The ACH transfer hit my bank account today. Every American poker player who played on Full Tilt Poker has been waiting these last 34 months since poker's Black Friday to receive their funds back (roughly $82 million I'm told). Mine wasn't a large amount (<$1000) as I had been intentionally keeping my account balance light at the time. Rather it was the principle of returning money that didn't belong to Full Tilt Poker or to the U.S. Government. For me it provided some closure and an artificial but symbolic ending to a decade long journey in poker.
Earlier in the week and for the first time in a long time, I had posted in the CardRunners Swamp forum. Long-time member Wiggy1182 responded "Man I just got really sad thinking about this. Seeing you say that made me think back to how great this site used to be when I was first learning poker. I remember loving your blog and a bunch of other ones as well when this site was really bumping."
He went on to reminisce a bit about his own journey. It made me nostalgic and I quickly envisioned the project of documenting and linking my entire journey with cross-referenced blog posts. But that challenge seemed too daunting in the face of reviewing hundreds of posts (without a reasonable search feature) since its birth in May 2007. Instead I'll share some of my memories from my time in poker.
I don't play poker any longer. Live poker never captivated me like online poker did. The habit and enjoyment in playing recreationally but daily has slowly dissipated over the last 3 years. Who knows when legal online poker will return to Oregon. I have kept abreast of the community and remained employed in various roles in the poker industry until the end of 2013. With employment options receding without relocation I now feel less of a need to cling to the hope of a resurgence.
TV Poker - I remember the wonderment at watching poker on TV with my wife from as early as late 2002. We would watch the weekly spectacle that was the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel. We marveled at the entertaining characters bluffing and winning life changing money while listening to the commentary of Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten and Shana Hiatt. In the following years I would watch any poker that I could find; Celebrity Poker Showdown, Poker Superstars, Poker Royale, Ultimate Poker Challenge, WSOP, High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, National Heads-Up Championship, and the EPT.
Early Playing - After watching a few seasons of WPT, I noticed Mike Sexton promoting PartyPoker - the most popular poker site at the time. I deposited $50 on the site; ran it up a little playing $25NL (2BI's...that's some bankroll management, right?) then lost it all quickly. Being risk averse and not understanding why I lost, I took a break before deciding to deposit again.
I bought my first poker book, "Play Poker Like The Pros" by Phil Hellmuth and immediately tried to determine whether I was an Eagle, Mouse, Elephant, Jackal or Lion. I started watching established players on Ultimate Bet (Green Plastic, Jsup, LatestLines2, Stinger885, CTS, Muddywater, Gaucho2121, Denny Lemiuex). I would rail them playing cash games, SnG's and tournaments. A few of them even engaged us railbirds in the chat box. I realized there could be camaraderie in the game. After a few months of railing players, one of them (Stinger885) mentioned that a poker training site run by some of the players that I had been railing was launching - CardRunners.com.
My New Years resolution on January 1, 2006 was to take poker more seriously and I signed up to be a member of CardRunners. After watching videos, studying the game and understanding the discipline necessary to experience success I decided to deposit $50 on UB. Starting at the lowest possible playing level (.01-.02) I began my real journey. I have never deposited again.
Community - Beyond my own insatiable thirst for mastering this strategy game, what captured me was the element of community and communal learning I experienced. Like-minded players were eager to give time and feedback via various methods (e.g. ventrilo, skype, forums, chat rooms). As the months passed, it became less about a selfish and competitive game for money, and more around connection and support. Some of that early CardRunners community included JTPhila, Brystmar, Bradsmitty, Bdog4, AceCR9, LouPinella (RIP), Fruitypro, Verneer, TrevRob, PrincessDonk and Jeff218. CardRunners also had a strong stable of teaching pros with varying levels of community interaction but whose videos informed or entertained us all (Green Plastic, Jsup, ActionJeff, Stinger, Sbrugby, Brystmar, Sixpeppers, Mr. Menlo, Gaucho2121, Jackal, Schneids, CTS, Daut44, KPR16, Gordo16, Raptor, Timex, nutedawg, p3achy keen, iRock, Verneer, INTERNET POKERS, Skjervoy and 1 video from Phil Galfond).
