Wednesday, September 14, 2005
I really am starting an uber-post, I swear. I even wrote two paragraphs so far!
But I wanted to share this lengthy post and thread with ya'll for now.
From 2+2, if you care to read the many responses this post generated.
One particular apropos message was, "Posts like these are about the only thing that make me feel guilty about winning."
Flameout in life and in Poker
Flameout in life and in Poker (VERY LONG)
I’ve lurked here for a long time, but I’ve never been compelled to post until now. I never really read the Psychology forums until recently, for reasons that will be clearer later on. This will be for some a long boring excursion into one degenerate gambler’s demise that I’m sure you’ve read countless times. Others may actually feel empathy and will relate to what I presume many of you have gone through. While for others it may be a cautionary tale. I’m not writing this for purely selfless reasons (i.e. to warn others of the dangers of gambling or whatnot, although that does play a part), I’m mainly writing this for cathartic and self-therapeutic reasons (as suggested by a therapist). Sometimes it is easier to be honest to a group of strangers in an anonymous forum than it is to be honest with yourself. I know I’ve had blinders on for many many years and I have battled many a demon not understanding the underlying subconscious needs and wants that are driving my oftentimes erratic and self-sabotaging behavior.
I know I will get flamed for this post. I’m expecting the snarky and wittily insightful remarks like “come sit at my table,” “don’t blame poker for your inability to reign in your emotions” or “maybe you just suck at poker.” BTW, I realize that that statement practically invites someone to post those lines verbatim, but I don’t care. What I am hoping for is possibly some encouragement and positive feedback, although from the postings I understand that this is probably one of the lesser read forums. I just hope that my story well get through to someone in similar circumstances and maybe reveal the dark underbelly of poker. Obviously, sites like 2+2 have a vested interest in portraying poker in its best light possible. Reading a site like this would lead a poker novice to overestimate the number of long term winners in poker, because all the posters here seem to be in the magic 2% - 10% (depending on who you believe, I believe it’s closer to the lower end) of long term poker winners. Yes I understand that it is a skewed sample and that the better players tend to study and post more on poker, but that is not my point. What about us 90 + percenters…i.e. the donators?? I suppose, and rightfully so, most poker sites don’t want to kill the golden goose, so they promote poker as a harmless hobby or even a lucrative career choice. What they don’t like to reveal is how insidious and harmful poker can be to those who play despite being severely overmatched, underbankrolled, and undereducated on what appears to be such a deceptively simple game, at least on TV. Add to that those who play despite (or should I say in spite of) being positively pathological in their compulsion to gamble.
All that and I still haven’t said anything about me. Well, how to begin? Well, I’ve played poker for about a decade now. Im in my early 30s now. I started playing mainly as a diversion from school. I thought I could keep in under control. And I did…at first. Somehow, I managed to maintain a 3.8 GPA in college and make it through law school. I have an extremely short attention span, unless it involves gambling. Uh, what was I saying? Nevermind. Ok did I inject some humor in this mawkish topic? Ok, I remember breezing through college, because frankly, college was easy for me. I could gamble and still get high marks in college. There were no consequences to my addiction back then, at least they weren’t readily apparent. Going to law school, well suddenly I was average among my peers. That is very disheartening and quite a blow to my ego, especially to someone who is raised to believe that he is somehow intellectually “gifted.” Invariably, the gambling increased, seemingly in proportion to the difficulty of my coursework. Not a good combination. Somehow, I managed to graduate law school in the top ¼ of my class, whilst being known as the campus slacker. I did as little as possible to get an A, however, success at this level didn’t come as easy as in my undergraduate studies. I am unhappy going to law school, but I grind it out thinking it will pay off later. Ring a bell? I am paying my dues at low limit knowing I will be in the big game soon. God I am sure I am boring what readers I have left, but like I said… this is mainly therapeutic for me.
