- 14.07.2009, 15:18
- This post has been edited 2 time(s), it was last edited by MrPavlos: 14.07.2009 17:38.
Why I Don't Play Poker...
BY: ALEC TORELLI
Several months ago I wrote a blog post titled "Why I Play Poker" (pretty self explanatory). There are many reasons one can choose to play ranging from competition, spirit, money, joy of winning, accomplishment, intellectual stimulation, enjoyment, and countless other reasons. My reasons are a hybrid of the ones above, each one comprising a small, yet significant part of the pie. I thoroughly enjoy learning, winning and competing yet recently I have found that I have not been stimulated by poker. I found many of my recent sessions to be mundane and I have been forcing myself to play - often resulting in poor play, negatively stimulated mood, bad mindset and inevitably, losing. Fortunately I had a big February to compensate for my recent inadequacy, but that's beside the point. I have recently (starting from my last trip to Vegas in the beginning of March where I lost the biggest pot of my life with KK to AA) until today (March 26th) not played a hand of poker. Since then I have noticed some significant changes in my daily life which may seem trivial to some, but to a full time poker player those subtleties can make all the difference. (I should also note that this is my longest break since I started playing in 2004 when I was just a junior in high school.)
The pre poker years. I was just a kid (although some would say I still am) at 12 years old. Although I vividly remember losing my "lava lamp" to my good friend Eric because I had ran out of money, gambling was not yet affecting my life. For those wondering, he still needles me about the lava lamp and I see it every time I visit his house. I never win! Anyways, I was full of life - enjoying the likes of basketball, baseball, boy scouts, friends and causing small trouble around the neighborhood. I was so easily amused, from things as small as the ice cream truck to a new toy. "Enjoy being a kid" they would tell me. "You're going to have to grow up and work someday..."
The good ol' days. I can see them as clear as yesterday. I would head over to a friends after school for a $5 home game and be ecstatic to come out a $3 winner. I had no idea about pot odds, fold equity, three betting or any other poker term. I would have probably loathed the person who talked poker strategy and critiqued the play of others. I played purely for the fun of the game, and I loved the rush of winning. It was degeneracy in its infancy. Everything was so new and exciting and everyday poker would bring a new and unexpected twist that I could learn from. I chatted with friends at the table, enjoyed the friendly competition, bickering and the way it stimulated me mentally (similar to chess which I played frequently throughout high school). More importantly, I was outgoing, spontaneous, friendly and motivated in my everyday life. I was a social butterfly if you will and maintained lots of relationships, including a semi serious girlfriend. I held an A average, held a lead role in my high school musical, ran varsity track, was an accomplished Eagle Scout as well as several other hobbies on the side. I was extremely aware of not only what was happening in my daily life, but had a concern for wordly affairs too. I started several political clubs in High School as well as frequently enjoyed debating and challenging my current beliefs in order to further my learning. I planned to attend SMU (where I had a scholarship) and major in Business Marketing. I wanted to run my own company and do what I enjoyed most - working with people. Now this is nothing unusual - essentially I was a functioning part of society - a human being.
I lay in bed awake at 4:00 a.m after a marathon session at the Wynn. I was up roughly $60,000 as the game was about to break. On the last hand of the night I got KK to Brian Rasts' AA and lost a $250,000 pot putting me down roughly $75,000 on the day. Most of the time I would be on "suicide watch" at the extremely ridiculous nature of the situation (not to mention I got KK to AA in February for an $80,000 pot at Commerce), however that's not what was keeping me awake on this very night. Ironically Brian and I are good friends, and we went out to grab a drink after the session. We talked briefly before I went back to Andrews to crash for the night. It had maybe been an hour since the impact of the hand and what troubled me was that I wasn't phased at the fact I just lost a pot equivalent to the amount the average American makes in seven years. To be honest, I vividly remember more situations where I was more tilted at losing $100 (although of course they were several years ago). And it's not like I have millions of dollars to lose either. This pot was a significant part of my net worth (although I will say that my daily life is not affected). I hope this doesn't come across as bragging, because I can assure you that's not my intent. I was completely numb to the loss - void of all emotion. Somewhere between 2004 and now, the fun stopped and it became a grind.
Even worse, I was not stimulated by interesting things on a daily basis. I was a machine and I when I looked in the mirror I reminded myself of Christian Bale in the marginal movie "Equilibrium." The premise is that in order to contain human emotion they inject themselves daily with a tranquilizer which makes them completely neglect all emotion one can experience. They are essentially a walking computer. It scared me to think I could fit into this movie and not be distinguished from the herd. To my credit, I worked extremely hard to get to the point where I was. I had done my homework if you will. I studied the works of Nassim Taleb in Fooled by Randomness and learned about mathematics and probability. I read Tommy Angelo's book and learned to control my emotions while playing. I read books on relationships, the human mind, the brain and everything that could possibly affect me while playing poker. I talked with respected peers like Andrew, Luke, Ben, Alex and Tom to learn from their mistakes and took bits and pieces from across the board to perfect my game. It didn't stop there. While playing, I worked on my breathing to control myself, ate properly to have the energy needed, worked out regularly and took yoga to improve concentration and stamina and hired a personal assistant so I can focus more intently on work. I took things even further. While playing at the casino, I listened to music to improve concentration and not be affected by those around me. I didn't involve myself in conversation, drinking or anything that would take my attention away from the game. While playing online, I got rid of "avatars on Full Tilt, used stats to improve my reads, made the backgrounds black to not be distracted and closed all AIM, cell phone and other conversations while playing. Essentially, I was a human computer - processing the necessary information and using it to maxamize profit. I plugged every leak possible and never settled for anything less than perfect. I saw an increase in results. I won several tournaments, was killing the cash games and making a name for myself in the poker world. I was beginning to get my first taste of success. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. I worked hard and one can even say it's admirable. I'm not disagreeing. Unfortunately, it all comes at a cost.
