Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How I Got the Fire for Poker Back in 2014

(Wrote this for my most recent article in CardPlayer Magazine, may consider re-posting other pieces in the future or just ranting about other topics here)

In 2011, I lost the fire for poker. I had secured a reasonable bankroll. I didn't have that much money, but it was only one year after I had nothing, so it was refreshing to live comfortably. I became complacent. While I still grinded training videos and hand histories with my friends, I absolutely did not want to grind on the felt. I never bothered with the projects I wanted to work on - such as creating a no-limit deuce-to-seven single draw shove bot or a razz dead card calculator.

This fulfilled what my friends joke is the Jameson Painter theorem of poker: “When it was between school or work and poker, you picked poker. When it's between poker and dicking around, dicking around wins no-contest.” The hashtag #NoRoadsLeadToPoker is still fairly popular amongst my crew.

In September, just five months after Black Friday, I moved to Rosarito, Mexico, supposedly to reboot my PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker accounts and spend the year playing online, but it didn't pan out that way. I was much more excited about going downstairs to play beach badminton than I ever was to grind $40-$80 8-game.

When I first got there, I final tabled the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker $10,000 8-game High Roller. In doing so, I exacted some closure after punting myself out of a cash in the World Series of Poker $50,000 Players' Championship just a few months earlier, but I didn't play much after that. Most weeks, I would late register the Sunday Million at the last minute, and often, that would constitute my entire Sunday session.

For the next two years, my relationship with poker mirrored a brick-and-mortar casino session - predominately boredom and indifference, punctured by a few moments of excitement and terror. The World Series of Poker was all that I looked forward to. In 2012 and 2013, I would spend a majority of the year apathetic towards poker, but when June came around my enthusiasm was roused. Coming up a mixed game player who didn't travel for tournaments, it was a rare time of the year where I reunited with friends while we sweat each other in the year's biggest festival of tournaments.

Ever since I became a professional, these experiences have been the most meaningful to me, but for the rest of those two years, I wanted little to do with poker and it even became a secondary source of income.

What Happened in 2014?

I kicked off 2014 by going to PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for the first time. Many players complain about PCA, but the trip did not disappoint. I final tabled a $2,000 Open Face Chinese event, spent multiple days riding water slides, and had a great time in the sun while the entire United States was mired in a winter storm.

The feelings I had about the WSOP were alive here, even though it was January. I thought this was just an isolated incident, because a week in the Bahamas can make poker seem glamorous, but they came back again.

In February, I went to Valencia, Spain to compete in the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour. I had never been to Europe before, so decided to travel the poker circuit there for 3 months after until the European Poker Tour Grand Final was over. It seemed like every new destination I went to – Barcelona, Venice, Nice, or Amsterdam - became my new favorite city in the world (kind of like how some people have six best friends).

The number one impetus in reigniting my flames was watching my friends in action. Battling alongside and against them had a tremendously motivating influence on me. They were also instrumental in teaching me to how to say “hello, beautiful” in the native language of whatever country we were in. The downtime in between tour stops was always filled with good times in the form of fantastic meals and city exploration.

Here were a few highlights:

A few friends and I rented a house for a week in the center of Venice. We ate gelato everyday, often while sitting with our feet dangling just over the water. I commentated my first large, live final table in World Poker Tour Venice alongside Jamie Kerstetter. My pokercastering skills improved immensely and I enjoyed it so much that I would jump at future opportunities to do more of it.

At the end of EPT Vienna, Dominik Nitsche asked me if I was interested in going to Montenegro for a pair of Russian Poker Tour tournaments that I was not even aware existed. I had nothing planned for the next week before EPT San Remo started, so snap-called, and the next day we were off to a country I had only heard about as a kid during the Bosnian and Croatian Wars. I imagined it would look desolate, but these prejudices were immediately dismissed as we drove through the beautiful countryside outside Podgorica.

During EPT Grand Final, Mickey Petersen and I ate a French cafe just outside Monte Carlo for lunch and joked about how we were the poorest people in attendance. To add insult to injury, there were several eight year-old kids there dressed better than me. Here's a not-at-all-embellished recap of an important strategy discussion we had later that evening:

These are common adventures for those that frequent the tournament circuit, but I rarely experienced them outside of the World Series of Poker. It may sound hard to believe, but I had never traveled to tournaments before this year, and going to Rosarito was the extent of travel I had done for poker. This mostly happened because I cut my teeth on limit games while most major tournaments are run as no-limit holdem. I didn't have the foresight to know that working on my big-bet skills would lead to these life-changing events, but I'm grateful it all happened.

I've come to terms that my interest in the game of poker will never burn as brightly as when I was an addicted 18 year-old punk-ass kid who would drive two hours through the desert to Morongo Casino to play 25 hours over a weekend. I still don't enjoy grinding much more than I did in 2011 or 2013, but have found more opportunities to use poker as a catalyst for fun adventures.

Despite these revelations, I actually want to scale back my travel in 2015 and rebuild my community in Las Vegas, where I only spent a disjointed four months this year. There is a large opportunity cost to traveling in that you don't have the chance to create something solid in one place. I used to host barbeques and pool parties frequently to provide for my friends, but this curbed significantly when I was always on the road. I'm ecstatic that my travels have also given me some direction for the upcoming year. Here's to 2015.