Fast forward a few years later. Good job, nice car, engaged to a wonderful girl, everything seems to be looking up. Except it isn’t. I used to think that this was what I always wanted. To be materially successful and have a beautiful trophy wife. I was happy the first few years. When you come from middle class to making more than your parents combined your first year out of school it’s quite a culture shock. Yes I had fun, and I worked hard, and I hardly gambled. I thought I had it all. But, there was always that nagging suspicion in the back of my head telling me…this is not what you want. The life of a young layer in a big firm is a life sucker. 40 billable hours a week translates to about 60-70 hours in the office. I worked in Chapter 11 bankruptcies (corporate bankruptcies) which is about as tedious and mind-numbing as law can get. If I wanted to make partner in 8 years I would have to bring in so much dollars to my firm a year. It appreared I had the golden life, but I was dying inside.
I began to see signs of career burnout. It was frightening. Had I worked so hard and so long to do something I hate. Even my fiancé wasn’t much consolation. It became readily apparent that deep meaningful conversations were not her strong suit. I began to suspect that without all the accoutrements of high society, she might not be happy with me. I mentioned resigning and settling for a less demanding career as a government attorney. She balked at the idea. How were we going to make the mortgage payments and keep the fancy cars and such. I said we’ll will just have to downsize I said. She had never worked a day in her life so the prospect of actually working for a living was completely alien to her. I began to see my life circling down the drain. I became deeply depressed and felt my life and career circling down the drain. I suggested to her that maybe we should postpone the wedding. She told me if I wasn’t 100% sure than maybe we shouldn’t get married. It was an empty threat on her part, but in the back of my mind I knew she was right. I called her bluff and called off the wedding. She went ballistic. She said that I would never get anyone of her quality again. She said many many hurtful things which I don’t think I could ever forgive her for, even if they were untrue. I kicked her out of my house and for 2 weeks after she begged me to take her back. I was weak and eventually took her back.
I decided, however, that I would tell her I was leaving my job and I was planning on going back to school to become a teacher. I was only half serious, but I wanted to know how she would react. She placated me and said she would support me in any decision I made. I didn’t believe her. I took a leave of absence from work due to personal issues. People at my work knew I had broken up with her, they didn’t know we were back together. I knew taking an extended leave of absence would torpedo any chance of making partner, but I didn’t care. Work was becoming unmanageable with too many distractions, and by then, I was gambling quite heavily in Atlantic City on the weekends. My mind was always wandering, thinking about gambling. It was my drug. It numbed my brain, between work and my fiancé… I was losing it. The more I gambled, the more I became preoccupied with it. The wedding had become almost a non issue at that point. It was understood we would discuss a date when we got our problems resolved.
I asked for 2 months off so I could get my head in order. I didn’t care what that did to my career. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was unhappy in my career and my life. I didn’t see a way out. But gambling was a salve, it made the pain go away. I am by far a winning player at poker, I tilt too easily. I play oftentimes, not to win money, but to beat certain individuals at my table that had pissed me off in one way or another. Sometimes I would donk off my stack trying to put bad beats on people. At best, I was a break even player, if I didn’t tilt. Consciously I didn’t know where this unwarranted aggressive behavior came from, but I eventually learned that it was one way of lashing out at convenient targets, because the things I truly was angry at I was unable to express my anger at. I was angry at myself, at my fiancé, and to some extent my parents. They had always expected me to be a lawyer or a doctor because I was always told I was “gifted.” Maybe that’s not what I wanted.
Eventually I got tired of driving 2 hours to gamble. So I tired playing online. That’s like going from cocaine to crack (speaking metaphorically of course, not from personal experience). Always in actions, always available, games never break up. At the casino, I would be the last one left when a table broke, I would ask anyone and everyone if they wanted to play heads up or shorthanded, even at games or stakes I wasn’t comfortable with. I was a true degenerate. Magnify that 100 times online. There is never a shortage of games…ever. I started playing my usual stakes online which were mid limits 15-30 to 30-60. For some reason I did well, even though the opponents were tougher online. Maybe it’s because I didn’t try to tilt people or donk off my stack trying to put bad beats on people. Well…I did, but not as much. When people irritated me online I could switch tables. Live in a must move game…not so easy to do. For one glorious month I was consistently beating the mid limits online. I thought I found my true calling. I had read many books and of course 2+2. I knew about pot odds, implied odds, EV, position, etc so I wasn’t a complete fish. However, I glossed over the bankroll suggestions. Variance is a bitch. Yes I know, I wasn’t thinking clearly.
