How Poker Made Me a Better Person

December 18, 2011

When I started playing poker in 2005 it was like many of the other addictions I have latched onto in my life. It was a way to pass the time and become engrossed in the excitement of gambling for real money. Just as I had done with blackjack and craps (both in casinos and online) for many years.

I would estimate since my first visit to a Shreveport casino soon after my twenty first birthday in 1990, that I lost somewhere between twenty five and fifty thousand dollars, mostly playing blackjack. It is truly hard to estimate, especially considering most of it was done in the blinding fog of all night drunkenness. I have never been a daily drinker, but somehow drinking and gambling seemed to go together for me.

It was somewhat of a curse that I won over six hundred dollars on that very first visit. What incredible exhilaration and value. I had a great time, got blasted drunk for free, and not only paid for the trip, but came home with several hundred dollars in profit. I got paid to have fun!

Like many addictions I was continuously chasing that original rush from then on. I went to Shreveport and Las Vegas dozens of times in the next fifteen years. I even dabbled in online gambling with blackjack and craps but somehow knew that if I got hooked on that, I would be completely ruined, and stayed away from it (for the most part).

Then (in 2004) I found online poker. It struck me that this game could be profitable. I noticed that a player only had to "pay" to play two of every nine hands (on a nine man table), those hands being the small blind and the big blind. It was apparent to me, mathematically, that if one played more patiently than everyone else, than it might be possible to grind away a profit.

I had never played poker before in my life. I didn't even know the ranking of the hands. But by playing very tight (playing very few hands), I was able to hold my own. In the beginning I didn't win money, but I didn't lose much either, and it was a cheap way to have fun and satisfy my gambling urges.

Then I was given a beginner poker book for Christmas. By learning some basic concepts, I became a slight winner. Over the next six months I was able to pay for a new desktop computer with my winnings.

I read more books, online poker started to boom, and in the next year I was able to make about ten thousand dollars doing something I loved! Never before in my life had I experienced the rush of actually enjoying making money. Work had always meant drudgery, and I had assumed it would always be that way.

And something strange happened. I completely lost the urge to gamble in other ways. I quit playing blackjack and poker entirely and still have no desire to play those games. It seems stupid to me now, to play a game that I know is impossible to beat (long term).

But what was even more amazing was the effect that poker started to have on my life. Without realizing it, I was improving as a human being. I began to grow up and mature. I started to make better decisions both in poker and in real-life situations. And for that, I give a great deal of credit to my desire to be good at poker.

That may sound strange but it actually makes a lot of sense. Poker is a game of decisions. And one way to look at life is as a long series of decisions.

To get better at poker, one has to be very honest in self evaluation. The poker player operates in a vacuum, with only himself to critique his play and make adjustments. For those that are unable to see their own faults, improving at poker is an impossible proposition.

So I had to be very honest with myself. I had to admit my mistakes and calmly think through my decisions. Daily, I had to review the previous day's play for opportunities to learn and make adjustments.

Year after year I became better at doing this. And this process also seeped into the way I dealt with life decisions. Without realizing it at first, improving my poker game was leading to me being a better person.

I continued to play poker professionally online until April 15, 2011. I never made a great deal of money, averaging about two thousand in profit per month. At first I was pretty lazy, and didn't work very hard. In the beginning it was quite easy and I naively thought that it was only a matter of time until I hit the big stakes and started making big money.

Online poker got harder every year. Players skills improved. I wasn't the only one who was enjoying playing this game for a living.

To keep up I had to read more books, watch online video lessons, and research the best players. I began to track a player named Dusty Schmidt. He is well known as the biggest cash games winner online and made many tutorial videos.

I watched all of them. I began to see where I was falling short. Dusty advocated treating poker like a business (the title of one of his books), and I started doing so.

It finally appeared I was on track to follow in Schmidt's footsteps and "hit the big time" when everything was taken away in an instant. The day is known as "Black Friday" in the poker world.

I was playing online at Full Tilt Poker when someone typed in the chat box-"how are you guys in the U.S. still playing?". That comment didn't sound like good news. And it wasn't.

After some Googling I saw that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had seized bank accounts of Poker Stars and Full Tilt. Initially, I still wasn't too worried. I had been doing this for years. These companies were located off shore and making huge profits. The big names in poker were celebrities. Certainly all this wasn't going away!

Well it did go away. And my bankroll went with it. I kept most of my money in my Full Tilt account. When I needed money I could cash out via electronic bank transfer and have my money the next day. I had become very comfortable that my bankroll was safe. It was not.

U.S. players were immediately barred from playing at Poker Stars and Full Tilt. Poker Stars turned out to be a solid company, paying back everyone within thirty days. Full Tilt poker was somewhere between a horribly mismanaged company and a thief running a "Ponzi Scheme" (as the DOJ alleged in their complaint against Full Tilt). To this day, Full Tilt hasn't paid players any portion of their account balance. I heard of top players who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I personally lost thousands of dollars (and my career) in an instant. I don't blame anyone other than the operators of Full Tilt for what happened. I was involved in a clandestine operation and have paid the consequences of doing so.

My life has now taken another direction and I am thankful for where I am now. Poker will still be there, as a way to make money and have fun at locations with casinos. And online poker will someday be legal and regulated here in the Unites States (as it is all over the world).

It seems that all I worked for in poker was ruthlessly taken away. But somehow I never wasted any time fretting and complaining about that. I simply used what I had learned during my poker odyssey. Crying about my "bad beat" wasn't going to help. Being emotional wouldn't do me any good.

I had to accept and assess where I was at the time, and then make the best possible decision from there. That ability had emerged from a six year poker career . During that time I developed a better work ethic and become less emotional. I am also more patient, disciplined, honest, analytical, and self aware. And thankfully, those abilities and my improvement as a person can never be taken away!

Mick played online poker professionally from 2005 until April 15, 2011 ("Black Friday"). He now designs and publishes websites including He continues to play at local casinos and looks forward to playing in the WSOP Main Event someday. When online poker is legal and regulated in the U.S. he will return to the online game, but (due to the high stress level and fact that it is easier to make money in other ventures) he never plans on making it his sole profession again.

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