everything depends on the individual and their overall approach.
Show them Your Track Record
It is also critical to have an extended track record of success before making any major commitments to a poker career. By logging all your sessions in a spreadsheet and tracking your progress as well as your hourly rate, you can gather a convincing sample of data that justifies your decision to play more poker. A good heuristic is that if you are beating your current game for 10 big blinds an hour or more over a large sample (up to 1,000 hours for live poker), it is time to consider moving up in stakes. So at 1/2 NLHE, aim to be winning at $20/hour and at 2/5 NLHE you’d ideally be at $50/hour for 1,000 hours before it becomes a no-brainer to move up in stakes (slightly lower win-rates over samples this large can also warrant moving up or at least shot-taking more frequently). It is better to keep your job and gather this sample of data slowly without financial pressure. For many players, being a semi-professional player will be more enjoyable and offer a much more balanced life than becoming a full-time pro. Regardless, having a large sample of winning data can help build a compelling case when explaining your decision to play semi-professional or professional poker to a spouse, parent, or other relative.
Reassure Your Family About Poker by Explaining How the Game Works
The people close to you may have basic misunderstandings about how poker even works. They may confuse poker with other gambling activities like slots or roulette which are not beatable in the long run and are a guaranteed money drain. It will be important to explain that while poker does have a strong component of luck in the short run, over time the variance is reduced and the best players are able to win more consistently. Changing the reference point of poker as a game that is much more closely related to chess or backgammon than to roulette will be key. While poker does carry a stigma in our society even in 2023, there is abundant, reputable content available to corroborate that poker is in fact a winnable, skill-based game. Even the slightest bit of open-mindedness can help a family member realize that poker is a first cousin to financial trading and entrepreneurship. Ultimately, there are many professions which society readily accepts that involve taking risks on an uncertain outcome. Poker is no different, but archaic associations and general ignorance have maintained its stigma. If you need more ammunition for your argument, be sure to watch this video about how to de-stigmatize poker for those that still have misconceptions.
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Summary of How to Reassure Your Family About Poker
Do not expect this conversation to reassure your family about poker to be easy. At the same time, there’s no need to get defensive or feel guilty. If you have a well thought-out plan for how you intend to approach poker in a healthy manner with financial savvy after collecting a significant sample of data, you will be well-prepared for “the talk”. Just be ready to educate your loved ones on how the game you play differs from the way they may have imagined it or how it is portrayed. This may take several attempts, so aim to be gently persistent and patient. Poker rooms may sit next to slot machines and roulette wheels in a casino, but there’s not much you can do about a casino’s questionable interior design. In the end, you will win over your spouse and relatives by consistently being the best version of yourself both on and off the felt.
If you are struggling with broaching this conversation or achieving your poker goals, Joel Wald offers private coaching and mentorship, which you can book here: If you have any questions, book a free 30-minute consultation with him here: book free consultation!
Joel has over five years of professional experience as a 10 big blind+/hour winner in poker stakes up to 10-25 NLHE. He has also coached over 150 different students, many of whom have moved up to higher stakes and substantially increased their hourly rates. We recently interviewed Joel about his coaching approach and poker journey. His coaching approach starts and ends with his students’ goals. He is well-versed in preflop and postflop strategy, GTO vs. exploitative play, mindset coaching, bankroll management, and analyzing HUD data. He also offers a 30-video online course called PTO Poker 101 which you can purchase here.