The Relationship Between Mental Health and Gambling
As a mid-20-year-old, I was fairly lost. I played chess, backgammon and of course poker for money, or at times as cheap way not to spend money.
My first introductions to gambling were playing $1 blitz chess games and 4/8 limit hold em at a social club. I never really wanted to be anything in life but Phil Ivey, Alan Denkenson, Gus Hansen, Howard Lederer, etc.
At the social club, we would have dinner every night while playing poker and watch poker if there wasn’t a game that someone had a lot of money on. Then we would proceed to play poker for menial stakes and emulate what we just saw on TV.
I believe I have played poker with every walk of human over the last 16 years.
There are many people I remember and even more I don’t. However, my first interaction with someone who lost more than money was a dear friend who couldn’t handle variance. He would study poker for weeks at a time. He could tell you the equity hold of all 1326 starting hand combinations. He was an encyclopedia on everything poker related.
He was banned from every poker room in Denver and every nearby local casino. He berated dealers and opponents constantly. He simply could not handle losing to lesser hands, opponents and he eventually became a running joke among fellow poker players.
If you choose to bet for a living or play anything in life for large sums of money, you’re going to experience large swings. How you handle those swings will largely shape if you can win long-term. Period.
I have had large doses of adversity in my career the past 15 years. I have dealt with tilt issues, bankroll mismanagement, playing too few games and playing way too many games. I have played when my mind wasn’t there and when I should have been focusing on all other things in life.
I have hired life coaches, sat through many therapy sessions and suffer from anxiety. That felt good to admit believe it or not.
Those close to me know that losing affects me unlike many others. I work hard, I take losing hard, but not as hard as I once did, or not nearly as badly as many I know these days.
It is important that we take time to self-reflect and also pour over long term results. I can honestly say that in 2019 I have spent less time watching games than any year so far. Not because I wanted to, but the results sometimes mean far too much and, at that point, you have to get away.
We as gamblers take less days off than most any other profession on earth. If we choose to, we don’t ever have to take a day off from work for life and we have justification if we have an edge in the market to not do so. There have been many times where I knew I needed a break and didn’t listen to myself. Those are usually the dangerous times for the bankroll.
You simply cannot bet three sports and do the amount of research that I enjoy doing without spending a day or two away.
I often make a checklist at the beginning of every month to ensure my mind is correct and I’m not working for any reason beyond creating a better life for myself, and I figured I’d share it with you. I keep a journal basically.
This is the June 1st checklist and my answers are below:
1. How many days did you take off from the football notebooks?
2. How many days did you take off from sweating baseball?
3. How many times did you have sex?
4. What did you buy yourself?
5. What did you do that you really enjoyed?
6. Did you make any mistakes as a handicapper that have affected you going forward?
1. 8 days. All Mondays, but one and three days after I lost a friend and two days I traveled to Vegas for WSP. But I did work the morning I went and the evening I came home. I keep a deadline for myself, but I also know I have limited time before I take a full 22 days off every August of doing any type of betting. There’s a lot that gets done between March 1st and July 31st. I often will take at least three days for mental health and to avoid burnout, and during the season I take every Thursday off and some Fridays as well.
2. 8 days. I went where I did not actually watch games on television. I did sweat more on my phone than normal but I can honestly say in MLB I prefer a dry sweat (waking up to the results) over watching each pitch. That’s the opposite of football where I sincerely doubt I’ve ever watched less than eight hours on a Saturday. Please do not do this! Go have a life. I learn a lot in September by watching and then it becomes habitual.
3. Sex is important in life. It’s a taboo subject among gamblers I have noticed. I have no clue why. We all need touch, affection or to feel something and often really. I have struggled with my sex drive during prolonged downswings. You have to enjoy life beyond the box score. I had sex four times in June. I’m single, 40 balding ginger and I feel I’m batting a solid .300.
4. A puppy was adopted by me but I bought her a cage, 20 toys, food, chew rings and everything else a spoiled 4.5-pound dog should have. I also bought myself a couple of new outfits. I’m trying to get above that four number fellas! I’m frugal in June and July even with a semi swollen bankroll from the past three football seasons. I rarely purchase myself anything extravagant. See me in January and this answer changes. I’ve gone broke and nothing is odder than having a 10K watch and a 10K bankroll.
5. Training a dog, hiking the boulder canyon, attending chess night for the first time in years, a series of documentaries, introducing a friend to new restaurants, two Rockies games and one small concert. Lots of dinners with friends and one terribly sad funeral but I met two new friends.
6. I did. I use base totals to create a number and while beating the number is important, I was hesitant to play numerous unders because of the high scoring games that were taking place. If you don’t trust your numbers that you work so hard to create and scrutinize, you are lost and it created a downswing that I didn’t shake before the end of the month. If I had played these unders I would have profited 3.2 units, which bottom line leads to a lot of puppy toys.
I want to end this by saying if you have anxiety issues as a pro gambler, you are not alone. If you would ever like to speak privately please DM me on Twitter (@walls_edward).
If you are feeling lost as a gambler who normally wins, do not be afraid of taking days off, buying yourself something, find peace with who you are as tough as that might be for some. Embrace you and this nutty job. Live your life best you can, but always do some form of personal inventory.