Saturday, February 4, 2012


Never in my life can I remember doing such an about face so quickly. Most of my recent posts have been very positive, with me painting a picture of a life of contentment. Rereading them now I cannot even believe I even wrote the words on the screen, let alone wrote them just a few short days ago. I've realized a bunch of stuff the last few days, and I'm probably going to ramble almost incoherently now to just get it all down on paper. The key here is to look back at that one extremely negative post from a few weeks ago, where I simply could not deal with the idiot at my table who was literally attempting to stuff $100 bills into my pockets. I couldn't handle him, I couldn't handle what he represents, and am now questioning if I can handle being a professional poker player.

I don't really even know where to begin, but it all started to unravel yesterday when I found out that a friend of mine has been having trouble dealing with all of this "poker as a job" stuff and was planning to take a break (incidentally as usual the big potato is on top of all this shit, taking the month of February off and likely parting in Cabo right now). I ended up speaking with Babar about the whole thing and he had a couple of terrible and truthful things to say, specifically that he had noticed that both my friend and I had basically become...well, simply put, worse, since the last time he saw us. We were colder, harsher, quicker to pass judgement, and in general just not as pleasant to be around. The conversation continued and he said he's seen it in others. Eventually I had to go home for the evening, but I ended up calling him from my car on the way home and was nearly moved to tears when he answered a simple question.

"You've been playing out here for a week or so now. Do you think it's possible to put yourself in this environment, week in and week out, without it destroying you?"


Babar is a very thoughtful person, and in the history of our relationship he has very rarely, if ever, been flat wrong. He considers things logically and carefully, and is usually able to remove emotion from nearly all of his decision making machinery. But he didn't even blink when I hit him with that one. He paused for maybe like 2 seconds before just flat out leveling with me. No, it probably cannot be done. I have to stress, this isn't coming from just anybody. Babar is on an extremely short list of people whose advice I simply will not ignore, because he has been at this whole poker thing for quite a long time and simply seems...happy. His life isn't perfect, but just as I cannot recall him being patently wrong about something, I also cannot remember seeing him even remotely stressed out. He's helped me with a lot of things in my life (both poker and personal) and to be honest fair value for his counsel ranges well into the thousands of dollars. And here I am, hearing this man for whom I have such great respect tell me that what I am doing will, unequivocally, destroy me. Think about that. Think about the depth and scope of that event.

Along the way people have warned me that this would happen. James warned me, way back when I first declared I was taking my shot. Kit told me it was a horrendous idea. DougL and Private Joker agreed it was foolish. But did I listen? Of course not. I was sure I was different and that they had no idea what was best for me. Besides, it was only a 6 week shot; what was the worst that could happen?

Yeah, great planning, Jesse. I didn't take into account my incredibly propensity for inertia. I've had trouble quitting things my entire life; relationships, jobs, sports teams, really everything that can be quit, I've been bad at quitting. So now here we are, nearly 200 weeks later, and I'm still grinding away. And what do I have to show for it? Money? Not really. I'm way behind where I would be financially if I'd just stayed at Oracle and kept my nose down (let alone tried to company hop once or twice and gotten sneaky raises, or worked for a start up that actually turned out). You just can't overcome what happpend to me between the my Southwest trip and like Christmas 2010. Happiness? Certainly not. The term grinding is an extremely accurate way to describe poker, because that's exactly what it's become for and done to me. I'm losing pieces of myself, day by day, week by week, month by month, and to be honest I'm not exactly sure how to stop it (or even if I can). I don't know if it's really just being in LA and driving for almost two hours a day and dealing with all the douche bags down here, but I suspect that is only a partial answer. The Bay Area poker scene was starting to wear on me, too. It's even possible that the change of venue actually extended my shelf life. I don't know if it's the constant combative environment of being a prop, but that certainly hasn't helped. My employer laid off all the 20/40 props on February first (and by all I think I mean almost all but I don't know nobody would ever tell me the truth and by laid off I mean put on forced leaves of absence) and I am positive they are considering axing the remaining 40/80 props next. Like, they canned guys that had been there 10 and 15 years. I've been there 9 months and am a part time employee. To think they will do anything but drop me like a radioactive marble the instant it strikes them as remotely profitable to do so would be ridiculous.

