If you have been following this blog for a while, you know that I used to be a professional poker player.

I was somewhat of a latecomer to the game, and when I started playing for a living in 2009, the poker boom had already been reverberating for years.

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Yours truly.

While many people say the boom is still going strong, the main difference is that there aren’t many new players.  Nowadays, the typical poker player has been playing for years and has experience – the one thing they were previously lacking.  Sure, they made mistakes.  But the mistakes weren’t nearly as atrocious as the ones they made in years past, and they didn’t make them as frequently.

As time went on, the skill gap continued to shrink, as did my edge.  With the addition of the rake charged by the casinos, playing live poker wasn’t nearly as profitable as it had been.

So in 2011, I tried something different.  I set a goal to achieve Supernova Elite on Pokerstars (an online poker site).

I don’t really want to get too technical, but essentially this would require me to earn 1,000,000 frequent player points in a calendar year.  To do this, I would need to play just under 4 million hands of poker, which ended up being about 10,000 hands per day.  This was online poker, so I was able to play on 24 games at the same time, having to make constant decisions.  This resulted in long, stressful hours as well as incredibly large swings in wins and losses.

It was an ambitious goal, but one that would earn me approximately $115,000 at the end of the year, which made the stress worth it.

And I was ahead of pace.

At this point one year ago, I was at 300,000 points and well on my way to greatness.  My work station consisted of two computers, three monitors, and all of the best poker analysis software.  I had established a daily routine.  I had been my own boss for a few years, but with daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, I was more responsible than I ever had been.  I had even allotted myself days off to live in Vegas for the summer and play in the World Series of Poker, for which investors had agreed to pay for my entries.

And then I woke up on Friday, April 15, 2011, one year ago yesterday.  Or “Black Friday,” as it is known in the poker community.

This is what greeted me when I went to pokerstars.com:

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It was a message that appeared on all of the most popular poker sites.

I tried to sit at one of the virtual poker tables, but couldn’t.  I tried to cash out my money, but couldn’t.  All I could do was stare in shock at my computer screen.

Eventually, I gathered the strength and ability in my legs to carry me to the couch, where I laid down, stared off into space, and made moaning noises and guttural sounds.

If my life were an episode of 24, this is the moment where one of the main characters dies and it cuts to a commercial break silently.  It would show the yellow digital clock counting upward, but the lack of the beeping sound would signify the importance, sadness, and severity of the moment.

To see what I mean, play it on mute.

Or if my life were an NFL game on FOX, this is the moment where a player would be critically injured on the field and they would cut to commercial break with the somberly acoustic version of their epic theme song.

Except in my case, the player on the field would not be injured.  He’d be dead.

The next few weeks were marked with confusion, anger, frustration, and worry.

First and foremost, I was worried about my money.  I had five figures locked up – money which I justifiably thought I might never see again.

The more overall concern was that of my future, both immediate and long-term.

I had already paid money for the house I was going to rent for the summer in Vegas.  I had already received tens of thousands of dollars from investors who were staking me to play in the WSOP.  And then of course there was the question of whether or not I would be able to attain Supernova Elite, which I had already slaved away nearly four months to achieve.

After a few weeks, Pokerstars announced that they would no longer serve U.S. players.  In order to continue my pursuit, I would have to move out of the country.  I would need to prove residency in that country and could only play from a physically rooted I.P. address in that country.  Or I could stay in the United States, making the past few months of hard work meaningless.

Many friends began making plans, some had already fled to continue making money.

Making income, I should say.

Others had families.  Simply uprooting their lives was not an option, even though poker had been their means of providing for years.

But of the ones who left the country, most invited me to live with them.  My top options included Canada, Costa Rica, Australia, or Cabo San Lucas.

I had a big decision to make, for which I had to take an honest inventory of my life.  My goals, ambitions, and desires.

Sure, I had lived a pretty interesting “off-the-grid” existence for a few years.  But was I really happy?  Did I want to do it for the rest of my life?  Would poker even last for the rest of my life?  Would the emotional and monetary peaks and valleys be conducive to eventually being a good boyfriend, husband, father?