Later Playing - When UIGEA hit, Party Poker left the US and UB rumors of "funny business" grew. Full Tilt Poker started to gain a lot of momentum with superior software and player experience so I traded some funds with a fellow CardRunners member and began playing exclusively on Full Tilt Poker. A couple years later exasperated after experiencing what at the time seemed like a big downswing (13 BI's), I transitioned to PLO and stopped playing No-Limit Hold'em entirely. When Rush PLO was introduced I found my sweet spot that matched the limited time I had available to play with the level of action and profitability possible. I played Rush exclusively the final months leading up to FTP's shutdown to Americans.
Poker Pros - Some of my fondest memories are from the live tournaments that I was lucky enough to visit. I went to one PCA in the Bahamas, one Doyle Brunson Five Diamond Classic and five WSOP Main Events. It was often all the events surrounding the tournaments that were most fun (e.g. top restaurant meetups with CCR, clubbing with bottle service, late night house parties, or fun poker get togethers)
Unlike what existed in sports or entertainment, the best poker players in the world were everywhere and accessible. I can't recall of a single notable poker pro who I haven't had the pleasure of seeing in the flesh at some point. For most of those tournaments I had press access which allowed me additional access to meet players, while reporting, interviewing and blogging. More than the proximity to poker celebrity was getting to meet the people behind the infamous but relatively anonymous online monikers.
For me, poker was always about people. Probably due to my inherent risk aversion, I derived as much enjoyment from supporting and railing people as I did playing myself. The ideal example I've shared over the years is of Brian Hastings. We both happened to deposit $50 in the same exact month online. He was a high school kid from my home state of Pennsylvania while I was a married with kids mid-thirties businessman. He went on to make millions with a highly visible career in poker while I made a few thousand playing recreationally. I don't have an ounce of envy, but rather immense respect and pride in having witnessed his journey and development as a person and player. I have greatly enjoyed following players, interviewing them, and railing high stakes games. Some of those players I've had to pleasure to meet or interview include Lee Childs, Laurence Grondin, Jason Mercier, Alec Torelli, Greg Raymer, Antonio Esfandiari, Dan Cates, Andrew Lichtenberger, Scotty Nguyen, Aaron Jones, Yevgeniy Timoshenko, David Paredes, Ilari Sahamies, Vanessa Peng, Jay Rosenkrantz, David Benefield, Chris Moneymaker, Ashton Griffin, and Danielle Anderson.
Poker Work - I've had the pleasure and challenge of a number of roles in the poker industry. First as the first Operations Manager at CardRunners during their greatest growth from 1,000 to 10,000 members. Second starting my own community and resource site for beginning players - PokerCurious. After selling a majority of the site, I worked for a Malta poker conglomerate as their Content Manager. I worked as a writer for Epic Poker and a poker affiliate site. Lastly, I served as Operations Manager and Head of Information and Customer Service for Pokertrip, now called Overlay Gaming, that runs AllVegasPoker and PokerAtlas.
The Future - On New Years Eve I was asked to run a multi-family poker cash game. As I was the only experienced player, I was asked to provide the chips and cards, deal but not play, and educate the 9 players between 15-50 years of age. They had a blast playing, despite their lack of experience and some interruptions for fireworks and midnight celebrating. Everyone in the game got to win a decent sized pot at some point, without anyone really dominating. One mid 40's woman was particularly enthralled. She wanted to know everyones hole cards to understand when people were bluffing and what strategies they employed.
Poker in all its variants is a great and stimulating game no matter what experience you bring to the table. While I'm partial to the online version, I hope poker's future brightens in the coming years with the reduction of public stigmatization and government interference.