Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
It’s time we had a serious discussion – just the two of us.
Last year a young player approached me and said something like, “Mike, you don’t know what it’s like to try to play on a small bankroll and always be on the verge of losing it. All it takes is a bunch of bad beats. You older pros grew up in a different age when it was easier to build bankrolls. And you all seem to have lived charmed poker lives, without having to worry about waking up broke in the morning. Is it still possible to make that happen today?” I don’t remember his exact words, but that’s pretty close.
It occurred to me that this guy probably wasn’t alone in this completely wrong-headed notion. So, in today’s self-interview, I’ll set the record straight.
Question 1: What was so “wrong-headed,” as you termed it, about what the kid said?
Mainly, none of us lived “charmed poker lives.” It wasn’t all giggly and glamorous. Some players took years to establish a comfortable bankroll. And, in the process, they suffered setbacks and major misery. There were a lot of bad beats. See, there’s today’s word – beats.
There were no guarantees. There was no rocket ride to the sky. There were ups and downs. In fact, there were a whole lot of downs.
Question 2: So, you’re mad at this kid because he thought gathering a bankroll was easy years ago when you were starting out?
You are just so wrong that it amazes me that I let you ask questions for these interviews. First of all, I didn’t say I was mad at the kid. I’m not. I’m worried that other players might have the same misconceptions. I don’t feel comfortable if struggling players think there’s something magical about the careers of established name players.
If unchallenged, that myth would leave aspiring players – those who take the game seriously and those who dream of turning pro – feeling like failures early on. And that wouldn’t be fair or honest.
Question 3: Have any of the top pros ever gone broke?
Most of them have been broke at one time or another. In fact, almost all of the world-class players I’ve known have gone broke sometime.
Question 4: Would you give us their names?
Of course not. But if you just pick a name, chances are it would be on the list.
Question 5: Does that include you?
Sure it does. I’ve been broke many times. In fact, when I was young, anybody could challenge me to a poker game for my entire bankroll and it’s unlikely I’d back down that day. I risked my whole bankroll foolishly many times. And several of those times fate frowned on this activity.
It took me a very long time to begin to manage my bankroll more rationally, and I was more reckless than I should have been even years after that began to happen. I think most world-class players suffer because they have too much heart, too much need to prove how good they are, even if the risks aren’t reasonable. I’m not saying they don’t have an advantage when they play poker. You bet they do. But when you take big chances, it only takes one, two, or three nights to destroy a bankroll you’ve spent months nourishing.
You can be the best player and still run poorly. And if you happen to be betting beyond your bankroll the nights you run poorly, well, you’ll still be the best player. But you’ll also be broke.
Question 6: So, what’s the point of this interview?
I haven’t even gotten to the point yet. The point is that even if you’re disciplined enough to manage a bankroll correctly from the get-go, lots of other heartaches can happen at poker. You can have miserable misfortune. Cards can be contrary for months.
You might get drawn out on in a key tournament hand. And then again in the next tournament. And then again. Oh, did I mention again after that, too.
Plus, it’s hard to get started along the well-funded poker path, when you have to scrape together a starting bankroll from real-world activity and hope you don’t lose it right away. You’re temporarily airborne, but a few too many bad beats will bring you crashing down. Been there; done that.
Yes, if you hone your poker skills and you’re dedicated, you’re likely to succeed eventually. But it probably won’t be a smooth road. It will be an adventure along a rocky trail through a dark forest with dragons and snakes – and happy surprises hidden along the way, too.
People will second-guess you. They’ll criticize you and say you must be doing something wrong when you lose. You’ll learn to suffer, and you’ll learn to rejoice. It depends on the cards. And pretty soon you’ll learn that it’s an adventure no matter what happens the next day. That’s poker’s great thrill – that adventure.
Finally, you’ll get there, wherever there is for you. And then someone will look to you admiringly and ask you how to make his or her poker journey magical like it was for you. That’s when you’ll have an opportunity to gloat and say, “You either have it or you don’t.” Or you can swallow your ego and tell the young player what I just told you. I hope you do that, instead. — MC