How Anthony Bourdain, John Legend and Professor Petrovsky led me here…

“We can’t run from who we are, our destiny chooses us.” – Professor Petrovsky in Rounders

The answer to the question “What movie changed your life?” for me, is easy. The movie is Rounders. Released on September 11th, 1998, is about a law school student that made some extra money playing cards.

I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Los Angeles in October of 1998. In the winter of 2001 (or maybe 2002), the night before a trip to Lake Tahoe, some friends were spending the night at my place and we would head out from there. After unloading their car for the night, one of the guys had a guilty look on his face and asked “Has anyone seen Rounders?”. Within 10 minutes he had convinced us to go to Blockbuster and rent the movie.

By the end of the film, I found a deck of cards and we ended up playing No Limit Texas Hold’em on my kitchen table using coins from my emptied 1.5 litter bottle of Absolute Vodka.

The next day, we make our way to our cabin. During our ski trip, we end one night eating by the casinos. We had met up with a big group and some of us end up at Caesars Tahoe. Rather than hitting the Black Jack tables, I made my way to the poker room.

“You’re gonna do it?” – Asked one of my friends. I walked up to the poker room entrance and I sat there with $100 playing $1/$2 Limit Hold’em. I can’t remember one hand I played. But I remember I chopped a pot with a straight.

As the dealer was splitting the pot, I could feel all eyes were on me. Glancing around at my first ever poker table mates, I knew that I was out of place. I knew I had to get lucky to win anything that night.

Just like the Atlantic City scene in Rounders, the piranha stayed out of each others way and ate up the chips in front of me. “Here’s the thing…” Back then, I would spew money on Black Jack or anything the casino offered and I’d feel gutted. Mainly because I knew the house had the edge. I always felt foolish giving into the temptations of playing against the casino. But I knew when I walked away from the poker room with my free CardPlayer Magazine in hand and I felt a little spark in my soul.

The ski trip ended and I got dropped off back at my place. I hopped into my car and made my way back to Blockbuster and I bought Rounders. Later that week, I installed either Paradise Poker or Golden Palace Poker. I made a $200 deposit and started playing micro stakes Limit Hold’em. I’d play while reading the CardPlayer Magazine that I took from the poker room. My deposit lasted maybe a week.

My poker dream didn’t blast off in an instant like many you hear about. But I knew I liked playing and I found myself watching Rounders … all-the-time!

In 2002, I was in my late twenties and I already had a full time job. I made my way back to Lake Tahoe on solo trips every once in a while and played more Limit Hold’em. I usually lost but considered walking away with a CardPlayer Magazine a win.

Reading articles about playing $20/$40 and thought I wanted to get there one day. Trying to apply those tactics to a $1/$2 game had some challenges!

I’ve read Super System and the Sklansky books trying to get better. But I was missing something because the victories were scarce. However, I did find myself slowly loving the game more and more.

“We can’t run from who we are, our destiny chooses us.”

After another year or two in the Bay Area, destiny put me back home, in Los Angeles. Working a different 9 – 5 but now, I lived less than 10 miles from Commerce Casino and The Bike. I was reaping all the benefits of the Moneymaker Boom:

  • I started playing a lot of Limit Hold’em. Sometimes, as high as 20/40.
  • I’ve splashed around in tournaments and had some scores.
  • I’ve picked off tourists in Las Vegas and well – Vegas happens when you come up on some money.
  • I started playing high volume online and printed
  • I was invited to juicy some home games and printed even more

I was a weekend warrior. Uncommitted to any type of career path and to be honest, the level of poker required to be profitable in those days was really low. So I was uncommitted to learning more than I had to. I found games I could beat and was content.

In 2007 I had lost my full time office job and I found myself in the dealer’s box pitching cards to stay close to the game. This should have been an opportunity become a better player. But dealing put a twist in this poker journey. I had made friends with dealers. Living life as a casino dealer, I’m reminded of a line in Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain:
“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”

Working odd hours, dealers knew where to grab a drink after our 2AM shift had ended. We knew bar owners that would let us in after everything was closed. It was a soap opera of who was dating who. There was work drama. There were temptations of all kinds. There were high levels of debauchery from an unsuspecting bunch.

I still wanted to play, but found myself juggling a social life. My “weekends” were no longer Friday and Saturday nights. I was playing against a different crowd during my time off. This includes my online schedule. I had fewer hours in home games. I had fewer and fewer trips to Sin City.

April 2009 and I’m looking for stability in my life and I’m back to an office job. Excessive indulgence as a dealer put a bad taste in my mouth whenever visiting casinos. The online games were getting tougher. I got myself uninvited from the home games.

In addition to stability, my life felt incomplete. I felt a family life calling me. For the first time in my life, I sought stability.

With poker in the rear view mirror, I found myself at a dead end job. Again, uncommitted at growing in my career path. I’m paid just enough to be lazy. It might have been what I needed at the time. Now with a beautiful wife and two wonderful daughters. This was the life I was longing.

It’s 2020 and since taking this job, I might have 10 visits to the casinos. Having a wife and kids changed me. I fit in with everyone else now. Life was “normal”. With a family to support, I lost the urge to gamble.

“We can’t run from who we are, our destiny chooses us.”

“Sitting around getting older” .. And the world is in lock down. I’m playing Poker Stars Home Games on Zoom with some childhood friends. Over drinks and old juvenile stories I was playing “Wiffle Ball”. Like Mikey returning to the Ivy League game, this was the spark that brought back some fire. “I felt alive for the first time … “

This Zoom game brought me to more games. I’m now thinking about my broken heart; What could have been if I took my game more seriously.

It’s now 2023 … My wife and I are watching John Legend perform. He starts singing some familiar lyrics. Wait .. These aren’t his lyrics! He’s performing “Dancing in The Dark” but I feel that his interpretation is a dark tail that I find myself relating to.

I’m now consistently playing in low stakes games that I can easily beat. With a very nice win rate! I’ve been taking shots at bigger games. I’ve got subscriptions to training sites. I’ve even taken on some coaching sessions from the great Tommy Angelo.

“Messages keeps gettin’ clearer”. I needed the stability in my life as my family grew. While my family now has some of that stability, my wife and daughters also deserve to have a husband and father that is happy with his day to day life. Lately, I’ve been asking myself “Do I want to be stable or happy?”

Professor Petrovsky has been answering for me with a question of his own:
“What Choice?”

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