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by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Jul 15, 2020

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Gavin GriffinMy home poker room in San Diego County, California has re-opened as part of the Stage 3 re-opening process. This past weekend was the first opportunity for me to play there and I declined. I just wasn’t quite ready yet. I wanted to give them some time to get protocols in place so I would feel comfortable spending time there.

Now, in the post-Covid casino environment, you are not allowed to eat food at the table while playing. If you want to eat, you must take a break from the poker table to go to another room for food. Besides just not having people coughing or sneezing near your food and not cross-contaminating the food and chips and cards with the germs on your hands, it’s just a good idea to have food away from the table. Less guacamole on the table, less drinks being spilled on the felt, so many things are improved by this policy. Sure, it’s less convenient and requires me to miss some hands if I want to eat, but it’s a small price to pay for a healthier environment.

The other major policy changes are more important than the food policy. Everyone is getting their temperature scanned as they come in. This will help to weed out those that are symptomatic and not just with COVID-19. I’m sure that, even before this pandemic, lots of people would come in to play poker at casinos with a fever, a cold, a runny nose, etc. and perhaps screening for those things will cut down on the spread of diseases and viruses from contact at a poker room.

Of course, as we now know, it’s possible to carry and spread COVID-19 while still being asymptomatic. Since people like this won’t show any symptoms like fever or coughing, they are hard to detect and that’s where the final precaution comes in. The casino where I regularly play is requiring face masks at all times while in the facility and not eating. For some reason, the wearing of face masks has been a point of contention in our society. People in my home town in Orange County, California have gone on campaigns to harass people who wear face coverings to protect themselves and their neighbors from the spread of this deadly virus and it’s apparently a political statement to want to prevent the spread of this disease. Please, for your sake, your family’s sake, and your neighbor’s sake, wear a mask to help with this problem.

So, it’s been three months or so since I last played a hand of poker, and I’m a little nervous about it to be perfectly honest. I don’t think I’ve lost all of my poker knowledge or anything, it’s just that my life has been poker-free for so long, I’m not sure how all of the extra anxiety that has crept into my life will affect my ability to play my best during an entire session of poker. So, I’ll probably set a smaller stop-loss than I usually would on a normal night of poker and try to be more cognizant of how I’m feeling while I play.

For most of my life, I’ve been pretty anxiety free. It’s been a useful thing as a poker player and helped me to do a good job of controlling tilt in my life. However, since having kids and especially since COVID-19, anxiety has become a large part of my everyday life and I have to be honest with myself about how that will affect me as a poker player. I’ll probably keep my sessions shorter for the near future to compensate for that fact.

People have asked me about lots of things related to being a professional poker player in the past and when they tell me they don’t think they could do what I do because they’re not good at poker, I am quick to point something out: It’s not particularly hard to learn how to be good at poker. It’s a dirty secret in our industry, I know, but it’s the truth. I can teach almost anyone who is willing to learn how to be good at poker and how to think about poker in such a way that they won’t need me to teach them going forward because they’ll know how to improve on their own. The real skills that cause a poker player to excel as a professional are non-poker skills. Avoiding pit games, bankroll management, game selection, and tilt-control are the most essential skills any poker player needs. These things can also be learned and, to me, tilt-control is the one that requires a fully different way of thinking to figure out. You must be willing to leave a good game because your mindset is bad. You must be willing to not play in the first place if you can’t get to the right place mentally. Most of all, you have to understand the things that cause you to lose emotional control and recognize when those issues are creeping in to how you play and adjust accordingly.

I have ways to make sure I do that and I will be doing my best to use those auxiliary skills to adjust to this new poker world we are inhabiting. I hope you can find your way to continue playing this great game of ours and, if you don’t feel comfortable going to a casino to play right now, make sure you understand that it’s ok for you to have some time off from poker. It will still be here when you’re ready. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG