The relentless cloud of negativity

I should preface this by saying that I’ve had a really negative day on the whole. Been going through some personal problems today, and also have gotten some signs that I might have a serious back problem.

So the negativity has been running high, thick, and deep today. I’m sure tomorrow will be better, but it would almost have to be. That said, I need to get this off my chest:

 

I hate playing poker.

It’s time I admitted it to myself, because it wasn’t always this way, and I don’t want it to be this way anymore.

I feel tremendous negativity hanging over me when I play lately. Most of you who’ve seen me play know how it manifests itself as complaining, but even if I manage to get my verbal diarrhea under control, I still feel constant negativity hanging over me. I expect the worst, I play as though nothing will go right for me, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where I make bad decisions that contribute to my losing.

Like I said, it wasn’t always this way. I used to love playing. I used to love taking chances, and losing didn’t bother me so much because it was a blip in the road on the path to being at the top of my profession.

What did I love about the game? I loved testing my limits. I loved seeing how far I could go, how good I could be. I loved how easy the money was. I still love the freedom of waking up whenever I want and working whenever I want, maybe more than anything else about the life (and, at least, that has stayed with me).

Now? The money’s harder, because people have gotten better and because the American government has decided to stamp out the industry and fuck over millions of honest poker players (while simultaneously giving billions of dollars to crooked bankers). I’m probably about as good as I’m going to get. And how good is that?

I’m good enough to beat bad players heads-up. On a good day, I can crush mediocre players, but lately I’m mostly just losing to them, too. I’m still good enough to be a winning tournament player at whatever level I can afford to play; unfortunately, that’s true for a lot more people than it was in 2005-06, so I win a lot less often than I used to. And at my current bankroll level, with the current state of poker in America, that means I’m fighting for a lot of scraps, top prizes less than $1000, etc.

The thing is, there’s no challenge anymore. Without a challenge, there’s no intellectual engagement. Without intellectual engagement, the game is rote button-clicking, and when it becomes rote button-clicking, it becomes boring, and bored players don’t play as well, so they win less, so the game becomes even more frustrating.

The low stakes don’t help, either. Time was, I was at a place where I didn’t have to work too often anymore, because my bankroll and savings were sufficient enough that lower workloads would still make me enough money to get by. Those days are gone. Now I have a bankroll I had to build from the ground up once again (after the Department of Justice seized the domain names of the major sites in the U.S., once again moving to disempower people who aren’t slaves to the system), and I’ve got enough money to get by, but I feel like I’m constantly treading water, like I’m never going to better my situation until or unless there is some radical change in the American poker environment. (I want to move elsewhere, but right now I can’t even afford to do that.)

I don’t have any other options. I dropped out of school a long time ago (before I picked up poker seriously), and now I can’t afford to go back. (I applied for some classes last year but also discovered that my credit is badly screwed up enough from my earlier days in college that I can’t get student loans.) I would be happy to do something else– I have so many other interests and talents– but I can’t get a job anywhere with my current complete lack of experience and education, no matter how talented I may be. No matter what I want to do next with my life, “making money by playing poker” seems a prominent part of that next step. And it worries me that my talents– for writing, for humor, for music (for example)– are slowly going to waste while I struggle and scrape by to make enough money to just get the means to further them, not even to actually further them.

Which is why I need to rediscover what I love about the game, and about myself, and about life, and start playing the game with optimism about the results, and not a sense of dread.

 

Last night I rewatched the Louie episode “Eddie”, where Doug Stanhope plays a comedian who came up with Louie in their earlier days but is now an aging road hack with no friends, no real career to speak of, and no future, while CK is a star. Eddie is meeting Louie now, after all these years, for one reason: He’s going to kill himself and Louie is the only person he has left in the world who would even be interested to hear him say goodbye.

I feel like that sometimes. I’ve watched people I came up with– friends who learned alongside me or in some cases learned from me– go on to have much bigger and better success than I have, whereas I pretty much slowly petered out after my peak in 2006, until three years later I was basically a complete nobody again.

Unlike Eddie, I don’t resent their success. My resentments and regrets about poker have much more to do with the bad decisions I’ve made. I do resent the laws being changed. I regret that I assumed it would always be as easy at it was then. I resent that people who told me they had my best interests at heart– and I’m not just talking the kind of charlatans who are drawn to new money like the proverbial moths to a flame, but people who were friends and family– tell me to save my money on one day and would take me on $5000 shopping sprees the next. I regret that I just didn’t have any clue how important and useful that money could be, if I was just careful with it.

When I was 25, I thought I could be retire from being a full-time poker player by 30. My financial growth was exponential at that point; if it had continued unabated, having a few million dollars and investing it or bankrolling players with it would have seemed entirely reasonable. I’m 31, and I may be wiser for it, but financially I’m not any better off (I keep better track of my money, but I still spend it when I have it) than I was a few months into my career.

I don’t want to be Eddie. I don’t want to be Walter White, bitter over lost opportunity and holding onto the resentment until it hollows me out from the inside. I don’t want my talents to go to waste; I don’t want to give up on life. But I have to get out from under this cloud of negativity, out from under the weight of things past, to be a happy person.

I write this because I feel lost on that front. I don’t know how to be happy while I’m playing poker. And I don’t want to be miserable or resentful anymore. I have a lot to do away from the tables for my physical and mental health, and I know it; what I’m asking you is, please, how do I get my mind right while I’m at the tables?

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