Can you explain to our readers what the title Hats & Eyeglasses means?
Well, when I was a kid one of my uncles said that when he was playing poker. He said, “I have hats and eyeglasses” and all the other men like murmured and sighed. … He told me that it meant that when a ship goes down all that floats to the surface is hats and eyeglasses, that he had crap. So it became code in our family for when we were doing badly, but especially when you were doing badly in gambling.
You grew up in a household in New York where there were a lot of games going on, poker, mahjong …
Yeah, everything, pinochle, knock rummy. My parents and their friends and we kids played cards all the time, for money.
You learned a lot from your father and some of his friends, right?
I did; I loved watching the men. I loved watching the way they were with each other when they played.
So you were no stranger to poker, but at some point you went off and had a career as a journalist.
Yeah, I left poker and had a life for a long time. (laughs) That was unusual. I was a celebrity journalist. I wrote for big magazines, Cosmo, Redbook … and went around the world and interviewed everyone from Robert De Niro and Anne Rice to Anthony Hopkins and Sean Penn. I sort of stayed away from gambling for a long, long time.
You mentioned celebrity interviews. One of our favorite parts in the book is when you go to Hollywood to interview Jennifer Beals from Flashdance and you get her to go to Hollywood Park with you and you interview her while playing stud.
Yeah, while I’m playing poker she’s just sitting behind me holding the tape recorder, ’cause she’s such a great girl. I was just so interested in the poker, and I thought we’d just have a good time, and we did. It was a lot of fun. … I said do you want to do it out at Hollywood Park and she said, “Yeah, I’d love to see what it’s like.” So we went out there and did it together.
You got back into poker as a result of an assignment. Can you explain how that happened?
Yeah, I met this guy named Randy Finch who’s a producer who lives in Sarasota. He wanted to write a screenplay about the circus. So I came to Sarasota and we did tons of research because that’s the winter home of Ringling. … We had it optioned and decided to write another screenplay. And this one was about two women who pull a scam and fall in love with one of the victims. And we thought the scam should have to do with poker. So I went off to do the research because I’m the research girl.
And the research got very extensive.
I had a cousin who was a professional player who lives in Florida. I went down and he taught me the basics. But if you want to play poker you really need to play it. So I asked my best friend to take me to his game and the minute I walked into that room I just sort of fell in love with the players and the whole idea of it; it felt like coming home. The cigarette smell, and men just being abrupt with each other, I just loved it. So I wanted to teach myself how to play, so I did what I do. I’m a little obsessive. I thought the best way for me to learn poker was to deal out endless amounts of hands, and so that’s what I did for about a year. And I started doing really, really good at my local game. I started playing in the casinos and doing really well. … I had a lot going on.
Most poker players these days get their start playing online and then transition into live play. You’re the exact opposite.
I know, and I got unhinged very quickly. … Immediately I didn’t do well. Like, if I took up skiing, and the first night down I broke my arm. I probably wouldn’t go to the top of the lift again. But online poker was not like that for me. I broke my arm the first night and then I went down the next night and broke another arm, and just kept saying I’m sure there’s other limbs I can find somewhere.
It sounds like this was bad from Day 1.
It was bad from Day 1 and it didn’t get better, and I kept doing it for 18 months.
And then you made a common mistake and played higher to try to get even.
Right. I think I say in the book “I go to $10-$20 hold’em; it makes perfect sense,” because, of course, it didn’t make any sense. But I was so far gone. When I gambled I never hid it from anyone. … I was not one of those gamblers … I never lied about it. The minute I lost online I lied about it. And that was a big tip-off to me that things were not good.
Do you think it was the convenience factor?
No, I think it was the opposite. I think it was because I wasn’t playing against real people and so I had no idea what was going on. And I was angry and on tilt all the time.
Well there’s one particular hand you talk about in the book when you’re trying to get your losses back. You had pocket kings in a hold’em game and you flopped a set of kings with one diamond on the board. …
And then runner-runner diamond and I get beat by a guy who’s got like 5D6D. And I went nuts. I went nuts! But if that happened to me in real life, if that happened to me in a casino, you would absolutely never know that I thought the guy was a schmuck and that I was upset. I have a great poker face and that’s not the way I operate.
You’re very candid in this book.
You know I live in a little town and I can barely leave my house anymore (laughs). … There’s a lot of sex in the beginning of the book … there was a point that I thought I really don’t need to tell this, but I did, because it comes to who I am, and who I was. There were a lot of things in my life I could’ve gotten addicted to. I dabbled in drugs, and I don’t lie about that in the book. But nothing ever did that to me until I started playing online.
There’s a scene in the book where you’re talking with some G.A. people and you mention that you still play in your Wednesday night game, though you’ve given up online poker. And one of them gets very angry and says you can’t do that. Do you feel the one-size-fits-all-G.A. approach is really valuable for people who maybe have a problem with certain parts of gambling but at the same time they can still control and enjoy it?
Here’s the most interesting thing: (Within three weeks of the book being released I was) booked to speak at three conferences about problem gambling, because they’re starting to realize that this one-size-fits-all thing of all or nothing is not working. If they’re saying they’re having a 15 percent success rate, what about the other 85 percent of us?
Things are going to have to change. … I’m hearing from addiction specialists who are saying what I’m saying makes perfect sense. You can play recreationally and have fun, but you can’t play online. … I’m so over it now.
Was it therapeutic to write this?
No, I had stopped gambling online a long time ago but I never told anyone. No one. And I lost tens of thousands of dollars. And then I sold the book and I had a year to write it, and I didn’t write it. Because I was too afraid because I didn’t know how I was going to tell my husband and my family and my friends. … then my agent told me they were going to drop me. So I wrote it in six months and still didn’t tell anyone. The way I told them was to give them the manuscript.