We are in Cyprus; the night is calm and silent. The windows are wide open and reveal the sea, lit by a pale big moon. Inside, we find a well-decorated studio with all sorts of comforts. He’s twenty-three years old and financially stable, living the playboy life. What many call luck he calls skill; There are millions who want to be like him, but only a few succeed. His profession: Poker player.
It all began around five years ago, when I started studying economics at college. My friends and me would gather to drink and play poker before going out. It started out as a hobby, something to kill time with while drying our bottles out, but soon it became more.
We played the variety of poker called Texas Hold’em, the most popular. It was a new thing for all of us, the new big thing. Nights grew longer as poker was taking over, and daybreak would often find us still playing, surrounded by a haze of smoke and empty glasses. Every gathering became bigger and more serious, with more players and even better skills. Two friends and myself started to stand out from the rest, and would easily take all their money. That’s how we started to realise that luck was just a part of the game, but not the game itself.
We would spend the days in class talking about poker, figuring out statistics and systems to play safer, reading books, tutorials and guides, and the nights, playing online.
Some years ago, Chris Moneymaker had become the first amateur online-poker player who won the World Series of Poker. He qualified to a satellite tournament with 39$, and then made it to the final, his reward: 2.5$ million. When I heard about that it was just like a prophecy showing the way, the lord had come, his fucking name was Moneymaker, I mean, how cool is that? And he had turned 40$ in a fortune! It was too good to be true.
And so I started taking this seriously, I wanted it to be my profession, but as I was failing course after course at university, to my surprise, I was also failing at poker. I thought I would eat the whole apple but hey, guess what? There were millions of wannabe Moneymakers all around the Internet, and they beat the shit out of me. I was young and stupid, well I still am… and I let myself fall in the capital sins of poker, greed and anger.
The greed is the one that doesn’t let you stop, the fucking Tony Montana inside you who is saying, come on, bring it on! When you make $30, he’ll say, hey why do you stop? Let’s turn it into $100, when that happens he wants a $1000 and so it goes until you lose it all again. Then you miss those good $30 with which you could have bought a decent bottle of whiskey, fuck you Tony.
The anger is even worse, because poker is not a sport, there’s no respect for the rivals. Let’s be honest, we are all greedy lazy fuckers who want to make a fortune out of playing cards, apparently the simplest thing ever, and so we don’t like it when another dude takes our money. But the worst players are the Fishes, everyone hates them; the Fishes are those players who don’t know shit of the game and will do random unexpected stupid things… as a quick example, imagine you have AA in your hand, and the fish got 5J, you drag him to into a bet, then you go with all your money and the fish calls. Who the fuck would call with that shit? The fish does, and then in the flop he gets 55J, leaving you with a killer rage and no money.
When these two facts combine, greed and anger, then you get tilted. Being tilted is that state in which what you have to do is stop playing and go take a run, or you will lose it all. You are so fucked from your loses that you will play harder, more aggressive and without patience, and so you will loose more and more, because you are not a fish, and only fishes are lucky. You need to get back your inner peace, your zen, or whatever works for you, for me, it’s the sea.
The path is hard and treacherous, you will spend lots of desperate days and nights losing and failing, times of quitting and coming back to quit again, being hated by your parents who see you as a fool, throwing away your academic life and lots of money too. That’s what turns away most of the players to become regulars or pros, but if after all of that you manage, then you might stand a chance.
In all that time I learnt so much about poker and myself that I became a different person. I started getting a routine and playing as a full time job, with training, hard work and patience. There were lot’s of inner work as well, I started doing more sport and relaxation techniques to be always in a good state of mind when playing. Control your emotions, put greed and anger aside, know your rivals and wait for your chance to strike, it will come, it always does.
I mostly play online but also in real-life, that’s what I like the most. When poker gives me the chance to travel to play a big tourney, meet pros from all around the world and spend a whole week just playing to reach the final table, it’s just a dream come true. Those days are amazing, and the emotions that poker gives you are bigger than anything else I have experienced.
You always see it on TV, as ice-cold guys with less facial expressions than a Russian robot but inside we are all emotional and melting.
I will always remember the first time I reached a final table in a big tourney. The price was $15,000.
I played amazing that day and made it to the end, hours went by and I still was there, I couldn’t believe it. It was me and an older guy from Norway, in his 40s. I had won all the chips from the previous player so I had the larger stack, but still I was very scared. I was all the time thinking he was better than me and afraid of his bets so he was playing aggressive and reducing my stack. Every hand fear grew deeper in me, fear of failure, of deception, of everything, hope was leaving me and I was feeling content to finish second – accepting my fate as his little prey.
But then, small Tony Montana came out of his cage – I had never got rid of him – he was just locked in his room. He told me “hey go for it, all this money is yours” and there I went, fuck it. I won the next three hands almost in a row and then it happened, he pushed all his chips to the table, All-in. I got an A-8, a good hand, I had to call. But what if he has two AA? What if he wins? What if? What if? Fuck it… My sweaty hands started to shiver as I pushed forward my stack “I call” my trembling voice managed to say.
He got KJ! I thought I would die just there in the table, my heart was about to explode and I couldn’t look at the cards, I was shaking and twisting around myself like an idiot and time stopped. The flop was: 7 7 J. No! No! No! The fucking J! No! It’s amazing how much blame; curses and horrible thoughts go through your head in just a second. You are about to collapse. The turn (next card): 10. Fuck! I need an ace, an ace! My Ace of diamonds was there all alone as I suffered, looking at me, saying “hah looser, you will never get diamonds for a girl, you suck” Shit, cold shiver was crawling through my neck, just show us the last card and let’s end my pain.
And there it came, a 9. Fuck! Fuck! Wait a moment, why is he not happy? Wait! 7-8-9-10-J I got a fucking straight! Oh my fucking god! I hadn’t even realised I had that chance! I won! That was the happiest moment in my life. We shook hands as I saw the hatred in his eyes and I called my parents. “Dad! This is real!”
That’s how I started becoming a regular, I started making good money in a stable and consistent manner, and ten months ago I moved to Cyprus. They have changed the gaming laws in Spain (where I’m from) to a ridiculous one, so all the regulars like me had to flee the country. Here I live a good life, with a low rent and the job I love. I’m patient and content with what I have, because I know my chance for glory will come. In poker, as in life, the good cards always come; you just have to be ready to play them.