When it came down to it, I decided that moving out of the country to play poker simply wasn’t worth it.  While I might be able to continue living “the life” somewhere tropical, it just didn’t feel right.  Especially for the first year, I wouldn’t be able to leave the house (or cabana) because I would have to play catch-up in order to achieve Supernova Elite.

I wouldn’t be able to see my nieces and nephews grow up.

Hurricanes scare me.

And I can’t figure out American women, let alone exotic other-language-speaking females.

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Foreign women scare me.

So the decision was made.

I would spend the summer in Vegas.  I would play in the WSOP Main Event.  And then that would be it.

And that is how I quit playing poker as my job.

Or more accurately:

That is how, as a young man graduating during an economic crisis and unable to find a job because of said economic crisis (and also unable to receive unemployment help from his government because of said joblessness), the United States government essentially fired me from the one activity that I could use my mind and talent in order to stay afloat, crushing many of my rights and liberties in the process.

Not that I am bitter or anything.

-Youngman Brown

P.S. Read my friend Brandon’s take on Black Friday.

P.P.S. I got all of my liquid funds back from Pokerstars.  However, the work that I had put in for the money that I would receive at the end of the year in bonuses was forfeited, so technically I lost $20-$30,000 in earned equity.

I have a measly $200 on Full Tilt Poker (a different poker site), which I still have not received back.  I have friends who have hundreds of thousands of dollars on that site, which they are still unable to access.

P.P.P.S. Sorry that was such a grim post.  I just figured that I should write something for the one year anniversary of Black Friday.  But look who brightened this gloomy anniversary:

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My new nephew!  Born yesterday.  That’s right, I am an uncle to two new wonderful babies in less than a month.

They are two reasons why I am thrilled that I did not leave the country.

0 thoughts on “My Black Friday

  1. Congratulations on the new family members!

    I can't imagine how scary a situation that must have been. I'm still hacking my way through university, so luckily I haven't been faced with anything that “real world” just yet. Though to be fair, you're talking to someone who holds onto the dream of being a professional musician. I figure if Hey Rosetta (a band from my hometown who have recently become very popular) can do it, then why can't I!

    I'm sure I'll see why soon enough haha.

  2. Your nephew is beautiful. And just think, if you were trading your poker winnings for a large-breasted woman named Svetlana in Eastern Europe then you'd never have the chance to hold him.

  3. Babies and references to American Pie make everything better. They usually don't occur in the same context. Bravo.

    Isn't there some saying about making it a full year? Like, “If you live for a year, you're going to want one more?” Sort of like, “If you give a mouse a cookie…” only with more optimism and taxes?

  4. My husband was also a poker afficionado til Black Friday hit. The idea of it all spooked him so severly that he really watched the sites he put his money in after that.

    The thought of having our cash tied up some place that we couldn't reach it was a huge concern for him. Luckily, we live in Arizona (which isn't far from Vegas!!) and there are many casinos here where he goes and puts down a few bucks when he gets the urge.

    Thanks for sharing that story. (And I didn't think it was grim. It's a legit gripe)

    And what a beautiful baby. 🙂

  5. Congratulations Uncle Youngman !
    Tomorrow is my nephews birthday, being an Auntie is great – you get to spoil them, wind them up, teach them how to swear…and then go home. Just kidding (about the swearing – no need – he's 10 tomorrow he learns that at school.

    I never knew that it was possible to actually make a living from poker, I thought the people who claim to were like those people who bet on horses. Always after the big win that never happens.
    You learn something every day I guess. Son plays poker – might have to encourage that.

  6. I do think that being able to see the silver lining is a good take (AH! BABY! SQUEEEEEEEE!!!).

    And I wouldn't blame you for feeling bitter about it. –.–

    -Barb the French Bean

  7. There is always a silver lining, and I imagine you wouldn't be blogging, had you still been trying to win that “trophy”. That would make me sad, and like you said, you wouldn't be uncling (my new word)away like a madman right now. I think everything works itself out, and I hope you are at peace with your decision. I know I am.

