Sam Grafton blogs about balancing relationships with poker

Maintaining close relationships with friends and family outside the world of poker is tough. The dedication required to become a top class poker player will never be compatible with maintaining a healthy balanced relationship with those most important to you. I know personally that playing online for a living has led to me feeling less comfortable in a variety of social settings. Frequently I feel out of touch with current affairs and popular culture. Moreover, my own sphere of reference and slang is wildly out of sync with everyone else.

I’m lucky that at least I was a highly sociable individual before I discovered poker. This isn’t the case with most of my peers. Card players tend to be maladjusted individuals drawn to poker because it’s a community that’s tolerant of their idiosyncrasies. If they don’t begin at least slightly maladjusted individuals they tend to end up that way because of the hermit-like existence required to succeed. This is certainly the case with a lot of online pros who are introduced to the game at an early age. The geeky, obsessive behaviours that help them thrive at the tables are also the ones that impede their ability to cultivate strong relationships with people outside of the game. 

A man’s world

This dysfunction is even more prominent when it comes to players’ interactions with women. After all, when you picture a group of poker players you picture a group of men. For many people the patriarchal nature of the poker environment is an attraction. I first discovered poker at a difficult time in my life and I confess I took solace from the fact that in the male-dominated card room the table talk never stretched beyond the banalities of sport and gambling.

But in the long run being quarantined from women has a debilitating affect on individuals. Some poker players find women far more alien than they should and are left incapable of interacting with them as equals. I’ve met a number of younger pros who, having found a certain level of success in poker, want to address the lack of a woman in their lives. When they turn their attention to this lack they tend to frame the problem in terms that relate back to poker.

They speak of wanting ‘success’ with women. They read books which give them strategies for chatting up girls and then apply the same work ethic to the problem they did with cards. Chatting up girls in clubs simply relies on ‘volume.’ If you can fire off enough bullets then you’re bound to get a ‘result’. It’s as if we’re dealing with a multi-entry tournament and not a human relationship. Girls are talked about as if they were simply an accumulation of scores to be reeled off like so many results on The Hendon Mob. 

It’s not a game

Excelling at poker early in life can certainly be a blessing. Faith in your own ability to conquer a given field, when focused correctly, can be a real positive. This is why so many poker players go on to succeed in business or thrive when they start working out at the gym. The models of success in poker are based around aggression, competition and individualism. To apply this model to your relationships with the opposite sex is to miss the point of those relationships in the first place. Women are not a game waiting to be beaten for the maximum expectation. A relationship is not a zero sum game. At the risk of being very cheesy it’s a game at which both people should be winners! Okay that is cheesy! But you get my meaning! 

The right reasons

Don’t see a girl as something to be ticked off a list like a SCOOP title or a PocketFives badge. Cultivate friendships, not just conquests. The individualism of the gambling lifestyle can be enriched not just by the companionship of having a girlfriend, but also by having female friends. Learn from your partner and don’t just view them as a handy accoutrement. It’s nice to step into the all-male bubble once in a while, but a world without women is not the place you want to set up home. 

Lessons learned

I grew up watching TV during a golden era of sports commentating. The airwaves were still graced by the likes of Brian Moore, John Motson and Richie Benaud and everyone’s viewing experience was enhanced by being in the company of such enthusiastic hosts. 


In Joe Stapleton and James Hartigan poker has a commentary team becoming every bit as iconic as those greats. Earlier this month I was a guest analyst on one of their live shows on Sky Poker. Five hours on the airwaves was a daunting proposition, but with ‘Stapes and Hartigan’ the time flew past. To see such professionalism up close was a true pleasure.

This duo strike a fantastic balance between accessible analysis and good humour. They’ll soon be as synonymous with poker broadcasting as Murray Walker was with Formula 1. 

Sam Grafton writes every month for PokerPlayer magazine, available online here.

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