Saturday, June 10, 2006

Born to Gamble Part VI: Revival

I first met Haley at one of those pretentious Upper East Side cocktail parties that Woody Allen makes fun of in his films, where they serve fancy hors d'oeuvres like curry quail eggs with organic squash and try to impress their guests with overpriced French Bordeaux wine that gets you as drunk as a bottle that's 1/4 the price. During our first conversation, I asked Haley one of the three standard questions people in New York ask each other.

"Where do you live?"

"73rd and Amsterdam," she said as I stared at her breasts.

"Ah, right around the corner from Player's Club."

"Huh, what's that?"

"Oh, it's an um.... an underground poker room that I play at. Sometimes."

"Ewww! Poker?" as she rolled her eyes. "Like an illegal casino with mobsters and extras from The Sopranos?"

"Something like that."

play online pokerPoker became such a major part of my everyday mental processes that the first thing I thought of when Haley mentioned where she lived was the exact distance from her apartment to the poker club that I used to play in. She sarcastically rolled her eyes at me that night when I mentioned poker. I'd roll them back at her one year later she'd ask me to help teach her and her friends from her acting class how to play Hold'em in the infamous Haleywood Homegame.

I had been writing on my poker blog for about six months when I met my first fellow poker blogger, Ugarte from Rick's Cafe. He and a few of his lawyer buddies had a group blog and a homegame. In one of those weird Six Degrees of Pauly, we found out that he went to law school with one of my prep school classmates. Ugarte invited me to his homegame at the Blue Parrot and I showed up with a six pack of Red Stripe and $200. Through Ugarte I'd meet Ferrari, Coach, Rick, Swish, and F Train who went to law school with Rick. We'd play dealer's choice on Monday nights and the games were ferociously fun. I introduced them to The Hammer and by the second homegame, everyone at the Blue Parrot wielded Hammers like they were pocket Aces.

At the time I supported myself by playing poker. I grinded it out for a couple hundred a week playing $1-2 NL in the underground clubs in New York City and I frequently played at Foxwoods or in AC, renting cars when my bankroll permitted, otherwise taking the bus with the other degenerate gamblers. I was reluctant to play online poker, despite Iggy and HDouble's endorsement of the fishy games on Party Poker. All of the winnings from my live play went to pay bills. I got caught up in that horrible habit of using my bankroll for non-poker things, instead of reinvesting back into my bankroll and moving up in levels. For the short term, I was fine but I craved the camaraderie of a homegame like Jerry's in Atlanta or the Trout House in Seattle where I could hang out, watch sports, drink, curse, smoke and have a few laughs. That's when Ugarte invited me to The Blue Parrot and I met some folks who would end up becoming close friends.

A couple of months later I met four more poker bloggers. I got blitzed with Daddy at setbreak of a Phish show in Deer Creek, Indiana. I had just smoked opium in the bathroom with a barefoot kid with a tattoo of 4:20 on the back of his neck, when Daddy and I crossed paths for the first time. A few days later, I visited BG in his Western Michigan hamlet. I sat in on his homegame during his 30th birthday and I met the cryptic Lord Geznikor. (I am the only blogger who's met Lord Geznikor and SirWaffle. I dare anyone to top those feats!)

Earlier that month, I also met AlCantHang at a Phillies game. He introduced me to his merry posse which included his lovely wife (and one of the few chicks who could drink Jim Morrison under the table) EvaCanHang, BigMike, Landow, and the infamous Lewey who sent me on tilt in Al's homegame.

I was in contact with group of twenty or so poker bloggers, which was about the majority of the bloggers at the time. I'd play on the $25 NL tables on Party Poker with Derek, The Fat Guy, Mr. Decker, BadBlood, Iggy, Maudie, Chris Halverson, BG, Lord Geznikor, Mean Gene, Glyph, HDouble, and Otis, while we'd sweat Grubby while he played 4 SNGs at once. We couldn't wait to drop the Hammer and put the other players (non-bloggers which we condescendingly nicknamed "tourists") on uber-tilt.

Iggy, Felicia, and Grubby set up different blogger tournaments and we played in them for shits and giggles. We jokingly called ourselves the WPBT as a spoof on the WPT more than anything else. Most of my adult life I avoided participating mainstream group activities. Joining a "club" or paramilitary organization was the last thing I wanted to do. I met some cool people and had a blast playing poker. But we also developed deeper friendships based on our other common interests.