Up until recently, I think, (is it still?) the 100-200 at Pstars was restricted. Meaning you couldn’t sit at the table without a sufficient bankroll. This was to protect the players from going on a bad streak and losing their entire bankroll, at least that’s what I assume. Well I figured those rules don’t apply to me…variance be damned! So I added onto my bankroll through Western Union (which is another story, since they explicity state on their site that they won’t do transfers for gambling purposes…it seems that they have a don’t ask done tell policy with pokerstars and a tacit agreement not to look into it as long as Pstars does it surreptitiously) since I had already had requested and received 3 monthly deposit limit upgrades. So I have a roll big enough for Pstars 100-200 game, but still underbankrolled according to most poker authors. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the problem. It was the 10-20NL game that did me in. I rarely played NL, but once I got a taste. I couldn’t go back to limit. The thought of making several thousand a day like I saw some players do regularly was too great a temptation. So I had a substantial amount of money online, which most of it i deposited rather than winning it. People write about how it stings to build up a big roll and lose it. Well…I t stings more when you put that money in and lose it. At least when you build it up, you didn’t earn it in the conventional sense. Well, needless to say, being a newbie to NL. I lost, and lost big. I kept chasing losses, all the while my life around me was crumbling. My fiancé knew I liked to gamble, but she had never seen me like this. I was dishelved, sometimes I didn’t shower for days. She threatened to leave, which eventually she made good on her threat. Then things got read bad.
For all that followed this oft rambling incoherent mess I thank you. If I get some responses I’ll post the rest of my story. Otherwise, I’ll tell it to someone who cares.
Please feel free to respond in any way you see fit, even if it is snarky, mean-spirited and generally unproductive.
Well, I cant sleep and I kind of feel better after writing that.
Ok…well on with the story. I had proceeded to donk away my entire bankroll playing No limit online, a situation which many of you I’m sure are familiar. I was feeling pretty low about myself. I thought I had discovered my true calling. I was wrong, I just didn’t know it then.
I read up every book on gambling I could get my hands on. I felt like I would come back better than before, knowing how and why and how to plug the leaks in my NL game. However, I got sidetracked and started to look into other forms of gambling. I became obsessed with gaining an edge no matter how small. For example, I read that statistically, the number 1 dog or horse is the statistical favorite, not by much, but a favorite nonetheless. When I was in Vegas I went to a sportsbook that had about 40 simulcast dog races from across the nation. I decided to place $100 on every 1 dog ( I had read this in a book, I forget which though). I actually came ahead about $600. I tried it again I lost about $900 that time. After several repeated trials I ended up about $400. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk and the huge outlay of cash it required. However, I did notice something while looking at the dozens of races. I saw that there might be other opportunities to exploit any small edges in dog racing. I realized in certain situations when one dog scratched and there were several long shots you could theoretically guarantee yourself a win if you bet on all the dogs. It worked thusly: by betting each dog depending on the odds, let’s say you want to win $500 on the winner you would bet like this: if dog 1 was a 4 to 1 favorite you would bet 125 to win, if dog 2 was a 25 to 1 favorite you would bet 20 to win, if dog 3 was 20 to 1 favorite you would bet 25 and so on and so on until you had every dog covered. Now this only works if your total outlay is less than what you expect to win. No sense in better $600 to win $500. Therefore, usually one dog had to scratch or there had to be several longshots for this system to work. Not surprisingly, this situation is not too common, and if you bet big enough to actually win real money the odds get skewed and you could take a bath.
After that realization, I decided that there had to be other edges in gambling that could be exploited. Having so much free time, I read voraciously and thought of ways to exploit any house edges. I decided that I would teach myself card counting. I tried to learn to count cards, but there were so many conflicting theories on the best way. I wasn’t convinced that basic card counting could provide enough of an edge. Besides it seemed like a dreadful grind. It seemed that if online blackjack didn’t use continuous shuffle it would be easy to program a bot to count cards and play perfect strategy for you. I suppose that is why they have continuous shuffle online. I read the book “Bringing down the House” about the MIT students who took Vegas for millions. I wanted to do that, but I didn’t have the patience or the mathematics background to replicate a system like the MIT group did (it was never fully revealed in the book, besides it required an enormous bankroll). Arrogantly, I decided I could come up with a system, despite having no mathematical background whatsoever, just a desire to exploit an edge.
