My Poker Journey — Part 4

January 2019: I was hoping to move to London right away, but finding an apartment was proving a lot more difficult than expected. My friend Patrick, who was already living in the London area, was in charge of finding the apartment, so me and our other roommate, Matthias, were just in a holding pattern. The only problem for me was that to not have to pay income tax in America, you are only allowed to stay in the country for 35 days a year. I didn’t want to waste those days, so I ended up flying to Germany to grind at my grandparents’ house in the meantime. They were happy to have me, as I don’t get to see them much and everything worked out fairly well there. It was nice to get to spend some quality time with them. Usually, we see them once or twice a year, and with a bunch of people around during those times, I have never gotten much chance to actually “talk” to them. Anyway, the housing situation eventually ended up sorting itself out and I moved to London at some point during February, I think.

The place we ended up getting was a three-bedroom apartment near the center of Kingston, which is directly outside the London city limits, and a decently big place in its own right (45k population). It wasn’t perfect, but at that point, we were really sick of looking and just needed to get a place locked in. It turns out that people really don’t like renting to poker players and even just younger people in general, so our options were limited to begin with.

When we first moved in and in the time before, we had been planning on doing tons of group study sessions, theory reviews, etc., together, as you’d expect, but we ended up doing very little. I’m not sure exactly why it worked out that way, but it seemed like everyone was sort of doing their own thing and no one was really pushing the group to work together. I could have used the additional help apparently, as midway through March I was down 40k+ already. That did end up being the low-point profit-wise, but as the year went on, I didn’t make much progress. I was closing back in on break-even in July, only to go on another downswing and end August and what I thought was the last year of my poker career 20–25k down.

As this downswing was happening in August, we went out to eat one night, which was a very rare occurrence for us, and spent basically the whole time talking about life plans, why we are playing poker, what our future goals were, etc., and that talk really got my mind going in a direction it had already been drifting in for most of the year. I was really deep in what I guess you could call a failure mindset. Every night after a losing session I would think stuff like “I’m just not good enough,” “Maybe poker isn’t for me,” “Its okay to move on from something if your failing at it right?” Looking back now, I see that I was just trying endlessly to rationalize quitting poker. I was desperate to convince myself somehow that it was okay to admit defeat and move on. I’m not really sure how I slipped into that path, but as those thoughts continued, I really don’t think there was any way out of them, at least on my own. I kept all these thoughts to myself, which was a huge mistake and meant that the only person to think through these things with me was myself, and we already know what I was thinking.

Until that dinner, those thoughts hadn’t quite reached the critical mass to actually affect playing poker. I’m sure they seriously affected my playing quality and studying practices, but what I mean is that I hadn’t stopped playing. What changed that was adding in another layer of rationalizing that I picked up at that dinner. My new way out of poker was the logic that I wasn’t able to benefit the world in any way through poker; I was in it for myself and I succeeded by taking money from other people. This new layer gave my doubts critical mass almost instantly. I think maybe even that night I decided that I was going to stop playing and just work on my degree full-time. Luckily, our lease allowed us to break the contract after 9 months with no penalty, so I broke the news to my roommates and booked a flight back to America to live with my parents for the time being.

That’s basically the end of the year from a poker perspective, but I’d like to dive a bit deeper into a few things. First, why was I having such a bad year results-wise? The number one and also easiest to fix reason was playing too high (ABI, not weed). I think this is extremely common among poker players. For me, the problems here stemmed from the large prize pools and downswing ending potential. The thought that binking a $320 75k or $530 100k or whatever could instantly clear my downswing ensured that I would always play them. I literally couldn’t bring myself to not play the daily $320 Gladiator on Party towards the end of the year, even though I think deep down, I really did know that I just wasn’t good enough to win in it. Compounding that was that my bankroll could support these tournaments very comfortably, which just made it even harder to not play them. Even deep into the year my roll was over 100k, so just think of the failing argument my rational side was trying to make. Why wouldn’t I fire a $320 when I had 300 buyins and winning it could get us back to break-even? That struggle of separating what your bankroll allows and what your skill allows has always been difficult for me, and I have for sure failed at it at every turn in this story so far. Poker just presents you with such a unique problem, where its almost impossible to figure out if you are truly beating certain buyins, and BRM just provides an easy answer that lets you skip the difficult part of looking deep into your game and yourself and figuring out where you truly stand. Over the course of 2020, I got much better at this, but I still have that struggle. When I am trying to decide where the top of my daily buy-in range should be, I still find myself thinking “well I have 200 buyins, so it should be okay.” Only now, I am able to realize what is happening much better and take the time to slow down and really try to think it through. Take a look at my graph over $200, compared to under for 2019. Also, I get it, the sample size is too small to be conclusive for the high-stakes games, but I am confident that the graph is not just showing run bad.

Tournaments over $200 buyin — 2019
Tournaments under $200 buyin — 2019

Finally, I want to go back to the thing that actually made me stop playing, my claim that playing poker as a career was basically just a selfish job that didn’t help and even actively hurt the rest of the world. Now, I do think that statement is true for the most part, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t something you should pursue. As I’ve already explained, it was really just something to latch onto to justify quitting. There was no balanced discussion in my head at the time, just “look at this terrible job you’re doing, you need to stop.” As I have grown and learned more, I now see that statement as something more along the lines of meaning you need to make sure to do your part outside of poker if you are going to pursue it as a profession. That can mean donating money, volunteering, or whatever you find to be relevant, but for me at least, there has to be real commitment to the outside world. Otherwise, I find it too easy to fall into a downwards spiral, and even more so than any selfish reason, I just feel that giving back is critical when you are so fortunate that you can do something like playing a game for a living, when there are millions or billions even around the world who don’t have even the basic necessities.

I hope you enjoyed and even more so that you stopped for even a few minutes and thought about some of the things I’ve mentioned today. Join me back here next time for my thoughts on last year and “The Epic Return.”