Our friendships gave us the inspiration and encouragement to become a support system for each other. We all helped lay the foundation and from that solid base, a community sprang up and began to flourish. Over the past three years, hundreds of other blogs have built upon what we started.

Every few weeks I'd get an email from a reader and fan who told me that I inspired them to start a poker blog. I realized that the majority of people who read my blog didn't have one. I really thought that only other bloggers and my friends read my blogs. My words helped inspire strangers. I was blown away and mortified.

I wandered over to this side of the web and set up shop, thinking that there would be no way anyone else would do something similar. I was wrong. I was no longer the crazy guy in the woods living in a shack. Other lost and curious souls from all walks of life built of shacks next to mine and we soon had a shanty town. Then a ghetto.

I had written for several years without any financial success. Friends enjoyed my work but their endless encouragement didn't pay the bills. Sure, being a writer got me laid every now and then, along with a lot of free meals from friends with real jobs. For the most part I took a vow of poverty when I decided to pursue writing as a career. If I wanted to make money, I would have stayed on Wall Street or tried to find other work in that sector where you are compensated for your services. I took a different path and accepted that the cut in pay would also allow me the freedom to create while gaining experiences and exploring an adventurous life that millionaires try to buy when they are retired.

When I was hired to write my first freelance poker assignment, I was baffled, excited, and angry. Poker was by far the worst of my writing. I wrote a half a million other words that were much better, yet those were ignored. In late 2004, I had completed five novels and two screenplays and had not made a dime from my writing.

With the poker boom, my services were needed. I happened to be at the right place, at the right time. A European site called Professional Poker offered me a job to help write player profiles of selected pros. The owner was a regular reader of the Tao of Poker and liked my writing style. I started out writing a weekly assignment, which lasted for a year and a half. And of course, it took European sensibility to realize that I had talent. Thanks to W at Professional Poker for offering me my first poker job.

As Woody Allen once said, "Here, I'm a bum. There, I'm a genius. Thank God that the French exist."

The other assignments came rolling in. needed content and I obliged. hired me to write regularly for their site. Inside of a month, I had three clients that offered me steady work. That's when the Poker Prof offered me a job to move to Las Vegas cover the 2005 WSOP. That's when most of you started reading me from about a year ago. Through the Prof, I was picked up by Poker Player Newspaper. Through Poker Player, I was picked up by Fox Sports.

For a couple of hours (on more than one instance) during last year's WSOP, one of my poker articles was the lead story on the Fox Sports homepage. My 15 minutes of fame started winding down at that point.

During the WSOP, I met Lou Krieger through Amy Calistri. They were both avid readers and Lou's a real poker writer, not a hack like the majority of people in this industry. Lou created space for me in Poker Pro magazine. He told them to start a tournament column which would insure that I got an article in every issue. Since then I've also collaborated with All In and Bluff. I have never written anything for Card Player Magazine. I've never been asked.

Late last year, I was hired by the Borgata to help live blog their Winter Poker Open. That was the first time I was employed by an actual casino. Despite the long hours and working for 13 straight days, it was an amazing experience.

The pinnacle of this amazing adventure had to be the night I went to the Playboy Mansion a couple of months ago with Spaceman, CJ, Chad, Joe Speaker, BG, Bobby Bracelet, and AlCantHang. The eight of us, all of whom were decked out in new clothing, gathered on the front lawn of Hef's as the celebrity charity tournament winded down. I had just taken a piss on the lawn after I ripped a gager by the spider monkey cage. AlCantHang was lying on one of the lion statues and smoking a Marlboro. I looked around at my friends and a wave of humility fell over me. The moment wasn't special because I was at the Mansion. It was special because I got to experience it with my friends.

I've led a lucky life. I'm the luckiest person that I know.

Sometimes the cards aren't falling the way I want, I remind myself that I might be unlucky at the tables but I'm sitting pretty with a monster stack in the game of life.