Well, I came up with one. I decided in my years of playing blackjack that over extended periods of time you come upon lucky streaks. Eventually you will win 6 or more hands in a row. Problem is you never know when that hot streak will end so people are afraid to increase their bets. I decided that in order to maximize those streaks and the power of doubling I decided to try some progression blackjack. Basically, flat bet til u win. Then let it ride. Then let it ride again. Sounds simple, right? Basically at a 100-5000 spread blackjack table it only takes 7 wins in a row to hit the table max, less if you win a blackjack or a double down or a split. So I would flat bet 100 and try to get to table max. And then win again with table max and again. Usually I would stop at 8 wins in a row. 8 wins in a row meant $10,000. If you could do that twice in one nice it usually meant you were up a fair amount. So over a 10 hour period I would lose a bunch of minimum bets, but when I did win I won big. And I modified basic strategy a bit. I was thinking of the meta-game. Basic strategy accounts for the best chance of winning a particular hand. However, I figured that the best way to keep a win streak going would not to hit on stiff 15 and 16s, even against Tens and Aces. I would only hit on 12, 13, and 14s. I modified that sometimes and never took a bust card. The reason for that was paradoxically, although hitting a 14 would give you a higher percentage of winning that one individual hand, it would also decrease your odds of stringing a long win streak. Basically, I was trying to get up big before the inevitable Risk of Ruin caught up with me. After all, even with a 49% disadvantage you could go 1 million hands and still be up against the house. Obviously as that number approaches infinity your probability of being up approaches zero. However, the long term mathematically, compared to a human life span is enormous. I have read about people never having a losing year playing blackjack by only using basic strategy, while statistically unlikely, it is well within normal statistical standard deviation.
At the same time, I also concocted a plan for running up a large stake playing poker online. Something that is unique to playing online. The ease and availability of moving games. I decided that I would treat playing poker online like a tournament. The blinds go up, but then so do the pots. I decided to take several shots at my virtual tournament. I would buy in for say $400 and play $400 NL table. Once I doubled or tripled up I would move up to the next limit and so on and so on. It was like a big long tournament, except I got to determine when the blinds went up. Once again, progression betting. I know this is not sound poker strategy, but I didn’t see much difference between this strategy and playing a $400 buy in tourney. The only drawback being that the competition got tougher and tougher as the limits went up. However, if you are in the mindset that it is a tournament you wont feel as bad when you bust your $5000 because you only invested $400 to start and you had a shot at a whole lot more.
I then looked into the stock market for edges. For example scanning all the wire looking for bad news that could negatively impact an industry and shorting the stock in that industry. I also tried to come up with an idea that I called currency “float” that exploits the differences in foreign currency, but that idea requires too much money and may not be legal anways. The reason I post all this is because I want you to be aware that I wasn’t a complete degenerate. I tried to gamble with the best of it and was often trying of thinking in terms of paradigm shifts and meta-game theory. This was when my head was somewhat still clear.
Still Waiting for Godot
P.S. I’ll probably start a new thread for my next installment
Ok on with the story. Im in Vegas in June during the WSOP. However, poker isn’t my main focus. Originally it was, but I decide that I’m gonna take a run at blackjack. Starting with about 7k I manage to turn that into 170k over 5 days. Mind you, that is more than a years salary for me. I have never had that much cash in my possession, ever. I am completely freaked out. I can’t believe my luck. On Friday, my ex-fiance calls me. She tells me that she told my boss that I have a gambling problem and that was the cause of my leave of absence and not the breakup. She tells me that she loves me and she did it for my own good. She says that my boss was very understanding and would make sure I got the help I needed. I was livid. How dare she interfere with my life like that. On some level I wanted to believe she truly wanted to help me, but on another I believed she just wanted to see me suffer. I didn’t know what to think. I had so many mixed emotions, the high of my big win yet I could feel my career as an attorney slip away. I was also feeling intense anger toward Allison, but I couldn’t help but feel pangs of longing for her also. I knew she was wrong for me, in the same way I knew gambling was wrong. She was crying on the phone and saying she only was trying to save me. I impulsively said I would fly her out that night. I hadn’t told her about the money, and I didn’t plan too unless things went well.
