I don’t remember what it was that first turned me on to online poker. Perhaps it was the fact that I lived with a guy who was making thousands of dollars by the day. Or maybe it was the allure of being able to wake up late and start work at 3 p.m. Or was it a love for the game? I don’t know.
I started “the grind” in 2009, just in time for the poker boom. You know, that golden age of televised tournaments and huge online fields of players who frankly didn’t have a clue what to do. Trying to replicate their favorite players on TV, millions of hopefuls flocked to the digital tables of PokerStars to see if they could end the night a little richer.
The difference between long-term winning and losing players in poker is very simple. Winning players know the game inside out. They understand the statistics behind the cards and make solid decisions grounded in mathematics and logic. Losing players don’t. They make decisions based on emotion and irrational impulse at best and usually, play for fun. The pros get their income, and the recreational players get their entertainment and the occasional opportunity to win big.
Just to clarify, poker is the only casino game that is possible to beat using a skill because it is the only game that is played against other players rather than the house. There is another element, known to pros as statistical variance , but this can be overcome in the long run by making decisions that are more profitable than the opponents. Games like roulette, on the other hand, are different, and the house always has an edge because of the “0”’ (and the “00” in the American version ). I can, and did, make a living playing poker for a good few years.
In those golden years, my close friend and I would spend the summer’s days relaxing in parks, and the evenings listening to music and making money playing a game that we loved. We would order pizza, discuss hands, and revel in the ups and downs of hands, and usually walk away at the end of the week with decent money to show for it. It was perfect!
I can recall some exciting moments during those years. One morning we fired up a few games to kill some time, and not even two hours later, I was sitting there wondering what to do with the thousand dollars I had just pumped from a tourney. Another time, I was still alive in a game at 4 a.m., playing a Sunday major tournament with the 1 st prize of around $20K. I eventually finished in a disappointing 11 th place out of several thousand entrants. Tired beyond measure, I decided to sleep on it, and in the morning, the $1.7K cancellation prize seemed pretty neat!
But there were bad times, too. Oh, there were bad times. Poker has similarities to investments . Sometimes it’s all happening, and at other times you wouldn’t wish your situation on your worst enemy. Statistical variance is something else, and when you are at her mercy, there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to try to continue to play a sound, logical, mathematical game without letting your emotions get the better of you. Easier said than done when you are late with rent payments!
Thankfully, I never got in any serious trouble, or if I did, my friend would bail me out. But the dream lifestyle we had built for ourselves was starting to seem like more of a nightmare. Late nights and entire days without seeing the sun, 10-hour long work shifts without budging from the screen of a laptop, and an income that was, although sustainable, entirely unpredictable. I had dodged the 9-5 and landed with something worse. The initial poker boom started to reside and died a formal death on Black Friday . The players got better, too. Those who lost too much walked away. Those who stayed learned how to survive. As that was the natural order of things. I had to make my exit.
Yet it wasn’t the losses that I was running away from. It was the lifestyle of freedom that had become an invisible prison. Where was my love for the game? Had it left when I realized I couldn’t live my whole life eating pizza every night?
Here, dear reader is where I impart my wisdom. If you want to make changes, then you have to make it happen. Don’t sit there waiting for someone to throw you a rope. You could wait your whole life and the rope might still not be long enough. If you feel that tension, the undeniable feeling that you want out, then now is the time to seize the moment as an opportunity.
I have always had a love for writing. I don’t know when it started. It could have been when I first wrote a story about a digested cheeseburger in school (they wouldn’t do that now —it wouldn’t be vegan-friendly), or it could have been earlier — maybe when I read Biff, Chip, and Kipper for the first time. By the time I was an adult (by the state’s definition, not my own) I found that I already had the dexterity of an ink-ninja wielding his pen like a sword. I started to write journals, short stories, poems, idiotic ideology thinly veiled as sophisticated philosophy, and whatever I could get my brain stuck into really. I never really thought that writing could be a way of making money — a job even.
Yet at this critical moment in my life, a moment that I believe we all go through in some way or another, I found myself making an instinctual choice. A decision for mental survival. I turned my hand to writing and left the chips and poker tables behind. It wasn’t easy. At first, I landed clients who were willing to pay peanuts. A few measly dollars for articles that took me hours to complete. I was scraping by.
I could have returned to poker at any minute. My account was still there, as were the players and the games. I could switch it back on and go again. It would be comfortable in a lot of ways. I know what to do. I know how to do it. I could make more than a few measly dollars for my time there. But my mind was firm, unwilling to entertain the idea of going back. “I would rather work for 14 hours a day doing something I love than spend another second as a poker pro,” it told me.
After a while, my new-found profession improved considerably. I started to gauge my own value and worth. I realized why people should pay for my writing, and why I deserve to earn a decent living. When I respected myself and my talents, doors opened up to work with people who felt the same, and who were willing and able to pay a professional rate. Persistence paid off.
Life can seem set in stone, but what we need to understand is that we are the ones who pour the concrete. We decide that our path is laid out and that we must follow it. We walk in a straight line, moving only where external forces push us, and we call it destiny.
If our route serves us well and makes us happy then we should stay on it. If it begins to cause us suffering, and our dreams become nightmares, we should set ourselves the challenge of change and growth. Even if it requires twice as much effort. The results are worth it in the end.