The Unbearable Lightness of Poker.

I’ve only played one tournament since Caesar’s.  Janeen and I have placed our lives as we knew them on hold thanks to Ruthie.  Our days and nights are fully dedicated to the difficult chore of looking after our puppy, who I’ve begun to call (somewhat affectionately) “LT” or “Little Terror.”  She is a miniature tornado.  We have time for absolutely nothing else right now. 

I can sense all the parents out there in the blogisphere collectively rolling their eyes, but I’m sure that my seven-week old puppy is more difficult than any of your children ever were.  Imagine a witless, diaperless, rampaging two year old child that urinates every half an hour, defecates every two hours, and in the interim runs around shredding everything in her path.  Now imagine that you don’t have the assistance of a nanny or a day care provider.  That’s my life right now.  I did manage to play one tournament–the Borgata Deep Stack event from this past weekend, and this blog entry is sort of about that.

One never knows when he might be visited by an existentialist epiphany.  Well, for many of us the answer is never, but I do occasionally stumble into deep thought.  My latest such episode occurred this past Sunday morning as I stared blankly through my windshield as my car hurtled southward down the Garden State Parkway, Borgata bound.  A sports talk program was droning white noise through my radio speakers.  I was sipping coffee from a perforated hole in a plastic cup, still half asleep, when a question posed itself.

What was I doing?

The short answer:  driving to a poker tournament in Atlantic City early on a Sunday morning.  But I was searching for an answer of larger magnitude.

What was I really doing

I’m a professional gambler, and I’m pretty good at poker.  My expected value in these tournaments is a positive number.  I was doing my job.  

That answer was still not enough.  

On the deepest level my pea brain is capable of pondering, what was I doing?

(Here I must warn the reader that my background in existentialist philosophy begins and ends with a novel by Milan Kundera that I read many years ago; if you don’t want to hear my amateur philosophical musings please click on something else immediately).

Start with a premise that horrifies most people:  our lives are pointless.  There is no point to our time earth. Our stupid lives are hilariously pointless, devoid of meaning.  No matter what we do or how much we “accomplish” in our short lives, we come and we go, and then everything moves forward without us.  Poof.  Our existence is futile.  Mankind has been grappling with this difficult reality since time immemorial.  Concepts like purpose and legacy and meaning have emerged to combat the unbearable lightness of our lives.  In the end, there’s nothing weighty or important about all the thing we spend our lives agonizing over.  Oh noes. 

Man is obsessed with his collective fear of the lightness, so people occupy themselves with all manner of weighty plans and ideas.  We are encouraged to work hard, to contribute to society, to achieve, to make things better for those who come after us, make others proud, to leave our mark, to make a difference.  But in the end, all of that is bullshit.  There is nothing we can do to alleviate the ultimate absurdity of our lives.  Nothing makes a difference and all those concepts exist only to comfort us and shield us from the pointlessness of everything.  This is absolutely beguiling to people and will never be accepted by most.

So why was I driving a car down the Garden State Parkway so that I could play a poker tournament?

I was pursuing the concept of living light.  Professional gambling is attractive to some of us for a reason:  it is supposed to offer a means of escape from a world in which all that heavy shit is crammed down your throat.  Gamblers are supposed to be the free-wheelers of society; we live in the moment, we make our own schedules and we are our own bosses.  We live our lives on our own terms, free from many of the demands foisted upon others.  More fundamentally, we are embracing the lightness that most can’t bear:  we’re not concerned with adding value to society or of fulfilling some imaginary purpose.  We spend our days playing a game.

And that is precisely why professional gambling seems so vacuous and insipid to a lot of folks:  “You play a game for a living.  What is the purpose of that?  What meaning is there in that?  What value are you adding to society?”  The answer to those three questions, respectively, is none, none and none.  But so what?  Every day, this profession puts me in a realm where only the game matters, and within that realm I come closer to pure awareness than most ever will.  Isn’t that enough?

Unfortunately, those last two paragraphs are not exactly an accurate portrayal of my world.  Those are idealistic concepts I’ve expressed.  Even the freewheeling world of professional poker is permeated by the same heaviness that the rest of the world suffers with.  Even professional gamblers (myself included)–the very people who have managed to make their escape–find the lightness of being unbearable.  We need concrete things to grab onto.  We occupy ourselves by incessantly comparing our profit margin to others’, we complain about the structures of our tournaments, we worry about going broke, we bitch about bad beats.  Oh, it’s so hard for us.  And many of us are so driven to win, achieve, win, achieve that we render ourselves incapable of doing what drew us to professional gambling in the first place:  appreciating our daily lives.

Having pondered all this, I experienced a moment of unusual clarity as I continued to drive southward down the Jersey shore.  I resolved to try and thwart that classic existentialist dilemma:  to not constantly preoccupy myself with bullshit and enjoy my life for what it is.  In the end, none of this freakin’ matters anyway.   I’m a poker tournament grinder, and I’m lucky to be one.  I enjoy what I do.  Life is (and ought to be!) good.  Although it really hurts when Ruthie bites my toes.