After we hung up, I called and checked my voicemail at home, I hadn’t in about 3 days. There were several messages left by my boss to call him back immediately. I felt a sense of dread, like when you are 10 and your father is going to be home after work and your going to have to face him. It was Friday in Vegas and it was past 6pm on the East Coast. The office is usually clear of any partners after 4pm on a Friday, just us junior associates. I decided to call anyways as I was 99% sure he would not be there. Thankfully I was right and left a message apologizing profusely about not getting back to him earlier and I would straighten things out on Monday. That gave me two days to come up with a damn good excuse to save my job, which at that time I wasn’t sure if I wanted anyways. But I wanted to keep all my options open.
That really threw a wet blanket on things for the night. I flew Allison out that night. She arrived around 2am. I was so tired I had a limo pick her up and bring her back to the hotel. I had proceeded to go on a drinking binge right after I hung up the phone with my office. I was no longer playing the way I had before and I proceeded to give the casino its money back. Which in turn caused me to drink even more heavily, which in turn caused me to play even worse. After about three hours of this I had erased about 45k of my win. Somehow I managed to find myself to my hotel room and I splashed all the chips and money haphazardly over the nightstand and on the bed. I had forgotten that I hadn’t told Allison about the money. So when she angrily knocked on the door I didn’t think to hide all the chips and cash lying around. She was furious that I wasn’t there to pick her up but when she saw all the money lying around her scowl turned into smile. I remember I fell back into bed and passed out. The next morning I saw that she had neatly arranged all the chips and hundreds into neat even stacks. My head was throbbing and I asked her, “did I really lose 40k last night or was it a dream?” She gave me an astonished look and asked me you mean you had 157k last night ? I had put 10k in the hotel safe so the total figure was about 167, but she was pretty close.
Then the next thing that she said almost made me fall out of bed…”So, does this mean your gonna buy me a new ring?” I almost lost it there. I was incredulous. I assume that she thought that the wedding was back on because I flew her out here. I flew her out here because I wanted to know exactly what she told my boss and who else knew, the status of our relationship was my last priority at that point. I told her no way would I even consider buying a ring until we somehow managed to settle our differences. The thing about my Allison is that she doesn’t like to be left hanging like that. She wants to know right now. I told her I had to think about it before committing to anything like that again. She was obviously unhappy, but I didn’t care. The only thing I wanted to do was to get back at the tables and win my 40k back.
But that wasn’t to be. This was her first time in Vegas, so she asked, no she demanded that I take her to see all the sites. I managed to hit and run a few times and I got about 11k back, but her incessant nagging prevented me from getting any solid streak together. It was amazing how I lost all conception of money at the blackjack tables. It was made painfully clear at dinner at a nice steakhouse when I was debating on ordering the petite or standard filet for 8 dollars more. She said your gonna bet 500 and 1000 a hand on blackjack and your gonna miser over 8 bucks. She was right, but to me it was whether I was hungry enough to eat the larger steak. I relented and paid the extra 8 bucks for the standard filet. But it made me think of how little I value money at the table and how scary that was, like I wasn’t in control or that the chips represented monopoly money. Of course I didn’t finish the steak, but I would’ve been annoyed if I ordered the smaller steak and wanted more.
Only a few days til the main event of the WSOP. It was starting on Thursday the following week and I had already paid the entry fee with my winnings. I had to come up with a good cover story why I couldn’t possibly be back to work before July 16, not that I expected to be at the final table or anything, but you never know. Things went pretty smoothly between me and Allison that weekend. Also she was mistaken on two separate occassions for a pro poker player named Erin Nes (sp?) who apparently got like 10 seconds face time on ESPN coverage last year which she strangely found to be very exciting. I don’t see how it is possible someone would see someone on tv for a few seconds and remember them the next year, maybe she is a bigger star than I imagine. Things seemed like old times that Saturday and I felt like I was being trapped into resuming our relationship through inertia. Because it would be easier to do that than break up again, even though we weren’t officially together.
