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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.