Necessity is the mother of invention

31 Jan

On April 15th, 2011, I logged in to play poker as I normally would on a Friday but my session was interrupted with this infamous message –  Image I didn’t even read the text the first time (tldr, ldo) and restarted Pokerstars assuming it was weird bug – after all I had logged in successfully 100,000 times before that morning.  When it popped up again, I took the time to read it and the reality of the message began to set in.  While other professional poker players were feeling a combination of shock, anger and despair – I felt relief.  It was over.

I had been playing poker – poker beyond 5 card draw – ever since the movie “Rounders” came out in 1998.  My first game of Texas Hold Em was against my roommate in college for 10 dollars with toothpicks as chips, I was Matt Damon and he was Teddy KGB. I won when my A5o beat his K9s.  By the time I was 20, I was making more money in a semester than my parents.  I was a millionaire by 25.  And there I was, staring at the message of death – sad for all the lives that I knew would be rocked – but relieved that I had to move on.

I had lost more than $50,000 in one day more times than I could remember in the year and half preceding Black Friday including that day previous.  People always ask how I got “the balls” to risk so much money in poker.  The reality is I didn’t have balls, not compared to other people, and that might have been part of my success.  The most painful poker loss I ever stomached was a $200 beating my sophomore year in college.  I laid in bed for hours thinking about how I must be a degenerate gambler to lose that much money.  Money that would last a month in college.  The truth is you get used to the amount of money at risk. You win, you risk a little more.  You win again, you risk a little more.  Balls  have nothing to do with it. But almost everyone reaches a threshold of comfort – more accurately a threshold of pain.  Mine was $10,000. Some people hit it at $1,000. Some people hit it at $100,000. A few sickos never feel it.  I could win $10,000 in the morning and forget I had won that much by the evening, but I would never forget a $10,000 loss.  It would ruin my day.  A $50,000 loss would ruin at least a week if I didn’t win it back.  I could win $20,000 in the morning and lose $20,000 at night and be devastated.  I knew it was silly, I knew it was detrimental to my health and my poker game, but I could never trick my brain into thinking otherwise – and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The phenomenon is not unique to me, actually it’s very universal.  It’s an evolutionary function of the brain – but that’s for another blog.  This inability to forget losses made for a very stressful life.  On one hand I was making a bunch of money, on the other, I was miserable most of the time.  My overall results were around break-even for the year, but you couldn’t tell it by my mood.  My wife is a saint for putting up with me during some of those days – we can laugh about those days now, but only because they are over.

The stress was exacerbated by the way the poker economy was shaping up in 2010-11, the most profitable games were extremely high stakes and the middle limits (where I felt the most comfortable) were almost non existent.  So you really had to risk a lot to find good games.  They would be built around an amateur and 5 world class players, and playing a $20,000 dollar pot was pretty common. I could have dropped way down in stakes and played for a modest, stress-free living, but I had put myself in a position where my bills/month were very high – so that constant pressure to play and produce on a monthly basis would have been overwhelming.  If you had asked me what I would have been doing at 31 when I was 25, I might have said retired, but I had lost a good portion of my bankroll when the economy tanked in expensive houses that were no longer worth what I bought them for, the stock market crash, and poor spending habits.  While I tried to be extremely careful not to spend too much, when you are making money hand over fist it’s an easy trap to fall into.  I take solace in the fact that smarter people than I have succumb to the same trap.

By Black Friday, I was an expert at a game nobody played.  I’d even call myself  great at a few games no one played.  An icicle salesman at the North Pole.  I was a dinosaur by poker standards and had lost the passion needed to learn a new game.  I didn’t have it in me to start at square one.  A couple of my close poker friends had already switched expertise and were adapting nicely with the changing times.  For me, I knew that black pop-up message didn’t mean it was time to move to Mexico or Canada or Vegas, I knew it was time to move on.

This blog is going to be mostly about real estate investing, my current passion.  I know this post is dramatic and self-aggrandizing to be sure but I know a lot of poker players will probably read this blog, so I hope they can relate to the story and my struggles and triumphs as I try something new.

4 Responses to “Necessity is the mother of invention”

  1. Cole at 1:12 am #

    Good luck with your blog and your RE investments!

  2. Tri at 2:58 am #

    Great post.

  3. InsideMan at 8:14 pm #

    I’m looking forward to reading your blog and your thoughts on real estate. I smiled when you wrote “While I tried to be extremely careful not to spend too much, when you are making money hand over fist it’s an easy trap to fall into.”, I know that feeling, it’s like the more you make the more you spend.

  4. Jay P at 5:49 am #

    talk about “hey here’s my 20s in a nutshell” 🙂 nice.

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