After she went to bed that night I slipped out of the room with about 20k in chips headed for the BJ tables. For some strange reason, I felt like I was going to lose, maybe it was the guilt, Allison and the impending doom of talking to my boss on Monday, but things didn’t feel right. Maybe it was the incessant phone calls, presumably from Allison wondering where I snuck off to in the middle of the night. I turned off my phone after about the 7th straight call. Regardless I lost that 20k in about 30 minutes. I ran up to the room to grab another 30k and try to win my losses back. Predictably, Allison was sitting up in bed looking as mad as ever. I told her I lost 2k, she seemed to accept that answer, but she refused to let me leave again. Especially after seeing how many chips I had picked up. After arguing back in forth I decided to give in, while in the back of mind I was scheming on how I could work her departure from Vegas into the conversation. It’s too bad she didn’t have a job she had to go back to. Now I had two major unpleasant conversations to look forward to.
I appreciate all the support and encouragement I’ve been receiving since my first post. I braced myself to be mocked and ridiculed but instead all I got was kind words and I thank you all for that.
In response to the posters commenting on how much of a witch Allison is, well I suppose I hadn’t painted a full picture. I think I stated things too simplisticly, however, I didn’t feel it was important to flesh out every single detail. Suffice to say, I was an unreasonable jerk to her at times as she was to me. I think the last 6 months to a year was like a crucible that tested the strength of our relationship. She was never completely wrong and I was never completely right and vice versa. There are a million shades of gray. Yes, she is materialistic, yes she can be selfish and petty. However, she grew up the only daughter of a surgeon and never had want for any material needs. She grew up in a household where her father showed his love by the things he bought her and I think that she has issues because of that. Her father seems cold and distant, whereas her mother is very warm and affectionate. I wish she would take more after her mother, and I know that she craved attention and acknowledgement from her father, but I don’t think he knows or chooses not to express his love to his daughter and instead chooses to buy her things to prove that she is loved by him. Knowing these things I can understand her obsession with status and class. I’m not excusing it, but I do understand it. On the other hand, despite her materialistic ways she can be one of the kindest loving person at times and that’s why I fell in love with her in the first place.
When you receive a one sided portrait of a person it’s very easy to make snap judgments on that persons character and that is my fault for portraying her the way I did. She does have many redeeming qualities but she is far from perfect. Would I like some things to be different about her? Of course I would. However, if you’ve read my posts I should be the LAST person to point out character defects in another. That being said, it did become more and more apparent that we had many deep differences on our philosophies on life. It’s easy for a couple to get along when things are going well. It’s when things go south is when a couple’s true mettle is tested. I definitely think it’s harder on a person who grew up wealthy to face poverty than someone who wasn’t wealthy growing up. Your childhood affects you in so many ways and as my therapist would say, you spend your entire adult life getting over your childhood.
Ok so back to the story. To those who may be somewhat confused by the timeline, the events I described so far took place between 6 months to 3 months ago. Also, I might add after rereading some of my posts that they tend to be overly long and rambling, filled with grammatical errors and typos. I tend to write in a stream of consciousness fashion and I often don’t stop to correct my grammar except to insert paragraph breaks for readability so I apologize in advance if I my writing is murky at times and I will be more than happy to clear up any misunderstandings.
So I got bed that Saturday night (actually it’s technically about 4am Sunday morning, but you get the picture) wanting, nay dying to get back at the tables. But the argument is not worth it. I would be afraid she might make a scene at the tables if I try to go downstairs again. On the other hand, I am thinking that if we do argue she may give me an ultimatum, her or the gambling. I am afraid I might pick gambling. I am also afraid I might pick her. I don’t want to make that decision right now. Thinking about all these things, she pretends to be asleep. I know she’s not. I don’t know if she believes I am asleep, but I don’t bother to ask. I figure if I can wait out another hour or so I can escape like a thief in the night and face her wrath tomorrow. Except she has cuddled up with most of my chips and money in her bag. I’ll figure how to extract that when she’s asleep or I will take out a cash advance. Although I hate to expose myself to more loses when I have 6 figures in chips in my hotel room. As I sit there formulating what to do when she does actually fall asleep, I Somehow manage to drift off to sleep. I had only about 5 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours and I am exhausted and half drunk.
I know I might end my posts in melodramatic fashion and I admit… this episode may be disappointing to some…kinda like that Sorpanos episode last season where Tony just hangs out with his dad’s mistress. I’ll try to post later but if I don’t get a chance to post later I should be back Tuesday or Wednseday im going to be out of town for a few days.
Still Waiting for Godot
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