For the past two years, online poker has been my only source of income. I have made thousands playing the various games of poker, and I spent my winnings on games, widescreen monitors, and a variety of rare and limited edition obscurities. I never spent any of it on rent and books because I never needed money for that. I played poker for the luxurious standard of living it gave me over the average student.
I discovered Full Tilt Poker, one of the two leading online poker rooms, after a friend introduced me to Texas Hold ‘Em and found that you could sign up for a free account and play for ‘play chips’. The site starts you off with 1,000 play chips, and if you ever go below that, you can instantly reload. The idea is that you learn the basics of the game without actually risking any money. I played there for half a year or so and ran my 1,000 play chips into somewhere in the range of 3,500,000 play chips. I thought I was a poker genius.
On my 18th birthday, I deposited $100 on the site. Within a few days I was down to just $20. Looking back, I realise I was a terrible player and was playing stakes way above what I should have been. However, I entered a tournament with my remaining money and struck lucky (while presumably still playing terribly) and reclaimed $80.
Around this time I discovered Two Plus Two, the internet’s leading poker forum. I became a member, and started discussing strategy with vastly superior poker minds. I learnt I was committing a series of elementary mistakes and quickly became a stronger player. I started to rise my earnings, although I was still punching above my weight.
One night, while I was playing, I found myself down $20. The fact that this was a good 10% of my entire balance terrified me. Since my rocky beginnings, I’d never lost such a large chunk of my budget in one night. I decided to play a higher game to try and recoup my losses (very, very stupid) and lost another $15. I almost cried.
I was devastated, if not because of the loss of the money, but because of all the effort I’d put in over the past few weeks. This feeling of loss would ultimately lead to the end of my poker career.
The money in my account slowly grew to around $500. Then came the most incredible week, when, within three days, I collected two first place finishes, a second place and a third place in large-field tournaments for a combined total of about $1,500. This was mind-blowing. It was beyond mind-blowing.
To earn a £1,000 in a few days in my University room was more than I could have ever imagined. I went on a crazy spending spree and bought loads of stuff. The porter’s lodge was inundated with parcels for me.
I continued to play and began to profit significantly. Everything went smoothly until I decided to withdraw the majority of my money from my account, leaving me with $600.
Then I went on the worse run I’d had. I lost $100 the next day I played, from a combination of bad luck and overconfident decisions. I readied myself to earn it back, but things just went from bad to worse. I couldn’t get anything going, and I found myself down to just $100, having lost $500 or so in a few weeks. Despite my previous huge winnings, the mind is a fickle thing, and I found myself transfixed by my Full Tilt account balance, unable to comprehend why it was so low. The fact I was still up thousands of pounds in lifetime earnings suddenly seemed irrelevant compared to the £300 I’d thrown away. I stopped playing.
Over the summer, I slowly started again. I moved down to smaller games to regain my confidence. My Full Tilt balance began to grow again, though very slowly. I made about £50 in a month, and bizarrely, felt great about this. I was starting from scratch again, but I was OK with that.
My balance grew and I started playing bigger and bigger games, getting back into the swing of things. One day, I started to play, but within about eighty minutes, I was losing money. A lot of money. A few big hands went against me, and suddenly, my account balance halved in the space of a few seconds.
I stared at the screen for a little while, having lost a hefty percentage of a term’s entire tuition fee in just an hour or so. And yet, despite this, I was totally calm. I didn’t feel horrified or furious or in tears as I was two years ago, when I lost a piddling $35 in a night. I was thinking utterly clearly.
I realised something I’d never fully comes to term with before. It wasn’t the loss of money that sickened me – it’s only a number on a screen. It was the fact that the past few hundred hours of thoughtful and time-consuming play had been thrown away in a single night. This wasn’t a video game – there was no reload button.
Money I’d previously had was gone. It wasn’t mine any more.
With a remarkable clarity, the realisation hit me that my poker career was over. I withdrew my remaining account balance. My last vestiges of poker money were safe in my bank account. I did a quick tally, and realised I’d played over half a million hands of poker. The ride was over.
It seems unreal, now, to look back at those three incredible days where I made over a £1,000 so quickly; that’s what takes the average full-time-worker around half a month.
I don’t regret playing poker for two years – far from it. I made a ton of money and own a lot of great things that I would have never been able to afford without it. But unless you can stomach losing hundreds of pounds in a night and having all your great play for weeks go to waste at the turn of a virtual card, I wouldn’t suggest it.
And even if you think you can stomach that – you can’t. Take it from me. I tried.