    I put this on Google+, but I keep forgetting I have to post here for you to see them. Great post.

  8. Congrats, Uncle! Absolutely adorable. I can't imagine ever moving outside of an area where I could drive to see my nieces. She brings absolute joy to my world. I get it.

    A couple things here.
    1. I could NEVER imagine that kind of a career. I'm sure it sounds more exciting than it was (or maybe not) but I wouldn't have the nerves to succeed at it…that and I've never gambled more than a dollar on a slot machine. lol.

    2. Frustrating as shit to have laws change on you and government step in to take away your $ making opportunities. I'm glad it got straightened out (despite the loss of a portion of the money).

    3. How many groupies did you have? lol

  9. I agree. I definitely would not be blogging or writing at all. To be honest, the blog has kinda filled the void that poker left behind, at least in regards to a hobby.

    And yea, uncling like a mad man is definitely pretty cool!

    Some day we need to sit down so that you can explain Google+ and Pinterest to me.

  10. 1) Yes, it definitely wasn't as glamorous as many people believed. There is a lot of stress involved and often times it is not fun like it is supposed to be. As someone once said, it is a tough way to make an easy living.

    2) The sites were run offshore, so the government couldn't tax them. This, I believe, is the reason it got shut down. When it comes back eventually, it will be taxed to high hell.

    3) A few. But they were more like leeches that were just kinda trying to freeroll off of us. One of my roommates had a good term for them: Barns. Short for barnacles. Like the things that cling onto the bottom of ships.

  11. The babies are absolutely adorable, and they're so lucky to have you Uncle Mike. Glad you stayed in the US. No one wants to live in America's hat 🙂

  12. First off, congrats on the new family member! He sure is a handsome little dude!

    I love playing poker, but I can't imagine making a living of it. The stress must've been insane! I get super stressed just playing in a 50 man tournament. After about 3 or 4 hours I'm all pokered out and just want to be done. I've actually intentionally pissed my chip stack away because I didn't want to play anymore.

    That sucks about the government intervention on your poker career.

    Just curious, you ever get to play with the big names we see on T.V? Like Daniel Negraneu (sp?) or Doyle Brunson..etc?

  13. I couldn't even imagine turning on the computer to see that message with all that money locked up in there. I mean, Facebook goes offline for a minute and I panic. LOL Sorry to hear about your misfortune.

    What do you mean American girls are hard to understand?! LOL!!!

    P.S. Congrats on your new nephew!!

  14. Not really dear. May be one day us womens will band together and let you in on the secret. The first rule though is to spend more time with us than on the ocmputer.
    Welcome to the newest handsome youngman. You made a smart decision to stay here. Your nephews are the first in a long line of family loves to come. You won't reqet it because it doesn't get much better than family.
    Now as to the poke thing, I will have to post later as I have a sales meeting i have to attend. Some of us have 8-5 jobs, lol.

  15. This is why making money online scares me so. Unless you can touch the money or harass a banker down the street, there's a lot of risk.

    Bravo to you for making a good run at it. These days, the newest 'big thing' is creating your own social media site. Maybe make one based on food? “Whad'ja eat today?” and let people write about it?

  16. I would have been your groupie for free. Just put me in front of a good movie or tv show, many of which I watch and say something to me every now and then to let me know you're alive!

  17. Congrats on the new member of your family!

    I'm so sorry about what happened with the whole poker thing… I've got my fingers crossed for you that things work out. I'm glad you got most of your money back from that one site. I hope you get your money from the other. Did you get ever get info on why Pokerstars (and other sites) won't be serving the US anymore?

  18. Holy shit!

    At my child care center, one Dad used to play professionally, but quit when his wife bitched. Whenever they are short on bills, he blows through the local card rooms for an afternoon to catch up.

    That was an AMAZING story, btw. *Almost* left me speechless (an incredibly difficult feat)

  19. woah. tough story to have lived through. those babies though? get out out of her adorable. makes it worth it in the end. I hope you keep going after what you love {and the US gov doesn't get involved} for years and years to come.

