I can still remember the first time I played poker with my friends. It was just a little over seven years ago, and I was recently 18. We were at a friends house watching a Monday night football game playing five card draw for what I believe was a 10 dollar buy in, though it might have been five. I know for certain that I lost 20 dollars.
At that point in my life I was strongly considering a stint in the military; I wanted to be a marine. My parents were terrified at the idea, but I had already met with the recruiter twice and was keen to sign the papers. My interest in gambling began in sports betting, and I would run around during class with a sheet with all the games betting lines, offering it to whoever might want action. I had a job I hated at Damon's restaurant, an obsession with bodybuilding, and not much else going for me. I was an average student with no concrete ambitions, awkward with women to the degree of uselessness, and lacking any legitimate talent outside of the motivation to be a huge meat-head. But then I found poker.
I knew it was what I wanted for my life near instantly. I would sit and watch every second of the WPT or WSOP broadcasts and could rattle off hand after hand from each episode. I thought the pros I watched were amazing and I'd have arguments with friends about who was the best. I was a full blown fan-boy. I started playing at every opportunity, and read any book I could get my hands on. I lost all interest in military enlistment. When I told people this was what I wanted for a career they shook their heads and asked if I had a gambling problem. At the time I didn't have words like "equity" or "variance" to explain myself, all I knew was that the game seemed to be the only place I could actually focus my mental energy.
It went on that way for years. In college I'd sit in the back of class with my laptop open, watching the afternoon $100 rebuys on Stars and wishing I too could be playing. Eventually I found out the campus had wireless internet and classes were spent playing instead of watching. I was surrounded by theater students killing themselves trying to get a leg up or land the big part and I couldn't possibly have cared less. When one of my professors told me I should audition for his elite acting program I thought he might have a seizure when I replied with "Ah thanks, but that would be too big a time commitment away from poker."
The game has a quick ostracizing affect. I began falling away from my friends, electing to stay in and play tournaments instead of go get drunk many weekends. By the time I moved to Australia and found myself in a long term relationship I realized I didn't have a single friend outside of the poker world. It stayed that way for over three years. Unless you're careful and proactive to prevent it, the game will separate and isolate you from regular society. You live on different hours and think in different ways. You have to watch the way you talk; not in the risk of vulgarity but that you might be accidentally rude. Poker players talk about money like a tool (which it is for us) and wind up forgetting that we bluntly discuss hands that involve most peoples weekly pay check like they are nothing. It's not unusual for the bulk of a persons social circle to be made up of people from their industry, but in ours it comes with so many consequences. It's an industry rife with liars, cheats, and scumbags, not to mention a guy to girl ratio that makes the military look like the Playboy mansion. I am not complaining though, because this world is what I am now. There's no going back to the real world when a simple Google search will turn up videos of you drunkenly lighting yourself on fire or stories about the time you let that girl stab you during sex. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
The only thing that concerns me is poker's longevity. There are many good signs about the industry; new markets taking off, the WSOP ratings going up in key demographics, growth on most major online networks, the continuing giant fields every summer in Vegas. However, this is an industry that cannibalizes itself, where once money reaches certain hands it's no longer in circulation. It wouldn't shock me if the game remained profitable throughout my lifetime, but it also wouldn't shock me if it became far less lucrative in the next few years. It's why day after day, week after week, for the whole year, you'll find me billion tabling the day away and posting on the strategy forums by night. Seven years ago failure would have sucked, but it would have been easily redeemable. Today it is out of the question.
See you on the tables.