At Borgata, freshly epiphinated, I played my best day of poker in recent memory.  Everything I did worked, even though I ran bad throughout the day.  I had a decent stack going into Day 2, and on Day 2 I built it upward until I was threatening to take my table over completely.  I was all set to dominate.  And then it fell apart in the span of two hands.  I made a really bad read (committing my favorite error, ascribing too much sophistication to an opponent in a big spot) and then stacked off with QQ against a very tight player’s AA.

The sting of defeat that usually accompanies a bustout was absent.  I packed up my things and hit the highway, happy to be returning to my wife and pup.  It was a crisp, remarkably clear day.  The sky was so blue and the sun shone so brightly that even the Raritan River gleamed as I crossed from New Jersey into Staten Island.  As soon as I walked in my front door, Ruthie ran to my feet and chomped at my shoelaces.  I had blown an opportunity to make a big score, but so what?  Life is good.  


There is only one person I have ever personally known who was consistently capable of embracing the lightness of life, and that was my grandfather (he is also the person who first taught me how to play poker).  His conscience was always free from worry and he lived in the moment.  I think that only his strict catholic upbringing (“pointlessness” is definitely not in the catholic vernacular!) kept him from mastering a life completely free and clear of imaginary obstructions.  As it was, he was a wondrous person who brimmed with legitimate positivity and refused to kowtow to convention. One of his mantras was his succinct way of telling everyone to appreciate their lives: Count Yer Blessings!, and that’s what I’m about to do.

-I’m blessed to live in a time when being a professional gambler is relatively easy.  Thanks to the internet and television, I don’t have to be an absolute savant to make a living at gambling.  We’re a pretty healthy little sub-sect of society nowadays.  Only ten years ago, the life I have chosen for myself would have been impossible.  Now it only takes dedication and a modicum of ability.  I am blessed to have both.

-I’m blessed to have a family that supports me.  Janeen gets everything about what I do and is my biggest fan.  To the surprise of many, my parents are equally supportive.  I was proud to have my father along with me two weeks ago at Caesar’s.  Not only did he sweat my brief appearance at the final table, he experienced a complete day with me on the road and met many of my new poker player friends.  He has done his share of hanging out with losing gamblers, so I imagine that he really appreciated getting to meet a handful of winners from the poker community.

-I’m blessed that poker is practically recession-proof.  The turnouts for the tournaments I grind have been stellar this year, and there are no signs that things will slow down.  We’d need to get blasted with a full-blown bread line, “brother can you spare a dime?” kind of depression for poker tournaments to lose their steam.  To that end, I’m blessed that I have as little to do with corporate America and corporate law firms as possible right now.  If Janeen wasn’t so intimately involved in that world, I’d feel smug–very smug indeed– about this fact.  Janeen is constantly coming home with news of corporate layoffs, law firms closing their doors, downsizing, etc., and several friends of mine have recently been laid off.  Sounds like a lot of misery begetting misery.  Not my thing.  I’m blessed to have bailed out when I did.

That’s all for now.  I’m off to Foxwoods tonight for a couple of tournies.  Good luck to The Mayor and MC, who have made Day 2 of the $600 Event up there.

11 thoughts on “The Unbearable Lightness of Poker.

  1. David,

    Not sure words can do justice in terms of a meaningful response. I smiled throughout reading this entry. I fill my days in corporate America, lusting for the next tournament, salivating at the next opportunity to “make a big score” and leave this all behind. My plan is selfish, and grand, at least to me. I stopped worrying about whether I’d lose my job a while back, and secretly, a piece of me “hopes” I get canned, so I can move to Vegas or L.A. to give playing professionally a shot. These keystrokes are likely being monitored by Big Brother/The Thought Police, so perhaps I’ll see you sooner than later on the tournament trail. Wow…that would be so cool, to get pushed into the deep end of the pool, and fight to make it out alive. All the best, as always, gl at Foxwoods.

  2. Remember that the meaning of life is to win tomorrows Foxwoods 1K event. Descarte said I win at tournament poker therefore I am.

  3. In the end, if the big rip is true, then it all really won’t matter.

    Nice entry, sir, and good luck up there. 🙂

  4. Maybe life justs means to touch someone in some way. Pop Pop did that many times over. I am sure you will pass it on in your own way . Enjoy and always “Keep Smiling”

  5. nice read, i’ve had similiar thoughts at times and recently almost became a teacher because i wanted to do “something valuable” with my life and help children, despite the fact that i dont think i would have enjoyed the end i think its best to stay true to one’s own nature for everyones sake.

    i am not religous and in the end i think that the only way anyone’s spirit “lives on” is in the way they affected people while they were alive and what they gave them, the greatest gift being happiness. so i think our greatest individual responsibility to our friends and family is being happy..

    plus, like Russell Simmons always says and u exemplify “Money doesnt make happy but Happy makes money”

    congrats on another final table and great cash @ foxwoods,,,u must be playing a very sick game rite now

  6. Probably one of the best entries I’ve read on this blog….very profound stuff Dave…keep em coming…

    congrats on another sick run at foxwoods…what can I say? you are my hero

    Try to come back for the main as it will be the last 10k on the east coast for quite some time…the way you are playing and running, it would def be the worth the trip back!

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