Poker Checkup: Are You Grinding or Gambling?

Because the poker milieu involves a lot of gambling and drinking, as a poker player it's really easy to slip into bad habits or develop degenerate qualities and just assume they go with the terrain.

There are a couple of ways you can be sure you're still playing a "healthy" game. Elsewhere on the site you'll find tips on how to play at your best physically and psychologically, but here my focus will be on some metastrategies for keeping your nose clean while you grind.

Keeping Honest Records

Since you're a good poker player, you keep detailed and accurate notes on every session you play. If you find yourself lying in your records, excluding a session or changing the results, then you have a problem.

At this point you need to immediately stop playing. If you are unable to be honest with yourself, then you are not capable of keeping your game and life healthy within poker.


It's a good idea to make an agreement with your partner, family member or close friend that they'll be privy to your notes. At any given time, this person should be able to look at them and see exactly how you're doing. It's too easy to justify or ignore your own faults and problems.

The hope here is that if you do develop some sort of problem, they will be able to spot it before it turns into a very large one.


Gambling can be addictive. It's very easy for anyone to develop an addiction to gambling. Gambling Anonymous has an online quiz you can take to see if you have a gambling problem. It consists of 20 questions. If you answer yes to seven of them, you allegedly have a gambling problem.

Unfortunately, this quiz was not designed for people who gamble professionally. I think the last time I looked at it, I was answering yes to 17 out of the 20.

When you play professionally, it can be hard to spot a gambling addiction - especially your own. Having a friend who plays with you all or most of the time is one of the few surefire ways to spot this.

When you treat poker as a profession, all the normal signs of addiction aren't relevant. You're going to spend excessive time playing it, and even more time thinking about it.

I'm addicted, in the sense that it's my favorite thing to do. There are a few signs you can look for in a professional poker player to spot a gambling addiction:

  • Being dishonest - lying about frequency of play, or about amounts won and lost
  • Playing table games in the casino
  • Chasing losses
  • Being unwilling to have a rational conversation about this very topic

A poker player can play table games like anyone else does. A good poker player knows the odds, and therefore understands that she is gambling. It's all about intent.

Are you playing table games hoping to make back lost money, or thinking you can beat the house? If you're playing table games for any reason other than having a good time with the expectation of losing money, you have a problem.

It's hard to spot a gambling problem in a poker room, simply because there are so many people with gambling issues that the hard-core cases don't really stand out that much. It's harder to spot an alcoholic at a pub than it is at a PTA meeting.

If you have a hard time separating poker from life, or if your social life is suffering because of poker, you have a problem. In this case, it might not be a gambling problem, but a genuine case of being a workaholic.

When you're playing a game you love, and understand that the money you make is directly correlated to the hours you put in, it can be hard to do anything but work. I'm guilty of this myself. If I can work at something I love, I immerse myself in it and start to ignore everything else.

Above all else, even above making money, is the need to stay healthy. Health is both mind and body, and you need to work on keeping both in good condition.

The more you let your body or mind degenerate, the harder it will be to play a strong game.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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