The year was 2005. I had a full head of hair. I was a second year college student (Criminal Justice) who was just going through the motions. I was living on my own, in a small, cheap place. It was all mine though, and it was more than almost anyone else my age at the time could say. I was working two jobs, making money, but not really putting it towards anything.
I was listless, restless and remiss.
One lazy Friday night, I had a friend I had called in order to hang out. “Sorry man, I’m having poker night,” he said. I laughed and told him to stop joking around, that we should get together. He said he was serious, rattling off a few names of people I knew, and that he had been doing this for awhile now. I had no idea. Now, I was curious, and really wanting to hang out with him, so I asked if I could attend. Of course I could. The more money (dead money) the merrier, right?
Now, I hadn’t played poker since I was a kid, and even then, it was just your normal games of WAR or 5 Card Poker. The kiddie games, basically. So, being that it was my first real encounter of a poker game, naturally, I won the little tournament he had going. Beginner’s luck it was, as I had no idea what beat what. I had no idea what a straight was, what suits were or how a hand even held up. Somehow, I won though, and was instantly hooked. No, I was in love.
From that moment on, all I wanted to do was play poker. I wanted to read about it. I wanted to watch it. I wanted to learn as much about the game as I could. And I did.
Back then, it was the height of the “Poker Boom.” They televised tournaments on TV every day. ESPN aired the World Series of Poker. Travel Channel had the World Poker Tour. Fox Sports had Poker Superstars. NBC had the Heads Up Championship and Poker After Dark. GSN had High Stakes Poker. Even Bravo aired Celebrity Poker Showdown. You couldn’t flip through channels without coming across a game going on.
And on the internet, it was even more massive. Full Tilt Poker, Pokerstars, Ultimate Bet and Party Poker were the top names in internet gambling. Yes, it was real money and this was a real thing. Just upload a credit card or bank account, deposit whatever amount you wanted (or had available) and start playing in tournaments or cash games against other people playing at the same time around the world. At many points in time, I had more money in my online poker account than my actual bank account.
It was great. I could be sitting in my underwear, at six o’clock in the morning, playing poker against someone in Europe for a $100 or a $1,000 pot.
I also realized quickly that just “playing my hand” wouldn’t get me very far. What this means, is that you show your strength (or weakness) by betting when you have good hands, and then not playing when you have bad hands. This is extremely exploitable and because of this, when I was starting out, I was bluffed a lot. I was taken to school by players who knew what they were doing and knew how weak of a player I was.
In the beginning, I lost. A lot. It would be the only year I would lose money playing poker.
It was time to get better. So, I started studying the game more. I found out there were poker books written, based on strategy, mathematics, reading people and game theory. In all, I would say I have read about 50-60 poker books in my lifetime. And it didn’t end with books, there were poker magazines too. I subscribed to three of those as well. I even created an account on an online poker forum, in which players from all over the world would ask questions and get input from other players, about any scenario or to complain about the “bad beats” and “suckouts” they took in games (when a worse player gets lucky to beat a good player).
By the time 2006 rolled around, me and my friend had created accounts for a couple online poker sites and started branching out to more than just home games. We were then 21, both of us, so going to casinos became an option, or playing in bar leagues. Any time we heard of a game going on in the state of Wisconsin, we were there. We started basing our days off, or any time off from work, to play poker. It consumed us.
He was my traveling mate, the one I ran strategies by, the one I could go to about anything in poker, and in life, as we had been best friends since 1st grade as well. As our games progressed, the money we won became greater as well.
I was a poker fiend. I lived, breathed and played poker. All day, every day. I was all in. And so was my friend (similarly bald and tatted like me).
Eventually, it became too great. You give a young 21 year old kid thousands and thousands of dollars (breaking news; there is money in poker) and he will be the smartest one in the room with it, or he will become his own worst enemy. Guess which one I became? I had dropped out of school, not once, but twice, within a year of first learning the game of poker. I had quit whatever jobs I was pretending to have, but didn’t care, because I made more than everyone combined where I worked (minus the owners, of course). I met the wrong kind of people, and was spending money faster than I was making it in due time. It wasn’t the poker that lead me to this lifestyle, it was the money. I was making very poor decisions based on it.
