Niman Kenkre left university with the highest honors and after a short stint playing professional football in Iceland returned to the Boston area where he worked for a few employers, including MIT, as an electrical engineer.
In 2003, Niman got interested in online poker and is one of the fortunate, and smart, poker players who made millions of dollars from a single $25 deposit – he decided to turn pro in 2006.
It was a great decision and he turned into a feared online cash game player where he played under the pseudonyms ‘samoleus’ and ‘punketty,’ and his skills were soon noticed by Phil Galfond where he was picked up as one of the original members of the coaching team at Bluefire Poker.
Niman is now a single father living with his eight-year-old son in a suburb of Boston and being a single parent is the subject of this week’s Life Outside of Poker.
How old was your son Sachil when you and your wife decided to get divorced?
“The whole divorce, and split, took a long period of time but from the time we began the process of splitting up, I believe it began when he was 2-3 years old, so it’s been five years now. We have been in separate places for 4 years and the divorce has been final for 3 years now.”
How complicated is the divorce process for an online poker player?
“It was tortuous and that’s why it took so long. It was so drawn out and expensive. I don’t have a W2 and my income is very different from year to year. The financial aspect was very difficult when determining alimony and division of assets.
“My income was extremely high in 2005-2007 but around 2008 it dropped off quite a bit for quite a few years and the reason for that was some combination of me playing less, not playing with a clear mind because of the divorce and the games were getting tougher.
“Those factors led to a very difficult sort of management process of our divorce because my ex wife wanted to focus on the first factor, which was that my early income was repeatable and I was only earning less because I wasn’t putting in the hours, and I was arguing that I couldn’t earn that amount of money now because the games were different. So it was tough trying to pin down my projected income.
“To make matters worse we had an older judge who had some difficulties accepting the concept of a poker player as a profession. It was certainly a complicated process from a financial settlement standpoint. But if you also throw in the fact that we had a custody dispute I cannot overstate how difficult the process was. There was basically a lot of people involved in the decision making process that had no clue about the poker landscape, making it almost impossible to communicate this to the authorities in hand.”
It’s strange to find a single father with full custody following a divorce. How did this happen?
“I am actually in a very fortunate position as an online poker player. It’s a good life, but I have never put a premium on making as much money as I could. I always used that medium of success to create a great relationship and spend time with my son. When he was very young I was always the one who looked after him when he was sick and took time off work to look after him and take him to places. So as he grew so did our bond and relationship. I have always had a very strong bond with my son.
“I mentioned earlier that I was unhappy about the way the authorities handled the financial settlement, but I was very happy with the custody battle. Typically, the mother will get custody in such cases, so I was happy that the judge was able to look outside of the box to see that I was in the more stable, and strong position to raise our child.
“So I have full custody and his mother sees him one day per week and every alternating weekend. My wife chose to continue to work for her own social reasons and her sense of accomplishment. As an online poker player I put in 30-35hrs per week, but it left me with a lot of time to spend, and I fit that around my family and son’s schedule and I maximized that time with him. I am really grateful for online poker – not just the financial aspect but the flexibility to spend time with my son, and become the primary player when it came to childcare and building that bond that allowed me to have custody and continue that relationship today.”
It’s likely that you would have lost custody if you had been an electrical engineer of footballer?
“Not a day goes buy when I don’t think about that and realize how lucky I am. I never take that for granted. There is nothing wrong with my ex wife as a mother – she is a fine mother – had I still been an electrical engineer at MIT where I worked 50-55hr week job, there is absolutely no possibility that I would have had custody of Sachil.
“Online poker gave me the ability to work from home and set my own hours, and I took advantage of that time to spend with my son. I don’t know what my relationship would be like if I only saw him once a week; it’s unthinkable because my whole life revolves around my son. We all adjust to our situation in life, but it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario had I not had poker, and Sachil would be living full time with his Mum, so I am very grateful for the way things have worked out.
“We probably could have gotten divorced a couple of years earlier than we did. The reason we waited as long as we did was because both of us really didn’t want to bring Sachil up in a broken household. We always thought that no matter how bad things were between us Sachil would grow up better with two parents.
