How Online Poker Can Become a Wellness Mechanism, but Moderation is Key!
By: Janet Oslet
Not medically reviewed by Dr. Erin Stair
The title probably made some of you grasp your pearls, but stay with me.
Wherever you happen to be in the world, the last 18 months have been nothing short of challenging. The unprecedented environment created by the worldwide pandemic has left an indelible mark on people and presented challenges that have rarely been seen on such a widespread level. People have been unable to work, confined to their homes, and their livelihoods have been threatened. Across all walks of life, 2020 and early 2021 have presented wellness obstacles that have been difficult to overcome.
Some people are still suffering to this day, as explored in our article ‘Who Becomes a COVID Long Hauler?’ Just because the pandemic seems to be easing and vaccinations are in place, the impact on our health and wellbeing is not to be underestimated, even now. Like a papercut, the wound heals, but the scars stay.
The importance of maintaining some kind of wellness routine during the pandemic can not be understated. The US Government put out a guide to coping with all the external variables people were unable to control. This included things like exercise, healthy eating, plenty of sleep and social interactions. Oddly, online poker was not, but that is where journalist Drew Millard found his solace. Writing for GQ.com, Millard explains how he found his way into online poker as a method of coping with the restrictions imposed on the US population. In theory, it ticks one of the boxes suggested by the government: there’s undoubtedly social interaction, and that was positive at a time when physical meetups were banned or limited.
Millard turned to poker after being laid off from his job and eventually found an uplifting message hidden within the randomness of the hands he was dealt. “Around the time I got bounced from a tournament after going all-in on pocket aces, I began to consider that maybe getting laid off wasn’t my fault,” he wrote. “It’s not like I took that job knowing that a global pandemic would send the economy into a death spiral; maybe taking that job was a good bet that fell victim to an unlucky draw.”
Whilst he found a metaphorical comfort in the game, he also spoke of the potential drawbacks: “Learning poker costs money,” he added. “But that’s a good thing. When there’s a financial penalty, even a small one, attached to making a mistake, the psychological impact is profound.” Technically, that isn’t true. Getting experience does cost you money, but learning the game can be easy to do for free. Learning the lingo using the poker terms guide on Poker.org, and ensuring you understand hand rankings and tactics, can all be done for free online. That’s the beauty of online poker as a process – it costs nothing.
Maria Konnikova, a New York-based writer, explains how playing online poker isn’t about money at all, but the process one goes through whilst indulging is therapeutic and could help keep someone confined to their home sharp and motivated. “Poker isn’t about money,” she says. “It’s about the process. It’s about decision-making. It’s about skill. That’s what makes the game beautiful.” She should know – after her luck turned sour, she explored the world of poker and quickly went from complete novice to finishing in the money at the prestigious World Series of Poker.
After losing a hand she should have won and being eliminated from a tournament as the bubble girl, the last placed player not to win money, she found a wellness lesson that you can take away even without picking up a deck of cards. “I realized just how much poker might teach me about one of the single most important tools in our mental arsenal: emotional resilience,” she wrote on The Guardian. “How we frame something affects not just our thinking but our emotional state. It may seem a small deal, but the words we select – the ones we filter out and the ones we eventually choose to put forward – are a mirror to our thinking.”
Yes, there are wellness pitfalls associated with online poker, and anyone with a history of addiction should probably not engage. Still, when one studies the game correctly and understands its nature, there are also plenty of excellent opportunities to learn and grow. Like any pastime, done in moderation and with an understanding of your limits, it can be hugely beneficial, perhaps more so than you have ever given it credit for.