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Chutzpah & Hearts: MARTHA FRANKEL,
Author of Hats & Eyeglasses

SS: Some of the online players are math, statistic and odds masters. They’re playing the stats and they’re winning.

: All these kids who are writing and saying, “Online poker paid for my college”? I don’t believe them. Somebody for whom that’s true, they won 150 grand and paid off the IRS? They’d write a book about it. I don’t believe there’s a lot of them.

SS: If you enter the poker world and you know the odds but you don’t know anything about money management, or emotional control, or you get bored and are sick of folding hands and want action — you’re going to fuck up. There just aren’t that many people out there that have that combination of skills.

MF: [Health writer] Tara Parker-Pope did a blog about my book in the New York Times, and suddenly there was this clusterfuck of kids saying, “I made all this money and I’m a professional poker player.” There are sites writing about my book and trying to shut me the fuck up.

SS: This country has a Horatio Alger ethos, and poker flies in the face of that. We all know it’s hard work to play poker, but the moralistic stigma is still there.

: Somebody asked me the other day if, when I was a kid, I thought card playing and gambling were bad. And I said, “Are you out of your mind?” Every kid in the neighborhood wanted to be in my house. You could play cards, there was always a gin rummy game going, or a poker game or pinochle. There was a huge jar of change, and if you were a kid in the neighborhood and you came over, my father would give you 100 pennies to get in the game. So, no! It was the opposite.

: What do you think about the way hands are played in movies? I thought Rounders was one of the few that at least tried.

MF: My problem with that movie was that it discounted luck. Who the hell would discount luck? When you’re on a roll, when you’re lucky, there is no skill that could stop you. And when you’re skillful, luck can smack you down.

: The cards are going to fall?

MF: The cards are going to fall. If you keep track of your wins and losses, and you’re being really honest with yourself, you’ll go through a month when you’re losing, and then all of a sudden you start winning every game. There is an ebb and flow to it. I keep a calendar in my office to write down every week what I win or lose. I feel like it’s very important, after the lying that I went through with this, to be very honest.

SS: Also because then you won’t lie to yourself, which is what poker players do.

: When I started playing online, I started lying about it, about everything. To everyone. It so freaked me out. So now I just write it in big letters on the calendar. My mother told me at the end of a game she’d once won 12 bucks and my aunt won five and they went around the table and my mother figured out there was positive 18. And she said: “There must be a hole in this table.” [Laughs]

SS: So you would be for more online gambling regulation?

MF: Yeah. That’s all I care about. I don’t want people to collude, and I think we are going to have to deal with the kid thing. Listen, Buster Heller, my dog, got a credit card offer yesterday. Guaranteed $3,000 credit line. [Laughs] Right before the book came out, my publicist called one of the biggest compulsive gambling specialists in the world and said, “Could we get you and Martha on a program together?” He asked, “Is she still gambling?” Yes. He said, “Absolutely not.” The book was out four days, the guy emails me and says, “I just read your book and I’d like to talk to you.” So I call him up and he says, “Okay, you’re onto something here.” What he was saying was that he was starting to realize that the 12-step, it doesn’t work for everybody. Gamblers Anonymous, on its best day, says: “We work with 15 percent of people.” What about the other 85 percent who want help?

They say you can’t get help on your own and that you cannot gamble if you want to stop. Then the New York state Conference on Problem Gambling asked if I’d be the keynote speaker. I said, “I don’t think you understand, I still gamble.” She said, “Yeah, we read your book.” I said, “I’m very confused.” And she said, “Oh, everybody’s changing the way we think about addiction.” Now, would I play online poker again? No. Because it did something to me I didn’t like. I tried heroin and didn’t like it because it blanked out emotions. Online poker did the same kind of thing to me.

The surgeon who’s been writing to me, he said the other day, “I can’t afford to buy your book.” The guy is losing a thousand bucks a day. So I said, “What’s your address? I’m sending you one, you’re annoying me.” Then he says, “Well, here’s the truth. It’s not that I can’t afford it, it’s that I don’t want to read it, because I’m not ready to stop. I don’t want to read of anyone’s pain in the same way.” And I got that. I said, “Okay, fair enough, I’m sending it anyway.”

SS: Your book is redemptive. You recognized you shouldn’t go down a certain road, you recovered, and now you can handle your play.

MF: If I’m down at Atlantic City and I’m not doing well, I say, “Okay, time to take a walk on the beach.” That’s what happened to me online. There was no beach. I’m not a chaser. If things aren’t going my way, if I don’t have the cards, I won’t put more money in. Where’s that beach? I need to take a walk on that beach. But I don’t want them to outlaw online poker. Listen, the two worst drugs in the world are legal: alcohol and cigarettes. You can’t get away from those two. It strikes me as funny when anyone says, “Well, that should be illegal.” Gambling is something that has always been around, and always will be done. Addicting young kids to the Internet and to gambling? Wow! What a great idea. Then when they make cigarettes illegal, it won’t matter. These kids will be spending so much money on something they’re already addicted to, you won’t have to addict them.



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