For a while I grew extremely confused with the future of my career, writing, and the blogs. I hated all things poker which was ironic since it was the main source of my friends, income, and popularity. I should have been happy but wasn't. And I couldn't continue with anything until I discovered the source of disdain and depression. Shortly after the Mansion, I began to reassess how I approached everything in my life. It took me a couple of weeks of soul searching in Hollyweird of all places. After a good old fashioned bender, underneath the ubiquitous palm trees and thin layer of smog, I rediscovered the passion in writing and in poker.

partypokerad.gifI stopped worrying about the things I couldn't control or change, and focused on my strengths and what I could improve. Blogging is not writing. And I stopped blogging and started writing. I cut down my time on the internet. I stopped reading poorly written blogs and stopped reading blogs that I used to skim. I used the time that I was wasting to read books by excellent authors.

I changed my philosophy of how I cover poker tournaments and my gamble paid off. I was happy with my new format because it gave me more free time and it actually worked. I have a gameplan for this year's WSOP, something I didn't have last year. And for the first time in a very long time, I was excited to move back to Las Vegas and cover the WSOP. Before, I had been dreading it.

Since my revival or rebirth, I've been in a much better headspace. I'm not as moody or grumpy. I have a purpose again and don't feel like an old French whore. Although my writing has flourished across the board, I know that I can still do better. Right now I'm a C student but if I keep pressing myself, I can become a solid B+ student in about five or six more years.

* * * * *

This series came out of nowhere. It always existed. My past has always been there for me to use as material. It was a change of pace and something different to write about instead of bragging or lamenting about my wins or losses on the online site du jour.

When I got back from to NYC after the WPT Championships, I took a few days to clean out my old bedroom in my mother's apartment. It had become a storage space for myself and Derek, and a sometime flop space for me. There's an old futon mattress that I had from college in the corner and I wondered what the Over/Under was for how many girls that I slept with on that mattress faked their orgasms?

The room was a mess and unorganized. I had boxes and boxes of crap with paintings stacked up on one side of the room and books scattered all over. I grouped the books into one place and started throwing out useless junk and memories that I didn't mind going into the trash. During this Spring Cleaning, I was bombarded with flashbacks. It was inevitable. Seeing a painting, or a box of photographs from college, or a shoebox filled with concert ticket stubs filled me with memories. The once dark room was a museum to myself and I locked away all those feelings for the last few years while I've been on the road living out of my backpack again sleeping in different casinos, motels, and friends couches.

I once wrote about the Bozos and the Bolos. I said:
The Bozos had seats facing backwards on their tourbus so they could look back, while the Bolos sat looking forward. That represented two styles of thought. Are you one to look back constantly? Or do you stay in the moment while looking toward the future.
I've always been one to look forward more than looking back. The past was over and does not exist anymore, only inside the hallways of my mind. I'm the type of person who relishes living in the moment. But over the past month or so, I have been looking back. Sometimes to remind myself to lighten up and enjoy my life. Sometimes to try to figure out where I fucked up and how I can avoid that again. And sometimes just to feel better about myself. Sure there were plenty of sad moments, but I also hit some amazing highpoints that I wish some of you have the chance to experience in your lives.

The Tao of Poker is where I talk about the way of poker in my life, whether it's playing online or at the WSOP. Poker has been my gambling mistress over the last few years and if there's anything we both learned from the Born to Gamble series (besides, "Dude, you smoke a lot of pot!") is that gambling has been an integral part of my life, as much as breathing. It's always been there both directly and indirectly.

And I'm not just talking about gambling for money. I've gambled with my life, too many times to count. I've put my body through some several rigorous activities from various sports injuries to destroying millions of brain cells and weakening my liver during week long alcho-narco binges. I've driven drunk. I've cut the tags off my mattresses. I've gone swimming right after I ate. I've run with scissors. I had unprotected sex. I took plenty of chances running thousands of red lights. I bought hash off of razor blade toting Persians in a dark alley in Tokyo. I've flown on Air Pakistan...

The immediate high was more important than the future consequences. It's always been like that. That's why I gamble so much. The orgasmic rush. I've been chasing the high for my entire life. And when I get a small taste, it gives me a feeling of invincibility. Then I want more...

I've gambled with the law so many times. As much as you might think I've broken the laws with underage drinking and other substance abuse, nothing compares to the criminal acts I undertook when I worked on Wall Street. If I should be imprisoned, it would be for the crimes I committed against humanity when I wore a Brooks Brother suit.

