The Poker-Player’s Wife

Ester: Would you care to introduce yourself briefly?

Brigid: I’m Brigid, former college roommate of Ester. I am a statistician married to a poker player, Keith, and living with two small kids in the Midwest.

Ester: Can you unpack what it means to be married to a poker player? Is he a statistician too? Does he play professionally?

Brigid: We were both math majors in college. After that, we both got jobs in applied math and statistics. He hated office work, I thought it was okay. I went to grad school, he left his job and moved to Vegas.

It’s hard to define what it means to play professionally. For the first few years, it was going to a casino and playing for as long as he cared to play, and his poker winnings were his income.

Then for a few years in Los Angeles, he was employed by a casino as a “poker prop,” which meant that he still played with his own money — kept his winnings, ate any losses — but played the hours and the games that the casino wanted him to play. Their objective was to always have games going. Currently, he plays tournaments more than cash games. So it’s a fixed schedule around the tournaments he’s interested in playing and the winnings are more variable.

Ester: Have you ever applied your math skills to the poker table? Does the magic work for you too?

Brigid: While I might have the understanding of probability, I do not have the “go for the jugular (sp?)” instinct that is required to be really profitable. I also get bored and nervous.

Ester: Ha! Yeah, I understand that. So you two have been able to make a go of this — with him playing poker and you working white-collar jobs — in several different places around the country, not merely in Vegas?

Brigid: Yes. We’ve always had one steady income and insurance. And as a poker pro, Keith sets his own schedule and does not have to answer to anybody. If a kid is sick or if it has been a rough night with an infant, he has the flexibility not to play. I would not be comfortable with the arrangement if he weren’t keeping careful records (required for tax-purposes, but also good for assessing the sustainability of a poker career!). It’s worked well and makes for interesting conversations.

Ester: I’ll bet! How are poker winnings taxed?

Brigid: Um, pretty highly? Keith does our taxes. I think it’s not dissimilar from lottery winnings, though. I am likely married to the rare poker player who is vigilant about paying taxes.

Ester: You also seem to be married to the rare poker player who values family and domesticity and living in Ohio.

Brigid: I think so! We’ve been lucky to find good, reasonably affordable daycare. Keith’s tournament schedule means he has time at home without kids and grocery shopping and laundry typically fall to him. Which means that evenings and weekends when he doesn’t have tournaments are times when we can just hang out with the kids. And if he does have a tournament, it means I’m not dragging two kids through the grocery store.

Basically, he’d be happy to never have an office job again. I think there are a lot of freelancers out there who have similar mentalities. Living in Ohio means a cheaper cost of living. So if he has a few months without a tournament win, we can sustain that.

Ester: Absolutely. Does it cause either of you stress or do you manage to be relatively calm about waiting for the next win?

Brigid: Keeping records of play and having a background in statistics goes a long way towards understanding what kind of lull is to be expected vs. what kind of lull says you’re not playing skillfully enough to win.

Ester: But in that case, what’s the answer? To hone those skills, is there anything he can do besides keep playing?

Brigid: Yes. There’s tons to read, reflect on, simulate to think about whether or not your poker decisions were optimal. So there are ways to improve away from the cards. And that serious approach to poker is a large part of what makes a poker career sustainable. So we are people who do not stress out very much. We have sufficient savings to not stress out, which is a huge luxury.

Ester: Can I ask about the nitty gritty? Like, what’s a typical, good tournament win?

Brigid: Cleveland is not a big poker city, but the small tournaments can pay hundreds to maybe two thousand. Larger tournaments (which occur about once/month) will pay maybe $15,000 to first place and then lesser but still large amounts to maybe top 15? The big Vegas tournaments are a whole different league.

Ester: I would imagine. Does he have to wear a tux? Can he deduct James Bond-wear and dry cleaning as business expenses?

Brigid: He’s been told he has a “math teacher” look to him. So I think he looks like a rumpled white guy in his early 30s. I like this tux idea.

Ester: He’d look super classy. But perhaps he prefers to sneak up on his opponents, use the rumpled clothes as part of his strategy.

Brigid: It’s worked so far.

Ester: What’s the strangest thing about being married to and raising children with a professional poker player?

Brigid: My older son is 4 and he knows that dad works at a casino and sometimes his work takes 2 hours (bad day) and sometimes it takes 14 hours (good, but long day). I wonder if, as he enters grade school, this will be pointed out as something odd.

Ester: Ha! Yeah. Do you worry at all about the example — that your sons will grow up thinking it’s normal to play games for money, or to do something you love? Or do you hope that’s what they’ll grow up thinking?

Brigid: That’s tough to answer. I think being told to do what you love can be tricky. I think Keith would say that poker is more like interesting work: it is challenging and provides some income and allows him flexibility to spend time with people he loves and doing things he’s passionate about.

I feel the same way about my fairly standard white-collar jobs. They’ve provided a paycheck and a reasonable schedule.

Ester: So you don’t feel resentful, like he’s getting to have fun while you take care of the daily drudgery, woman-style?

Brigid: He takes care of enough daily drudgery. Would the resentfulness be woman-style? or the drudgery?

Ester: Oh, both, I guess. Not that it seems like you suffer from either. It seems like you’ve found an arrangement that works for you both.

Brigid: Yes, I’m coming from a “suck it up, life is pain” point of view at times and he counters with, “You should not be doing anything that makes you miserable.” So we’ve found a nice balance between these approaches to our work lives.

Ester: I’m so glad. Your parents don’t give you any grief, either, for this one less-than-totally-conventional lifestyle choice? Or are you able to stand up for yourself/each other and say, “We’ve got it, thanks”?

Brigid: Early on, I had some conversations with relatives where I had to assure them that Keith’s poker playing was legal. He’s never been an online player, he’s never been playing in underground clubs, etc. My parents were always saying that we should find something we love and see if we can get paid for it. So they’re not in any position to criticize unconventional career paths.

Ester: Any last thoughts?

Brigid: Hmmm, we recognize that this unconventional path would have been much harder to pursue without good jobs, good daycare, a financial cushion, family that would have to take us in if we really went bust. In short, it’s a privileged career path. I think that’s some of the danger around the “do what you love” mantra.

Ester: It definitely helps, if you want to try to DWYL, to marry someone who’s willing to do — and even maybe enjoys doing — something more stable. You get to pool, and thus mitigate, some of the risk. People joke about “marrying rich” but that’s skimming over the heart of the matter, which I think is more like “marry smart.” “Marry strategically.”

Brigid: Now you sound like the Princeton Mom!

Ester: Oh, I basically am the Princeton Mom. Didn’t you know? I’m always throttling sorority girls at top schools, telling them to settle down, think about the FUTURE.

Brigid: They’re not going to be twenty forever!

Ester: If you were going to be twenty forever, what would you do? I remember you at 20. I don’t think you were enjoying it that much.

Brigid: No, I was spending way too much time on schoolwork. Far too little time on things more illicit.

Ester: And look where it got you, nerd. Married to the poker-playing man of your dreams.

Brigid: Yup! And I met him in college, so I guess the Princeton Mom had a point. She’d be so proud of us both!

Ester: Yikes! Shh! *end transmission*

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