Friendships? Relationships? To be honest I have developed some of those, but at this point my two best poker friends live in San Jose and Balitmore (sorry to anyone I offended, but that's just the way it is). Really at this point poker is just a job, and a job that requires a great deal of patience and emotional effort. It's not the life of freedom that everyone makes it out to be, and I don't know if it could ever be that for me again because I simply might not be good enough to make it on my own (where by "make it" I mean book 6 figure years without a prop salary to back me up) because I've gotten so...tired. I guess I'm kind of noticing a pattern in my life, and that's that I seem to get very tired of stuff after a few years. School got pretty tiresome towards the end. Software development lasted just over 3 years, but honestly should have been more like half that. But the difference here is that I still enjoy playing poker. I still like going to the card room to play, I enjoy the challenge of it, the talent I have for it, I really do. But at the same time I've realized that all the bullshit that comes along with it, the assholes the traffic the political bullshit of being a prop the worrying about getting laid off the staking the everything just might be more than I can take.

So what am I going to do? Well to be completely honest I don't have a fucking clue. One thing I'm not going to do is quit my prop job when I suspect that simply going to work for a few more weeks will result in me getting unemployment benefits. Plus in a weird way I don't want to give them the satisfaction. If they're going to can me, they need to actually fucking do it. So there is that. But do I intend to quit playing poker for a living? Do I intend to actually re-enter the workforce and real world and buy some pants and shirts and actually be a productive member of society? The mere thought of it is horrifying. I haven't had a deadline, action item, meeting, or really any responsibility beyond showing up for 3.5 years. Aside from the fact that my skills have degraded (that's actually a minor concern, I think I'd actually be a favorite to get a job at Google now if I put my mind to it), I just don't have any interest in sitting at a desk 8 hours a day. Like literally none whatsoever. I could try something new (the finance industry is what I always kick around) but I don't know if I have that level of effort in me right now. I could try to spin poker into some other profitable venture (coaching and writing a book come to mind...I'm probably qualified to coach poker and tutor a bunch of other stuff to be honest but that's just so much work). Staking is going pretty well, but there's a limit to how much of that you can do because to be honest there just aren't that many guys out there and it's a lot of headaches.

No, I don't think I really want to do any of that right now, so I'm going to try the Pete approach to life and just see how it goes. We were talking about happiness or contentment or whatever on 2p2 and he hit the nail right on the head. He said that the key to being happy is to prioritize every single thing in your life above your job. Everything. And you know what, that make perfect sense. I proposed this approach to MikeL yesterday and he agreed almost instantly that it was a great idea; in fact he basically said that's exactly what he does. And that man has somehow survived poker in LA for over a decade, so he must have at least some idea of how to get through this wasteland with some small portion of your soul intact because, at least to me, he doesn't seem dead inside. And that's exactly what I'm going to be if I don't make some changes, just a husk of my former self, with no goodness or joy left in me, and I just can't let that happen. So from now until I get laid off, poker is my last priority. Everything else comes first. Housework? First. The gym? First. My dogs? First. Danielle? First. My parents? First. Friends? First. Softball? First. Every single thing in my life is going to get prioritized over the act of playing poker for a living. If I don't feel like playing, I'm going to quit immediately when my shift ends. If I have ANYTHING else to do whatsoever I'm not going to play on my days off. If the game goes over night or needs help in the evening, I am not going to give a flying fuck. Poker is last and that's all there is to it. This is the least drastic measure I can think of that has some chance of actually working, so it's the one I'm going to implement. And come March 1st, I'll hopefully have some more information and maybe be able to make an actual, real, painful decision regarding what exactly I'm doing with my life.


D said...

I don't have experience being a poker pro. I do have experience being happy.


You're in a better place than literally 75% of people in this country, and 99% of people in the world. You have your health, you have your family, you aren't struggling to make ends meet day to day, you haven't make any long term investment to anything that you can't drop in a heartbeat if you want. Your life may not be perfect, but you're fine. You're fine. Just relax.