  20. If I knew what an enigma was, I would argue. I promise that we really are very simple creatures 😉 Anytime you got a question, ask away. I'll break it down for you! haha

    P.S. I just watched a millionaire matchmake episode where the “millionaire” was a professional poker player. Sigh…

  21. That's such an interesting perspective. I remember hearing about that but never heard from the perspective of those that it immediately affected, and didn't even think about all the money that was tied up. The hubs and I have been big fans of poker and WSOP ever since Moneymaker's big win, and have often thought about trying to enter. This was years ago, though, before it became crazy popular and insanely impossible to afford. We were in Vegas a few years ago when they were setting up for the WSOP at the Rio, and there was this electric energy.

    I'm glad you got your money and that you are happy without your previous vocation. And congrats on being an uncle x2!!

  22. Wow, I may have played you and lost. I sucked so hard at it that by the time black friday came around I had zero bankroll.

    Great to hear you got some of it back. I'd move out of country, but I fear that my game is too weak to make a living at Poker.

    You've a great attitude about it all, Youngman. Great way to be!

  23. Wow, that was really interesting. I remember hearing about the government shutting down the poker sites and all the people who would lose their money when it happened but this is the only first-hand account I've ever read. What an interesting lifestyle, although it sounds a little stressful with the multiple computers and 10,000 hands a day (!!!).

  24. Intense man…I'm glad it all seemed to work out in the end and of course, good on you for sticking around to be an uncle.

    But I feel like, somewhere in this mess, there is a great story to be written. A rise and a great fall, a period of defeat and then eventual redemption. Great stuff.

  25. I'm lost for words. You have had an adventure! The idea of playing for a living amazes me – golfers, footballers, etc. But playing poker… I'd love to see you play though.

  26. Congratulations, uncle Young MB (to the second now!)!

    I blow at playing Poker (I know, shocking that there's something I can't do given my rockstardom), but is there are reason that you have on headphones?

  27. I'm so sorry to hear of your misfortune. I hope Lady Luck pinches you an the ass again really soon.

    Congrats on becoming an uncle again! I have to say, Youngman, you're awfully cute! I love your p-p-p-pokerface! I can tell you're a deep thinker! 🙂

  28. Yea, it did surprise me quite a bit that there is something that you are not good at. I'm sure you could get pretty good with some practice and instruction from me.

    And yes, I have headphones on so that I can listen to music. Shocking, I know. But as I said, poker is pretty boring, and most of the time you just sit there folding hands for hours and hours. Plus, the other people are often quite annoying.

  29. I have to say that after reading this post. You kind of sound like me. Only replace poker with construction and walking away with still stuck in the thing I love the most and hate so passionately right now I want to go on a killing spree.

    Of course I have kiddos, so that is not likely to be a good idea.

  30. Sorry to hear about the outcome… it made me think of other events people have gone through during this crushing recession! Take me! One minute I want to feel terrible about… (fill in the blank), the next minute I am reading about some guy who losses at poker, without having lost… at poker!

    I think you have a career as a writer. I see a screenplay in your future!

    But you already knew that, right!?

  31. Very interesting post….my brother in-law was hit by that poker closure too. Amazing that you folks can (could) play so many games simultaneously-I watched him do it for awhile and it was overwhelming.
    Like your writing style!

  32. WOW…

    1) You're nephew was born the day after my niece! How cute is he?! Definitely worth staying state-side.

    2) Again I say WOW…. I know people take poker seriously but I wasn't aware that it's actually a job for some. I guess I just never looked at it that way. I stay away since I have no idea how to play.

  33. Thanks for revealing your ideas. I might also like to say that online poker games have been ever evolving. Technology advances and enhancements have aided create reasonable and fun games. These kind of entertainment games were not really sensible when the real concept was first of all being used. Just like other styles of technologies, poker games way too have had to evolve by way of many decades. This is testimony for the fast growth of poker games.

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