Kay Knows Poker


When Kay and I met, it was like one of those no-limit hands where both players get all in so fast you can hardly tell who bet and who called. One year later we had commingled everything except for books and tools, and then those got mixed together, and the next natural step was marriage. That was in 2005. Here’s what I wrote back then about her and us:

Kay did not pass through the poker universe on her way to me. She does not play poker and she never has. Me? I play poker, I think poker, and I write poker. The rest of the time, I’m with Kay. That’s when I talk poker. She calls it my “blur blur.”

Not only does Kay listen to my blur blur, she gets it, and then she bounces it back at me, simplified, clarified, as only a non-player could. Her choicest words become memes, if I can catch them with my pen.

In addition to all the blur blur, Kay has been exposed to many hours of what she calls “shouting.” That’s when I am on the phone with a poker player, engaged in full-lingo hand analyses. Of course I do not think I am shouting. I think I am merely speaking with enthusiasm. When I hang up, if she says, “Who were you shouting at today?” we both chuckle, and I realize maybe I got a little loud.

Between the blur blur and the shouting, Kay has learned so much about poker that she can fill in for me now. This one time my buddy Alex took a supremely huge bad beat at the worst possible time in the worst possible game against the worst possible player and it was just ugly. So ugly that he called me to tell me about it. Kay answered the phone.

“Hi Kay, it’s Alex. Tommy home?”

“No. He’s out.”

Alex sighed. “Man. You would not believe what just happened. I had pocket aces and this guy who had been killing me all night called three cold and…”

It did not matter to either of them that the strategy points of the hand would be lost on Kay. Alex went ahead and detailed every bloody blow of his bad beat story, as if he were talking to me. Kay stepped in and played my role flawlessly by making sympathetic sounds at the appropriate times.

Kay does not look like Howard Cosell. But she resembles him in other ways. Kay is a poker expert in the same way that Howard Cosell was a boxing expert. Howard knew the game, he knew the business, he knew the language, and he knew the people. But he didn’t box. He lived inside the arena, but outside the ropes. And that’s where Kay lives, in relation to poker, by living with me.

Kay On Readiness

I was about to go play poker at a local casino. I hadn’t slept all that well but I had showered and walked and I had convinced myself that I was good to go. I was at the door, saying goodbye to Kay, when this big yawn opened up on my face.

Kay said, “Are you sure you want to go play right now?”

And I’m like, “Yes.”

And she said, “Well, of course you know if you are ready or not. I’m just saying, it’s never wrong to not play.”

      It’s never wrong to not play.

      It’s never wrong to not play.

I let those words melt over me for a second. Then I walked to my desk and wrote them down, and stayed home.

Kay on Poker, Life, and Everything

It was Saturday morning. Kay came home full of glee and said, “I gave some poker advice today!”

I knew where she had been, at the KQED pledge drive, volunteering, answering phones. I couldn’t help but wonder what advice she had given, and how the opportunity had come up to give it. “Thank you for donating to public radio,” I could hear her say. “And while I have you on the phone, I was wondering if I might be so bold as to suggest that you put a little more thought into your game selection.”

“Well c’mon,” I said. “Let’s hear it!”

“In between phone calls,” she said, “I was chit-chatting with the other workers. They were mostly men. We were talking about what our spouses do for a living. I told them that my husband is a professional poker player and as usual, there were questions.

“One man said, ‘I bet you’re a pretty good poker player yourself. Can you give us some pointers?’

“When I told him that I don’t play poker, he said, ‘Surely there must be something about poker that you’ve picked up from living with a pro. Isn’t there any advice you can give us?’

“By now there were ten people craning in on our little chat. I had the floor. And I had to think of something wise and valuable to tell these people. Then out came my answer.

“‘Play fewer hands,’ I said.”

Then Kay looked at me. “Right?”

She was asking me if I thought she had given good advice. She had taken all the grandest truths of the ages and filtered them down and packaged them up into three perfect words. And she wanted to know how I felt about it.

I reached for a pen, and she knew.


2018 Coaching Update: I’m doing video coaching now on whatever ails you — from betting problems and tilt issues to bad quitting and no patience. For more details and to schedule a call, click here.


Add Comment