Yes, this blog still works.
I don’t expect any sympathy on this, especially from people with tougher lives than mine, from people who work two jobs to feed their families… but full time lawyering + parenting + poker = a lot. Things like “food shopping” and “haircut” languish on my to do list for weeks at a time. “Update blog” isn’t even on my radar. It sucks, because I do enjoy writing. I loved coming up with ideas for this space then spending a few leisurely hours getting them typed up. Now? Impossible. I fall asleep whenever I’m left unattended for two minutes. Writing’s a luxury I can no longer afford. Gonna give it a quick try, though.
I’m most interested in discussing my children, but there’s nothing especially compelling about kid stories on (what used to be?) a poker blog. I could run through all of Ivy’s adorable malaprops and mispronunciations, which are now sadly disappearing as she becomes more and more conversant, but two of the best: “fooda” means stroller and a perfectly yiddish gutteral sound, “uchhhh” means milk. I could share her obsession with the children’s television show Yo Gabba Gabba. Or I could describe Max’s indomitable happiness (seriously, a vaccination suppresses his perma-grin him for maybe three seconds), his insatiable love of music and his moutaineering (he scrambles to the highest point in the room when left to his own devices). But there are parenting message boards for that. I’d know, Janeen subscribes. I guess I’ll just talk about how poker fits into my life.
I do not play poker on weekends (case in point, no Harrah’s AC Main Event for me tomorrow). It’s not fair to Janeen. The best days for me are weekdays, when daycare is taken care of. That of course means that playing poker requires holidays from work. I don’t usually have much trouble getting days off, and for that I owe gratitude to my boss/father, who appreciates my love of poker. I used to bemoan the difficult times when I would drive a car for several hours and play a tournament on the same day (rather than arriving the night before). Those days are now the norm. I’m pretty lucky to be playing at all, and I know it.
When I do take a day trip and play, I don’t feel out of touch with the scene. Quite the opposite. During my cameos on the tournament trail I hang out with the same old friends, see the same old opponents, engage in the same old conversations about bad beats, big bluffs and whichever player is currently the hottest commodity on tour (and whether this person is a transcendent talent or is merely running well). The brand of poker I play also continues to mirror that of the full-time pros, and I feel perfectly comfortable battling them at the table. I haven’t missed a beat. Poker is like riding a bicycle. My training wheels came off in 2006.
I am happy with my decision to retire from full-time poker and believe I left at precisely the right time. I’m not trying to give myself any credit for this—my retirement was borne of my personal circumstances, it’s not like I read the poker tea leaves, but I believe the game is harder than it’s ever been right now. Rakes continue to increase, re-entry tournaments are becoming the norm, recreational players are losing interest, and the skill level of the average tournament player is on the rise. I can only produce anecdotal evidence in support of this theory, but I believe that the magical line of demarcation that separates the profitable players from the net losers—the breakeven line—has shifted from somewhere in the range of “good amateur” to the domain of “average pro.” Yes, I’m saying that in the current climate, there are professional poker players who are break-even. At best.
Most of the tournaments I’ve played recently have been trench warfare from the start. Minraising—once the exclusive province of the online freaks—is now the norm. The same older gentlemen who once passively sat there bleeding chips, clinging to their tournament lives, now employ the preflop 3- 4- 5-bet game the cool kids figured out years back. It’s kind of funny; if you check a poker-themed twitter feed any time a serious live tournament is winding down, you’ll find the same comments about how many “heros” “sickos” and “beasts” are left in the field, accompanied by comments like “the cream rises to the top.” The narrative of the good players systematically destroying fish is a popular one, and one that is often propagated amongst pros, possibly because a united sense of purpose can be derived from it. Unfortunately, I think it’s misguided. Good players are not destroying fish, they’re destroying each other—there aren’t many fish left in the pond. The ratio of sharp money to recreational money has never been higher, and when you factor in the current trend towards allowing re-entries, this effect is amplified. The cream isn’t rising to the top; poker tournaments are a pretty creamy beverage to begin with nowadays.
Despite all of that, I still love playing. And although I’ve now been working a 9-to-5 for almost a year, I continue to feel most comfortable when I’m in the poker world. I’m re-learning lawyering on the fly and poker tournaments are still “my element.” In the poker world, I am generally well-respected. My contributions to conversations there hold value. I feel completely at ease. When I make a play at the poker table, I can articulate the exact rationale for it. I approach every situation in a poker tournament with a cold calculation that can only be enabled through years of repetition. Perhaps oddly, I feel secure in the domain of a game of chance. In my new work life? Not so much. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I’m quite lost.
The worst days for me are invariably the ones immediately following a poker excursion. On the morning after a tournament, I have trouble getting out of bed. I mumble profanities as I put on my suit. I feel nervous before court appearances and I find that I have a shorter fuse when talking with clients. I feel like Ray Liotta in that final cutaway in Goodfellas, just a regular schmuck picking the newspaper up off his front porch.
The lifestyle it affords is of course professional gambling’s greatest perk, and the real job I’ve chosen sits somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s no wonder that I feel mildly depressed on days after. The contrast between the two worlds I’m attempting to straddle is extreme.
In fact, if I had to pick a single day on the 2012 calendar that made me truly miss professional poker, It’d probably be a day when I did not play poker at all. It was in early October: Day 1b of Event 1 of the WSOP Circuit stop in Hammond, Indiana. I had played Day 1a of the tournament and made it through, leaving me with a day off before I was scheduled to participate on Day 2. Janeen and the children were in Brooklyn and I was in Chicago. I slept in. I researched football statistics. I watched two innings of a baseball game on TV. I took a cab to one of my favorite restaurant/bars, where I ate a burger and drank some beers. I left and went home and went to sleep. That was my day, and I spent it completely alone, without speaking more than 20 words. I loved it, and it made me miss playing poker terribly. Poker is a pretty antisocial endeavor; it can actually make for a lonely profession. But the way my life is currently configured, one day of peaceful solitude is pure nirvana. What a day that was.
I don’t expect I’ll post much else here for awhile. After I came back from Council Bluffs, I wanted to write about how foreign and interesting the city of Omaha, Nebraska felt. Couldn’t find the time. After the WSOP Main Event, I planned to post about a couple of really interesting hands that I played and the disappointment of flaming out on a bad beat. Within a few days I couldn’t remember the important hands in much detail. After Hammond, I wanted to wax poetic about that day off and recap my second consecutive deep run through Event 1’s massive field. Never happened. Alas, I’m decidedly no longer a poker pro, and I’m definitely not a poker blogger.
That doesn’t mean you should try running a hopeless bluff against me. I’ll still snap it off in your ass.