I've gambled on friendships and relationships. Sometimes I knew I shouldn't be associated with some people, but I kept pressing my luck. I took leaps of faith with women I barely knew and jumped into relationships, knowing that I was a 5 to 1 underdog, yet fell hard and fast anyway.

I've gambled with my career so many times. For a while I got paid to gamble with other people's money. Then I took several big risks by leaving Wall Street during my attempt to become a writer. For many years that gamble was not paying off. These days, I take chances with new freelance clients. Will they pay me on time? Will they fuck me over? I assess the risk and take the shot.

I took a huge gamble last year when I accepted a job from the Poker Prof and covered the 2005 WSOP. Every time I stepped out of the Redneck Riviera, I gambled with my life. And this year, I'm going to gamble again and try to do thing differently at the 2006 WSOP.

Over the past few years, I grew frustrated that I couldn't get published in certain magazines or websites. I might be a considered one of the better writers in the poker industry, but that means jack shit in the real world of publishing. I'm still dealing with rejection on a daily basis which is humbling and frustrating. My work has yet to make it in front of a mainstream audience after a decade of sweat and agony. Maybe that will change as I have my eyes set on pursuing a career in Hollyweird.

I desperately wanted to get paid to write a weekly column at a number of places. That's never going to happen and the reality had depressed me. That's when I realized that I have something that's better than the prestigious gig that I thought I wanted. I own real estate on the web where I can publish my own words. Sure I might not get paid as much (if at all) for my writing, but at least I can control what I say and when I say it.

So who needs Salon, Harper's or Card Player when I have the Tao of Pauly, Truckin', and Tao of Poker?

Some of my favorite writers have never reached the audience numbers in their lifetime that I'm getting on a daily basis. I'm not going to waste that opportunity anymore. Last year, during the main event of the WSOP, I had well over one million unique visitors stop by the Tao of Poker. That's the equivalent to the city of Seattle. Imagine everyone in Seattle reading your blog and hanging on every word. Talk about pressure. That's enough to give anyone stage fright.

This year, I'm expecting a similar number of visitors hopefully more with at least two million or so sets of eyes fixated on the Tao of Poker's coverage of the 2006 WSOP. Judging by the quality of my writing over the past two months, I'm ready for that challenge. All artists, musicians, actors, painters, athletes, writers, singers, and comedians want to show off their skills in front of an audience. They want to make an impression onto society.

In a few weeks I'll be given that rare opportunity. It might be the last time I get the bright spotlight on me and I'm not going to waste that chance to speak my mind and talk about the way of poker as I see it at the WSOP.

That's why I rejected a fat paycheck from an online site to blog for them at the WSOP. I scoffed at the notion that a popular poker magazine wanted to offer me an hourly wage, that's the same as the other flunkies they get off of Craig's List. I'm going to the 2006 WSOP by myself which means that I'm paying my own way. I'm trying to get a sponsor in the next few days which will help cover some of the costs, but for now the airfare, rental car, rent at Grubby's, food, and lapdances... are all on my dime.

I'm going to cover the 2006 WSOP for the Tao of Poker and for the Poker Prof's Las Vegas and Poker Blog. I still will be contributing bi-monthly columns in Poker Player and I still have my column in Poker Pro. Anything else I do for them or any other media outlets like Fox Sports or Bluff will be on a freelance basis. I'm excited to work side by side with Flipchip again. His WSOP photos and my words will help tell you the daily story at this year's WSOP. Flipchip and I are the best at what we do. Scott Joplin once said, "It ain't braggin' if you can do it."

We did it last year and we're going to do it again. I hope you come back to experience the ride. And tell your friends and co-workers.

As long as I can remember, I've been gambling my entire life from the first Super Bowl I ever saw to getting my Pocket Aces cracked on Party Poker a couple of hours ago. And the biggest payoffs have been when I've gambled on myself as a longshot... and won. I've been doing things my way and I'm going to continue to do so. I was born a gambler and I'm not going to stop anytime soon.

Editor's Note: If you have not read the first five installments of Born to Gamble, then visit Part I: Where It All Begins, Part II: Southbound, Part III: Midnight Rider, Part IV: Ramblin' Man, and Part V: Whipping Post.

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