I dedicate this next post to all of those who feel like they took their shot and missed:
I have recently reached an epiphany. Poker is only a microcosm of the rat race we call life. The game is simply not beatable, as you will eventually find out. The most breathtaking example of this can be found in Dusty "Leatherass" Schmidt's most recent blog entry chronicling his triumphant exit as one of the world's most legendary grinders. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Dusty is a lead instructor at Stoxpoker.com who has made over $2,500,000 in a storied poker career, with almost all of that in just the last two years alone. However, despite all of the money he has made and continues to make, Dusty says he has come to loathe this game. After all, he says, it was never about the money, but rather, the desire to win at all costs. Once a rising professional golfer, his career was abruptly cut short when he suffered a heart attack at the age of 22. In order to fill his competitive drive, he quickly took to the game of online poker. He truly obsessed over the game and slaved away to the top, only to find that 100,000 hand flatline stretches eventually nearly broke his spirit.
I once understood how he felt. Though never by any means a baller, I have always made far more money than my friends sitting alone in my apartment and toiling away with just a mouse and an unhealthy dose of spite. I have put my fist through walls, pounded away on my desk until I had to scrap it from the lazy sag that developed in the middle, smashed calculators and TV remotes, clocks, poker tables, and even my last printer, among other things. I can't remember the day where I first made $1,000, but I remember the feeling well. It felt like reaching the top of a mountain and finding a solitary paradise at the top. But a few months later the only thing I felt when winning that much was knowing I could sleep well that night. The feeling was gone, but I was still chasing the dragon.
Even though I have almost never had a losing month, there came many a time when I felt that crushing weight smothering my very soul but it became so easy to live the lie that this was the life other people dreamed of, so I must be happy right? But my moods were erratic and my energy levels waned in unison with the fluctuations in my bankroll. I would run hot for days and knew, just KNEW that everything was finally falling into place and I had finally figured out the whole damn thing. Then just like that everything would fall apart and I would be left wondering if I had insulted the Poker Gods with my complete and utter lack of humility and would be promptly hit with a flurry of bonecrushing losses. A day of sleep later and some soul searching would always bring my game back with a fury, but this pattern seemed to keep re-emerging and it slowly drained away my very essence with each new appearance.
Then came last October. My friend Travis "TheDirrty" Rose and I would go partners in our Sunday tournament schedule. Our final stop was the Full Tilt 750k. I was hungover and didn't really care to play, but we had been doing really well in tournaments all year and made this our personal Sunday ritual. I still hadn't even qualified at 3:55 PM and Travis was nowhere to be found. When the phone rang, I finally gave him hell. I didn't even want to be awake and I felt abandoned, but he had only been out coaching his son's flag football game. He even had the gaul to ask, "you still feel like playing?" How dare he?
I'm like "yeah! I've been trying to qualify for this fucking thing for the last 2 hours."
So Travis says, "well ship me some money so I can play a few satellites after I shower up. I'm sitting in my own filth so deep I can smell my own nutsack."
So low and behold, we both enter a satellite and only Travis is the last man standing. But now I feel an energy boost and we are ready to run a train on this tournament. To make a long story short, 9 1/2 hours later, we find ourselves playing heads up at the final table with $80,250 already locked up with our eyes on the 6-figure score that we had fantasized about every single weekend for the past 4 months. The ending was very anticlimactic but poetic nonetheless, and to tell the truth, there was a certain relief to have it done with and be able to celebrate with abandon the score that almost seemed perpetually out of reach.
With enough money now in hand that my most burdensome debt now no longer existed and a score that soon became legend amongst close family and drinking buddies alike, you would think that the story should end here. But of course, that wouldn't be appropriate for The Small Stakes Hero.
I barely have a real gambling bone in my body, so jumping up in stakes never really appealed to me. I still recognized myself as the NL200 player that I was the day before, but it had simply lost all its appeal as that winning "buzz" was now ever further out of reach. To anyone who has never been there before, this certainly sounds like a good problem to have. However, any good problem to have is still a problem nonetheless. I was troubled not by what lay before me but what lay behind me. How could I possibly break the cycle of manic elation to profound disappoint? It was pretty simple actually. Just do nothing at all.....
So that was how the next 3 months went. Long periods of inactivity followed by spurts of unenthusiastic, though solid, winning play. I started to wonder if I really cared to continue with this game of poker, but when I was truly staring it in the face, all I saw was a long road ahead with no apparent reward at the end. Poker was just a rat race, after all.
Was there anything really more to it other than trying to make boat loads of cash and be the envy of my friends and aquaintances? I did enjoy imparting the wisdom that I had built up over the years on this blog, but that followed the same curve as my successes and failures in the game. Short bursts of enthusiasm followed by long periods of inactivity.
So then came along short stacking. I had dabbled with it several times in the past and always with great initial success followed by stretches of laborious conveyor belt type dissatisfaction and apathy. I would sit down and play and fill my mind with anything at all that would take my mind off the game and make my day go by quicker. This is just too easy, I thought.
But then at some point in the not so distant past, everything changed across my mental landscape and sliced through all my boredom and discontent. It was called the Broken Window Theory. It was a concept that I learned about in Malcolm Gladwell's masterpiece The Tipping Point. Rather than give a brief description and risk cheapening the experience, I ask all of you to pick it up and just read it. It opened my eyes to not just everything that seemed wrong with poker, but every single thing I once believed was warped or missing from my life. Incidentally, I had also stumbled into a book called The Power of Less by Leo Babauta. Though I never ever got through much of the book, Babauta quickly showed me the fatal flaw of pathological multi-tasking and how that stunts our growth and actually causes us to complete less projects and do so in an utterly forgettable fashion.
All of a sudden everything just clicked. I started focusing on small expenditures and turning off the lights in rooms that were not in use, buying store brands, etc, and found that this level of thriftiness worked its way right up the ladder. I started eating healthier, which gave me more energy and clarity of thought. I started playing better, more focused poker, making more money which led to longer sessions. You see, I tend to eat bad when I am bored or depressed. By staying busy with poker, I was able to fire up quick healthy meals and easily wait till the next one, all the while enjoying the focused fruits of my efforts with high mental acuity.
I started seeing it everywhere. Your car doesn't get messy overnight. It starts with one fast food bag left on the passenger seat and then a cup on the floor. Then the console fills up with paper and there's a newspaper on the floor. Next thing you know, it is trashed. But by avoiding that first slip up, you never create that environment when chaos thrives. Relationships are the same way. Their decline always begins with but the tiniest moments of thoughtless neglect that eventually begin to snowball. And poker...it all falls apart once you start taking it for granted. You start by not taking notes anymore. You don't give a shit about game or seat selection. You stop reviewing your sessions in Poker Tracker and posting to forums. You then watch TV, talk on the phone, and surf the Net while you simultaneously squander all your creativity and flexibility in the game and start using the same plays over and over again instead of seeing new ways to solve unique problems. And then you blame the beats. If your Aces had only held up just two more times...if the damn game wasn't so--riggggitttyyy! Anything that takes the blame off yourself.
But back to my story...
So now my self esteem quickly boosted and I found myself being more pleasant to be around. I was more insightful, funnier, and a much better father. And on and on...
I realized that the rat race is not winable. The only way you eventually win is by seizing poker as but a single tool in a rich, multi-faceted life. I use it to generate income, fulfill my intellectual curiosities and now to build bridges with and impact the lives of strangers who share in the experiences of a unique and exceptional game of self-discovery. If poker is not improving your life, it is slowly destroying it. Don't be a slave to the grind. Accept your limitations and strengths, and above all, don't be afraid to be different. Best of luck to you all.....