It became increasingly difficult to hold a conversation with my peers. Important things to them seemed so trivial to me. It was hard to empathize with the typical "I got a $2 raise today at work" or "I can't believe I got a $18 parking ticket" or "I don't want to eat there, we just missed happy hour." These things seem inconsequential when you have 6 figure swings. I was losing my grasp of reality and most importantly, I lost touch with people. It was becoming harder to share my feelings with others since I was trained to be an emotionless machine while playing poker. I was always in a hurry and extremely impatient. I didn't wait for change when I went out to eat and was often short with sales people. I would constantly think about my latest downswing and my primary concern was always recovering monetarily. I didn't pursue any hobbies (except my triathlon which was during a time I was playing poker less frequently) and moreover I gave up some that I thoroughly enjoyed. I stopped singing after four years, stopped snowboarding after six years and didn't pursue piano which I entirely regret. "But what about the freedom that poker brings?" Ahhhh - the freedom. It's ironic actually, for its the freedom that binds us. We are in constant need of new peaks (which are emotional highs - both monetarily and emotionally) so much so that it occupies our every thought. We end up spending all our free time playing poker so the freedom that we thought we had really limits us. And I like to think of myself as one of the more "balanced" poker players who always advocates doing other things besides playing poker. I like to think that pursuing other activities is one of my biggest strengths, and I feel like if Andrew and myself are struggling in this arena, then others must be facing similar problems.
Perhaps the most important concept of all that I've yet to cover is my overall happiness and how it's affected throughout this process. I remember reading an excerpt from "Fooled by Randomness" where he described the effects that winning and losing have on your mentality. The consensus (and I whole heartedly agree) is that the negative effects that losing have on your mentality is worse than the positive affects that winning have. More plainly, you're more unhappy when you lose than you are happy when you win. He (Nassim Taleb, the author) actually equated a mathematical formula to this "problem" in which he equated a losing experience to be 2.5 times as bad as a winning experience is good. Since most winning poker players only win about 60% of the time, this can be extremely detrimental to our overall happiness. And isn't that the most important thing?
Lastly, one of the biggest influences of my life comes is a man by the name of Dennis Prager (a nationally syndicated radio talk show host) who frequently visits the subject of happiness in the work arena. He once said, "if you want to see if you'll be happy in 15 years at your current job, look at those 15 years older than you in your current field." While this seems so trivial, I rarely take the time to do it. No offense to those still in the industry, but I don't want to be a middle aged man playing poker while trying to raise a family. The idea doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. This is another huge reason while I am trying to make the switch and use what I learned in poker to help me in my new endeavours. I will say that some things I learned are priceless, and I wouldn't change anything I've done or do it any differently. I've had the most fun I feel any 22 year old can have and I don't regret a thing.
Now I can see how one may think that this post is an attempt to gain sympathy for the struggles of a poker player. Please. I have it great. I am thankful everyday for the luxuries that I have and never try and (seriously) complain about trivial matters. It's very easy to see the benefits of playing poker for a living. I am merely trying to touch on some aspects that are extremely important, yet rarely addressed. Many of us (especially aspiring poker players) overlook some of the nuances of the game that cannot be known unless one has a large amount of experience in the field. I would also say that playing high stakes is somewhat of a "drug" in that it becomes increasingly harder to play smaller stakes. This becomes a huge problem since losing is inevitable and moving down has to happen at some point. I have found this problem to be one of the biggest throughout my poker career. Also, since I've stopped playing, I'm at literally 0 risk of going broke (although my spending habits would say otherwise) but at least it's not from volatility. And for me, that's a good feeling.
So what next? Of course, I can't live forever on doing nothing! I'm not sure. And I'm not saying that I'm quitting entirely. I'm just going to take a LOT of time off in the future. I'll still play some events in the WSOP as well as big tournaments in LA and Vegas. I'll also play the occasional cash games to support my lifestyle. But I've decided that to be fulfilled I need to do something more challenging and experience new things. I've come to understand that in any given field, when learning stops, we become bored. That's huge and I feel like I've gotten to that point in poker. Not to say I know everything, but it just doesn't intrigue me like it used to. I'm not trying to advocate that one cannot be happy and successful while pursuing poker. I will say though, that it is imperative that we understand and can be comftorable with the bad as well as the good in order to maintain our sanity. For me, it's becoming increasingly difficult. I have also come to learn that I cannot be creative and conjure up new ideas while playing poker. Although this is somewhat of a nuance, I have to take some time off to let my mind rest and think of something to do in the future. Until then, I'll keep blogging, expressing and most importantly - learning.
If anyone has any ideas as to potential hobbies, business ventures or things they do for fun that I would enjoy please don't hesitate to email me. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject and I'm sure I'll get a lot regarding this topic due to it's nature. Furthermore, I have a bet with Ben Sulsky as to who will receive more emails about their blogs - so I'll be sure to reply and check email regularly. Please send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org Also check out Andrew Robl's blog (http://www.andrewrobl.com) because he posted a similar post regarding this subject as well. I hope that between the two of us we provide an new insight to an often repressed subject.
"Love what you do, and you'll never work a day in your life."
Cheers ~ Trah ~