Remember that the past is the past. You are "taking your shot". Who cares whether it went on 6 weeks or 24 months or however long you want it to go. At the end of that time, you're still going to be smart, you're still going to have skills, and you're still going to be able to do other things if you want. You have options open to you that most people can only dream of.

Stop fretting about the choices you made. You can't change them, and it doesn't sound like they were that bad to begin with.

Take your time, figure out what you want to do next, then do it. No regrets.

Much like poker, life is a long journey. You're going to have plenty more experiences. Stop fixating on what is ultimately just a small sliver of your total, and start looking ahead.

ExMember said...

I've been a professional poker player in Los Angeles for over five years. I can see -- have seen the game destroy people, pros and amateurs alike. The ups and downs make them bitter, angry, and resentful.

In contrast, poker has made me a better person. I have to be a better person to cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune inherent in the game. I have to maintain a broader perspective to not tilt over a given hand. Or session. Or week.

I have to develop an interest in my fellow human beings in order to develop maximally exploitive strategies. (This is something Course 6 never prepared me for, and is currently my biggest challenge.)

Financially, the last five years have been a bust. I might make as much this year as I made five years ago when I was employed.

But I have made such great leaps as a human being over the past five years it is well worth it.

My situation is a little different than yours. I play no-limit instead of limit. I've never been a prop. I play a max of 30 hours a week spread over three days. (I've tried, but more than that is too mentally exhausting to be sustainable. Even at this pace I end up spending a fourth day laid out on the couch drinking beer.) Your mileage may vary.

But I wanted to let you know it could go either way.

bellatrix78 said...

Why would you go to "Google" (this is the company you mentioned, insert random computer company name instead there if you like) as you mentioned in your blog? To make money? To get "a job"?

IMO, I know this sounds all touchy and feely, but do what you love and do that right. The rest will take care of itself. If you love building stuff, build stuff. If you love programming stuff, program stuff. Remind yourself of the time when somebody asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, the excitement of being grown up and finally getting to do it.

If you love poker, but don't like how the people in the game affect you, you can
a) work on that - be as zen as you need to be. See the game for what it is and get rid of the cynicism.
b) Spend less time in the casino, but still doing poker stuff. Write about it (for money, get in touch with poker writers). Program a 2-7TD Pokertracker :P (been on my mind forever, haha) - sell it, yes the money won't even make a difference, but you'll be doing something you love. Coach, talk to horses, think about strategy. Eventually online will come back...
c) Spend less time doing degen stuff. More friends outside casino! A LOT. See Phil Galfond's blog:

I was very glad when last year somebody told me: "You're a damn good astronomer and it would be a pity if science lost you!". Well, I do think you are a damn good poker player... :)

Anonymous said...

I think your moment of existential crisis will pass; but you have hit a small wall. And that wall is...success. You have made it as a poker pro. How many people make 100k in a year playing mid-limit? About 1/10 of those who claim it...Now that you have climbed the mountain, you need a new challenge...drop back to part time live, and find a new project...a new direction. You may come to appreciate the poker more...

Pokershaman said...

You've been struggling and struggling. Now you are successful -- and suddenly you are struggling again, with success!

I, too, respect BBB's judgment. At the same time, I'm wondering whether there is a part of you that is trying to sabotage your success. (I'm wondering this because I've got such a part of me, and don't we all assume everyone else is like ourselves, at least as a starting point? ;-) )

I think you're doing a smart thing. To be honest, the times I've come down to Commerce and found you playing there after your shift at the B-- err, your "place of employment" led me to wonder whether you were taking proper care of yourself.

You're smart, and you have your share of wisdom to go along with that. You have what it takes to find your way through the doubts to a way of life that is worthwhile for you.

jesse8888 said...

I was hoping to respond to all of the comments here individually, but there are just too many that are too good for me to write about right now. Thanks to everyone for the words of advice and encouragement. Day 1 of "don't play poker when I don't have to" is going pretty well so far.