I went from a young man with dreams of joining the SWAT team someday or becoming a CIA agent, working two jobs, having my own apartment at 20 years old, to nothing. I lost it all. I lost my place, chances to be enrolled in school, all the money I had and even worse, my best friend. I alienated him, I became the very things we swore against and steered away from our entire lives up until those moments. I betrayed him. That was what hurt the most.
It was the game of poker that gave me everything I had wanted in life, and within a year, took it all away from me.
I had to start over. I was 23 years old. I had to rebuild and regain the trust of everything I still wanted out of life. I wanted to go back to school. I wanted to have real friends again. I wanted to make a career out of something. And the one thing that kept calling to me, was the one thing that I had not pursued since a fateful high school field trip. That’s right, I’m talking about the high school field trip I took to a funeral home. I was ready to do right by myself, my family, my friends, God, and everyone else in the world. I was ready to give back to my community and to help those in need. If it took me forever, I was going to pay it forward.
Read here about the path I took to become a funeral director:
During my mid twenties, I had to take low paying jobs, live at home, pay off my debts and prove to my local community college that I was serious about attending school again. It would be a long, arduous process, but I was determined to right all the wrongs I had done, all the time I had wasted. Throughout this time, however, I still followed poker. I watched it on TV. I played once in awhile online or went to a casino to play. It was few and far between, but I was also building up a “poker bankroll” so that I could earn my way back into playing, by proving I could have the fortitude to have some restraint in having money again.
At the age of 26, in late 2010, I was working a job as a metals finisher and welder. It wasn’t much money. I think starting pay was $10 an hour. But it was a solid job versus all the other random ones I had been working. Within a year of that, I had found myself a girlfriend, money in the bank and an apartment. I had also started playing poker a little bit more, except it was almost strictly online. The money was just so much more versus going to a casino 30 minutes away. I could make money almost ten times faster playing online than live play. It was a great time, working during the day, hanging out with my girlfriend and playing poker at night when she went to sleep.
As per the “riches to rags to riches” story, I started making more playing poker and when my girlfriend realized this, she started wanting to go out more. Just in general; more shopping, more eating out, more VIP experiences at the club or anything, really. I didn’t want to do this, as I had grown accustomed to the simple life again. All I wanted to so was have a steady job, go back to school and play poker at night. That was the life for me.
I remember one day, I was up $1,200 in a poker game and when she had called to see how I was doing, she told me to quit right there and be done.
In fact, she told me that all her friends and parents didn’t want me playing poker at all anymore. Naturally, I didn’t quit, and I wanted to prove to her that she didn’t know what she was talking about. For some reason, hearing this really upset me. These were days that happened frequently when I would play, as I moved up in stakes as the months went along. Of course, I would have days I would lose hundreds, as is prone to happen from time to time.
So, back to that fateful phone call. I didn’t stop playing. I was running too well. In some ways, I wish I had stopped playing right then and there. But then she would have gotten inside my head, and I thought would be the beginning of her controlling my life. I’ve always said I would never give up a few things in life for a woman. Poker was one of them.
As my head was spinning and suddenly these thoughts were creeping into my head, I was thrown off my game. Well, within a few hours I had lost all that money that I was ahead. Oh well. Technically, I only lost my $300 buy in, but I was up to $1,500. So yeah. I was feeling down and felt like I made a huge mistake by not quitting, not because my girlfriend wanted me to, but because I let an outside presence effect my game.
Once she knew about it, she demanded I quit or she’d break up with me and that would be that. She wanted someone to build a future with, that had a stable job and wanted the house, child, picket fence deal. I didn’t want that. I wanted to do what I had always wanted to do.
I didn’t want to live someone else’s life. Needless to say, that relationship ended. Meh.
In early 2011, I had been focusing more so on my job and less on poker. I did play New Year’s Eve that year though, and had a nice $1,300 score. Glad I didn’t hit up that party! Anyway, I was moving up at my company pretty quickly, as I also had learned the trade of Teflon Coating. Only me and one other person in the entire business had the skills and know-how to do this on our products. I was really enjoying my time there. The co-workers, the work itself and the company seemed to take care of me. In addition to health benefits and weeks of vacation built up, I had a 401k going and making money.
By mid April (April 14, 2011 to be exact), I was really missing the game of poker. I decided to put some money back online and play some tournaments, to just get the rust off. Well, I ended up winning the last tournament I was in, and made myself a nice 4 figure score. I went to bed at like 5 AM, smiling, and just like that, being excited about poker again. I couldn’t wait to just go to work, come home and play poker all night, as I had so many times before. See, I needed these breaks in between playing to protect from burnout and just keep that fire breathing.
