Poker Saved My Life

The brain controls every human action, voluntary or involuntary. Every breath, every heartbeat, every emotion. If the soul exists, it exists in the brain.

Chandra Suresh

It was one of the most horrifying moments of my life. I lowered myself to field the ground ball, and somehow it went between my legs. We were in the championship game of my Little League. I’d never been the best player when it came to baseball, or really any sport. Yet, that year had been different as I’d grown into my body and had started hitting more for the fences. I’d begun fielding with a tenacity I didn’t have before.

It was my last year of Little League, and I wanted more than anything to prove myself as I’d never won a championship in any youth league. I’d gone to many championship games, but in every one we lost. On that day I wanted to do my best for another reason: my father was watching. He has been a commercial fisherman his entire life and didn’t get as much time at home as he’d like. He and my mother had started going through problems at home, and I’d begun seeing less of him. I wanted to make him proud, but the day had gone horribly as I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and had botched routine double plays.

The game was on the line. We were tied up. There were runners on base. We just needed one guy out. Then, a godsend. A routine ground ball… and it’d gone off my foot. It was spiraling somewhere into the dugout. The runners scored. I went back to the bench with tears in my eyes. By my unbiased recollection, roughly 2.4 million parents and players stood and watched as my father yelled at me. My dad actually kept his voice down. He wasn’t talking to me in a way that was offensive. I could stand much worse from my football coaches. Usually he’d use that tone to motivate me. That day, I couldn’t comprehend it. “I’ve blown the game!” was all I could think, feeling that I had failed my father and my team. Thankfully, one of my friends batted in the winning run 20 minutes later. Probably I would have wanted to blow my brains out if he hadn’t done so.

Later my father was less present in my life. He had contracts that were incredibly demanding and had to relocate to a different country for his job. It’s unlikely he missed the chaos that was becoming my home life. I do not tell this story to rag on my father – now I’m good friends with both of my parents, which is a luxury many affluent people do not have – but because it is one of the most vivid memories I have in life. As a child I was not a great student, I couldn’t move forward in wrestling or boxing, I was awkward socially, and had problems with my weight. Finally, I’d had a good year and a chance to find myself in a more successful light – and I’d blown it. And then my father had to leave for a time.

As the years went on I continued not really to fit in anywhere. I don’t blame anyone as I ran my mouth constantly, and annoyed the hell out of everyone. The doctors diagnosed me with Asperger’s and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) before everyone and their mother had it. Some of the medication I took had horrible side effects. When it didn’t work for its intended use it got me high, and I loved the feeling of being altered. Thus, my career in substance abuse was born.

For years I moved from apartment to apartment, from Seattle to Seoul to St. Julians to San Jose. Once my insufferable needy addict persona wore out my welcome I just moved to the next city. My homes would become larger and smaller depending on how I was doing in the game. I called myself a professional during these days, but the truth was I was anything but. When I finally got sober after years of daily drug use I found myself unable to speak and I couldn’t focus on anything. I’d burned all my bridges, and had no one to call. Instead I threw myself into the study of the game.

For decades, neurologists told the world that neurons could not regenerate. You were given a set amount at birth, and if you burned them out that was it. Sitting in my hole of an apartment five years into my career with no money to my name I felt as if I’d drilled through mine. I couldn’t beat $50 NL and constantly found myself unable to focus. But day after day I looked through the hands and spent hours every morning discussing new concepts, turning them over, and expanding them. While I was lit I couldn’t perform anymore at a top level, so I cut out alcohol completely and was sober as a judge. I ran every day. It hurt. It burned. It was as if my vision had been clipped. The world had become so small in my mind. The withdrawals were horrible, but my work carried me through. Whenever my mind was ready to spin off its axis I just buried myself in the problems again. There was no chance I could go back to regular drug use as I had felt my mind was an inch from completely slipping away.

Then, one day I realized I was laughing more. Soon, I could string sentences together and began to sleep better. My appetite returned and I began putting weight on. I found myself final tabling WCOOP and FTOPS events again. I seemed to be the strategist on call for all of my favorite pros. I was never broke again.

The newest research shows there is ample evidence that neurons can regenerate given the proper stimuli. The studies refer to many of the same practices people use to ward off Alzheimer’s, including strategy games and memory puzzles. So, when I say “poker saved my life” I am not saying it afforded me an opportunity, but that my brain has biologically regenerated through the work I have described in this book. I have felt my mind quicken every day I have remained sober and working. I have learned to find the joy in the most mundane situations. I have developed an appreciation for nuance and learning that I never had before, finding a thought pattern that has assisted me in a multitude of other businesses. Perhaps, to name what we’re discussing more accurately, the study, deliberate creation, and practice of varying strategies has released my mind and many others.

It is my sincere hope that this book has illuminated what thought processes many professionals use. I also hope it has demystified what is normally an astoundingly confusing game. If one of you uses this text to become a professional poker player and achieve your dreams it will be well worth the countless hours that went into writing it. If The Myth of Poker Talent can teach anyone that even the most complex subjects can be broken down and understood by anyone that would be an even greater achievement. Do not let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Do not let anyone tell you that you’re too dumb to understand this game. That is the secret many of the pros do not want you to know: they know that deep down that anyone can do it, because they remember what they did to attain their mastery.

Now, you know the process. You know the secrets. What are you waiting for? It’s time to go.

Bon voyage.

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