“Now I know that it’s much better raising a child in two different houses where he’s loved, where the parent is happy; where he can be in a pleasant atmosphere to cultivate his passion and interests. Instead of a two parent home where everyone is arguing, or it’s an icebox and nobody talking.
“Ideally, the best case scenario is a two parent household where they love each other, but if that can’t work the best approach is to have two households that are both offering love and comfort for the child.”
What are some of the biggest difficulties you face trying to earn money as a poker player and being a single father?
“The way it affects a single father is you have to be sure to leave work at work. If you go out there and lose $45k in a day and come back and try and play with your son, with that on your mind, it will be tough. If you let your mood be dictated by what happens in poker it will spill over into your personal life. This is tough with a partner, but even worse with a child.
“The second aspect was that in order to take care of my son I only played during the day when he as at school, Mon-Fri, so I gave up playing in the evenings and at the weekends which was the most profitable times.”
Sometimes you need a partner to vent after a day at work. It must be difficult not to have that outlet?
“One of the most important things for a poker player is to have a partner who can understand poker. The detail doesn’t matter, but the support when things are going bad is crucial, and of course you cannot have that dynamic with your son. It forces you to be stronger and deal with the negative feelings internally and it’s something that’s difficult to do and we all have our thresholds, but having been a poker player full time for eight years you get used to this dynamic after a while.
“It’s been more difficult for me in recent years because we don’t have online poker in the US so I play very part time. I play every other weekend when my son is with his mother, and even then I take the fall and spring completely off. So I am making my income playing poker 30-35 days per year – so if I have a bad weekend it’s really hard to stay strong mentally.”
Does your son understand what you do for a living and how does he feel about that?
“He’s old enough now and knows what I do for a living. I mentioned earlier that I take the fall and the spring off. This is because I have a second job as a football coach. My son plays in an elite club for the best young players in the New England area and I am a coach at that club. I coach two different teams and the reason was to stay connected to Sachil and his football.
“When I speak to him about the job I don’t hide the fact that I am a poker player but I also emphasize that I am a football coach and that helps the conversation.”
My Mother always told me that I would never meet another woman because as a divorcee I now have baggage. How difficult has it been for you to find new relationships as a single father?
“That has been tremendously difficult – until recently – I am happy in a relationship at the moment. It took years before I was able to have anything close to a successful relationship. Being a poker player is not an easy thing to present to someone who is not in the industry, I have an ex wife, I am divorced, and I have a son who lives with me. It’s difficult to present that to women.
“Then after Black Friday it got worse. I had to take the little time away from my son and use it to earn money. It was very difficult, much more so than I ever imagined it would be. When I was younger I enjoyed my life, dated a lot of women and the whole process of relationships was fun, easy, enjoyable and never stressful. In the last four years it has been tremendously difficult. I always thought once I was emotionally ready to start dating again it would be very easy for me, but it didn’t work out that way.”
What would your one piece of advice be to a couple, with children, who are considering divorce?
“One of the most difficult things for two partners to decide is when the time is right to throw in the towel? The advice I would have, initially, would be don’t be so quick to give up. It could be a phase; you can change, adapt, go to counseling, and find ways to solve the problems you have in your marriage. So be sure that the marriage cannot be saved, because if it can, bringing a child up with loving parents is the best scenario.
“On the other hand you don’t want to stay in just to stay in. In previous generations it was common for people to stay in very bad marriages for the sake of the children, but I have discovered it really is not a good thing for the children to stay in a relationship like this.
“So don’t give up too quickly, but don’t say in too long either. Do the right things for the children.”
What piece of advice would you give to would be single fathers?
“Be sure you make the most of your contact with your children. Make sure you call them and do things with them. In the end we can do whatever we do with our lives. Enjoy our profession, friends, good meal, pint, but at the end of the day it’s our relationships that bring us the greatest fulfillment, and there is no stronger bond than that of parent and child. I would say just because things are difficult logistically don’t give up having a strong relationship with your children.”