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Old School Poker Stories (pt. 1: Magic: the Gambling)

As I mentioned in my blog post, Who is Stoic Poker Dave?, I was a shy, weird kid. I was withdrawn, I always pulled my hat down to hide my eyes and to block out the world, and I love my alone time.

I had one thing I really liked to do, and that was getting dropped off at the local comic shop and hanging out looking at stuff and talking to the guys that worked there about comics. I will never forget one certain day that I was hanging out at my local store and they got a new shipment. This happened often, where a new game would come out and we would crack a box and all sit at a big table and see if it was any good. On this particular day, a new game called Magic: the Gathering had just been released.

One topic I plan to avoid in this discussion, because it is an infinite rabbit hole, is the topic of how much my old magic cards would be worth now. I'm sure that day when we all opened an Alpha starter deck and a few boosters to try and make a deck, we all had cards that would pay for a mansion now, but such is life.

We could all tell right away that this game was different. It was fun right away, games were close, we all got competitive and started trading cards with friends. This was the opening of a door for me to be social, but to do so through a topic I could study and analyze. I loved the thought of figuring out how to make myself better than everyone else at this game.

Most of my friends in my current life would say I am a very funny guy, quick with a funny comment, or a random funny unexpected twist. Back then I didn't really talk to anyone, other than the constant hyper-dialogue going on in my head. I was in the finals of an early tournament, with all the other players sitting around watching us play, and for the first time in my life I said one of those quick comments out loud. The whole comic shop erupted in laughter.

I respond well to positive reinforcement, and within a few years I was known as the funny, crazy, magic player who had everyone cracking up between rounds during a tournament. The kindness of the other players, the communal vibe of the tournaments, the social reset where no one knew me as the shy weird kid and I got a fresh start, it all added together to completely change my social life.

Back in those days, no one thought it was gambling for a bunch of 12 year olds to all put in $20 each and play a tournament for all the money. In retrospect, that is exactly what it was. For years that was enough for us.

We traveled around with a crew of friends to different tournaments. We would play and practice and party our asses off. Right around the time my crew started winning pro tours, national championships, etc., we discovered the movie Rounders and Paradise Poker.

I had always played poker for fun when I was young. My dad had taught me the card games he played at the golf course with his friends, and I had learned how to beat him in all of them. When I started hearing about my friends making thousands playing on Paradise Poker, I was all in on learning and playing poker.

Back then it was mostly limit games, but I very quickly found my way up the ranks to the $30/60 limit game. Back then you could just call oop then check call, check call, check raise and win just about every time. That was the extent of my style at first.

I spent the first of my poker money buying all the poker books I could find. Supersystem, Theory of Poker, all the old classic stuff, and whatever else I could find. I was obsessed with poker right away, and I just wanted to get better and get rich.

We lived like that for a while, just crushing online against people who never considered folding pocket 9s no matter what cards came out, no matter how much we value bet. Then the poker boom hit. The Moneymaker boom I mean of course, I think Rounders was the first mini poker boom, but that is just my opinion.

By that time all my friends were really getting into poker, 2+2, strategy discussions, but I already thought I was good enough to win forever. They went hard on poker, I went the hardest on partying.

I partied and gambled my way through college, but all good things come to an end. When I made it to the end of college it was time to start my career at the Public Poker School for Children. I was totally torn, and I had a very important conversation with a close friend who was at the top of our group when it came to poker success.

The following is summarized from AOL Instant Messenger:

  • Him: Hey Dave hows it going?

  • Me: I don't know man, I can't make up my mind if I should be a teacher next year, or if I should bail on the whole teacher thing and just move out there to Vegas and live with/near you and see if I could make it. I don't know if I am cut out for the 9-5 life, bro.

  • Him: I have been on a downswing and most days, I would kill to be a teacher instead.

  • Me: So the dream isn't all its cracked up to be?

  • Him: No, man. These poker pros are the most miserable people I've ever met.

  • Me: Alright man, I trust you. I guess I will go to my interview tomorrow and become an adult.

  • Him: Good decision, bro.

That was it, I wasn't someone who called his parents for life advice. That single conversation changed my life. The craziest thing about that conversation is summarized by the following AOL Instant Messenger which happened less than 10 days later:

  • Me: Congrats man. I can't believe you won a fucking bracelet.

  • Him: Thanks, but I feel like absolute shit because we went too hard at the Rhino.

If he had won that a couple weeks earlier, I'm pretty sure he would have offered me a place to stay rather than offering me the advice I actually needed. That is some life rungood.

So, with that first conversation, my mind was made up. I went to my interview and got the job. The one I still currently have. The job that has helped me learn how to be patient, understanding, empathetic, and also gave me great insurance when I had to battle cancer. My degen friend saved my life with that conversation we had while he was pretty low mentally. I'm glad he bounced back, and I'm glad I listened.

He is in the Magic: the Gathering hall of fame now, as are most of my old friends... NOT ME! I partied way to hard for that. But the greatest gift he gave me was my favorite hobby. I tried to make it into my job, but the right thing for me is to have it as a serious competitive hobby.

In the future posts in this thread I will focus on times when I got better and worse, more and less serious, along with big swings up and down in my chosen hobby. I hope found this interesting and I will see you in the next post.


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