In March 1988, an incident that fell my way became a defining moment, a turning point, so to speak, for the ensuing years of my life. On this random Tuesday – a cold, bleak day devoid of sun – the poker game began, at 11 a.m. with seven players. Nonetheless, at noon, I found myself wanting to leave. I felt restless, and I simply didn’t want to be playing poker that morning. Maybe the dimensions of the game were a little too meager for me, or perhaps I was just burned out. In any case, I craved the outdoors! Perhaps I had spent too much time playing poker indoors, over the last few weeks.
In any case, I convinced two of my poker pals, Gary Miller and Larry Warmke, to leave the game with me. We took Larry’s car, smoked some pot, and we drove to a bar down the road. When we arrived, we had a drink and began playing pool, each against the others for $10 a game, and then for $20 a game. Still, I was a bit frustrated with the action. First off, because I was the worst pool player in the group, I couldn’t get a fair game. Second, we were playing for stakes so modest I thought, “Why bother? What a waste of time. What am I doing here?”
I See The Light!
When I was preparing to leave, I noticed a side door, and walked over to open it. As I opened the door, the sunlight outside came flooding over me! As my bleary eyes adjusted to the white light that seemed in abundance everywhere around me, I gazed out over the beautiful snowy landscape, and over the busy street that was about 15 yards in front of me. The snow on the side of the road in front of me was still about a foot deep, lying in half-melted icy piles. Because it had been overcast all day, I was surprised to find that the sun was out at all, much less out in full force.
Out of nowhere, it seemed, I woke from my odd life and was shocked to realize where I was, and what I was doing. Did the vast amount of light symbolize, to me, that I was falling slowly back into darkness? Why was I here? What was I doing with my life? Jarringly, I realized that I was in a bar having a drink, after I had smoked pot: and it was noon, no less! Perhaps you have heard that song by Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime? My interpretation of the meaning of the song is that it is about waking up years later and finding that you are living a life you don’t want, asking yourself how you got there and realizing that the answer was just by letting things happen… ” I felt as if I was waking up, and just now seeing that my new poker life had become a tedious nightmare. I made some excuses to Gary and Larry, called a taxi, and got out of there, fast.
Putting Pen to Paper
The moment that I arrived at my nice new University Avenue apartment, which I had moved into a few months before, I sat down at my desk, pulled out some pen and paper, and pondered what, exactly, I was going to do with my life. Okay, I loved poker, and was good at it, but if I was going to continue playing, then I might as well work toward becoming a great player, maybe the best poker player in the world. Why not?
Even though I didn’t smoke pot more than once a month, and then in moderation, it was nonetheless a habit that needed to go, and I decided that I would never turn to it again (I did smoke it three or four times in the next 30 years). I then resolved that I would be looking at poker as a scientist would look at math and physics; I would redouble my efforts to examine Texas hold’em, the great variable of all, and learn everything about the game I could. I would dedicate myself to learning how to improve my poker tactics, to learn how to play consistently at a world-class level, and to learn (modestly enough) what it would take to become the best poker player in the world. I would then do what I needed to do to reach that level. And I would continue to do it the right way, unwaveringly, with honor, and ethics. ♠