I will never not love poker. I just need a break once in awhile.
The date I listed above has meaning to it, of course. As when I awoke the next day, checking my poker account before work, seeing what tournaments I could enter or would play later on, I realized that it didn’t work. My account was frozen. I was locked out. Not only was I unable to log in, EVERY ONE in America was unable to. April 15, 2011 became known to Americans as Black Friday in the poker world. It was the day the United States Government decided to shut down online poker and freeze everyone’s accounts. I was shocked, devastated, hurt, just numb… I couldn’t believe it.
Right when I was ready to play again and had a huge score to use as a bankroll, it was taken from me. Forget me, what about the players who literally had hundreds of thousands or even a cool million online? Yes, this was a thing, as I personally knew people who did. Your online poker account was basically treated like a bank account. There was no reason for anyone to think their money wasn’t safe. You could add or take out whatever you wanted from your account at any point. It worked just as a bank account, Paypal account, credit card, etc. It was your money, and you could keep it in there to play poker or cash it out to keep it. And now mine that I had just won, was frozen.
It would take a few years until the U.S. Government had come to buyout terms with all of the poker sites, and we would all be getting our money back that was in our accounts. By this time, however, I was back in school. Because, not being able to play poker online wasn’t an option and I had succumbed to the thought of just working for a living and becoming like everyone else. Retire at 65, live out your years and die. If that’s the life for you, that’s awesome though. I understand life happens, but I’m still in control of doing everything I want to do in my life. Sounds harsh, but that’s really what most people do, they settle down and let their dreams go. It’s not what I want to do or will do. It’s part of why I am creating this blog, even. I want to show the world that you can do anything you want in life, and have fun doing it. Sharing my experience.
So, after a few years of being with my metals finishing company, I was told that I was maxed out. That unless people started retiring or dying, I was stuck in my current position. I couldn’t even make any more money. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a way to motivate someone so young (I was mid-late twenties vs. 60 year old men here) in a company. I would have been a fool to want to stay and work so hard for no chance to move up. I was ready to go back school, and look elsewhere. Just like that. Poker wasn’t an option anymore, so I decided to go after funeral service.
I entered school, finishing up my general education requirements and science courses. I also worked for the first time as an apprentice funeral director. It wouldn’t be long until this foray went awry, and we parted ways. It was not what I had thought, although I still wanted to continue on with this funeral service journey, only not at the home I was at. Not on their terms. It was not a good fit, for either of us.
When asked what I would do until I graduated, finishing my Associate’s Degree in Funeral Service (because I had bought a condo and a Cadillac at this point, bills were very much a thing), I responded almost instantly, “Go back to what I do best, play poker.” And that’s exactly what I did.
In fact, I started a poker only blog and even thought up of a business venture and started creating a lifestyle brand. It included healthy living, spirituality, cleansing of the soul and playing poker. How all of these combined make you better at poker and better in life. I called it, “Wholesome Poker” and my slogan was “Mind. Body. Poker.”
It went on for 7 months, and lead to some great opportunities. I played poker with a couple celebrities (see pic of me with Kato Kaelin below), some well known pros and a bunch of guys who just wanted to escape the rigors of working a “9 to 5.” Ah yes, I remember that life. I even began coaching and live streaming myself playing online (a couple sites re-emerged online recently). I held webinars, podcasts and was all over social media about it.
This was 21st Century poker, and I was all in.
All good things must come to an end, however, and when those 7 months were up, I was ready to begin my final semester of mortuary school. It required a commitment bigger than just attending class. I had state and national obligations, time requirements of being an apprentice funeral director and board exams to pass. I had to put poker on the back burner, in order to chase my other dream, of becoming a funeral director. I was satisfied with this decision, as I’ve never been more proud of myself.
I am still currently a licensed funeral director in the state of Wisconsin, but I will return to the game of poker soon. In some capacity, anyway. I reminisce sometimes about the years me and my friend had, about the highs and lows of the tournaments we played in and about the thrill of everything the game included. It truly is a one of a kind feeling, being at the tables. Being a funeral director puts you on the spot and has some stressful moments for a family and everyone else included, but poker is the one that makes my heart race more than anything I’ve ever done in my life.