Things they don't tell you when you win big bucks playing poker - pokerlistings

The road to poker success is paved with a lot of bad beats, coolers and soul-crushing downswings.

It's only after you've reached some semblance of success that you can look back on all the near-misses and injustices that got you there.
Even then it's hard to appreciate the good fortune required to beat a game as perversely designed as poker. So here are a few things they don't tell you when (or if) you win big at poker.

#6. The Search for Meaning

Erick Lindgren

“Life is without meaning. You must create it yourselves.” -- Arthur Friedrich

Poker players tend to be overthinkers. We obsess on our results, take them personally and try to rationalize luck into something more meaningful.

We feel entitled to good results after putting in the hard work and we become convinced that runs of bad luck mean we're playing wrong or at the wrong level. We seek reasons to explain why we're winning or losing.

The truth is that even when you're doing everything right you can still lose in the long run. And sometimes you'll win when you're clearly outplayed. This is what makes poker such a maddening and compelling game.

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Big scores come with existential questions. (Photo: WPT)

Big scores come with big questions. Should I quit while I'm ahead? Have I earned this much? Am I exploiting others who may be less skilled? Will I lose it all? These are healthy questions but none of them changes the fact that sometimes you just get lucky.

In his book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Jordan Pointner suggests that every man must answer these four questions to live a fulfilling life:

  • Warrior: What am I willing to die for?
  • Magician: What do I want to create / achieve?
  • Lover: Who do I want to share it with?
  • King: How will I be remembered?
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This sounds deep until you realize that most poker players have already answered these questions -- in the middle of the night, lying awake, wondering where their wins or losses leave them.

Life is without meaning. You must create it yourselves. And sometimes, when you create wealth through getting lucky in a skill game, the meaning you create is ... well, it can wait until tomorrow.

#5. Money Can Buy Happiness ... But Not Always More Oxygen

Brandon Adams

“Money can't buy happiness” is one of those platitudes that sounds wise until you realize how ridiculously false it is.

Money buys food, shelter, safety, luxury, stimulation, attention, health, love -- practically anything that can contribute to short- or long-term happiness.

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But money doesn't ensure that you'll make wise choices about what to buy and in what proportion.

Case in point: oxygen.

Oxygen tanks are pretty expensive and, despite years of hearing I should quit, I still smoke. Put those two facts together and I occasionally find myself gasping for air in the middle of the night.

It never occurs to me in that moment of panic to dial up Air Products and ask for a tank on credit. No, I drive to the local pharmacy that rents out oxygen and pay $40 for two litres of oxygen.

Two litres might sound like a lot but it's just enough to take maybe 20 panicky breaths. So let's be conservative and say I get six uses per month from this tank. That's $960 per year just to soothe my nervous mind.

I know this habit is dumb but I can't seem to stop. I could think of better ways to spend $960 a year but, hey, it makes me happy (or at least reduces anxiety).

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Brandon "BuzzSaw" Adams was more fortunate with his big score. Here's how he went about spending his money:

  • $150k on a house
  • $30k on a car
  • $30k on furniture / Fashion
  • $20k on motorcycles
  • $15k on a pool table and surround sound
  • $15k on trips (mostly Disneyland)
  • $10k on video games / XBox Live / poker software / etc.
  • $10k on miscellaneous toys (paintball guns, jet skis, etc.)

"That's pretty much it," says Buzzsaw. "I bought some gifts for family and friends but nothing too crazy."

He regrets nothing. "I wasn't spoiled growing so it was nice to buy a lot of stuff for myself and check off a bunch of things on my wanted list."

"The biggest thing for me was being able to breathe a sigh of relief. I didn't have to worry about paying bills or affording things anymore. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders."

#4. Nobody Knows What the F** They're Doing

Nobody knows.

If only someone did. (Photo: WSOP)

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Imagine you wake up one day with an extra $500,000 in the bank. Does this money go in a savings account, mutual funds, stocks, gold, real estate, hedge funds or what?

You can hire some of the smartest people in the world to manage your money and they will argue fiercely about the best strategy for maximizing your return while minimizing risk.

None of them have any idea what the fuck they're talking about. (Full disclosure: I have no idea what the f** I'm talking about either but I haven't been managing other people's money so no one is getting hurt.)

Famed investor John Maynard Keynes allegedly said, ""The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent."

In other words, at some point the market will force you to admit that you have no clue what you're doing.

So what should you do with your money? Two suggestions:

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Seek diverse opinions: Talk to people you trust who have experience with money and listen carefully to their advice.

Take notes and compare the recommendations. Look for patterns and red flags. Trust your instincts.

Do what feels right: Once you've done your homework it's time to pull the trigger. Easier said than done, right?

One approach is to ask, "If I were giving advice to a friend in my position, what would I recommend?" Another is to imagine yourself six months or a year from now. How do you want things to have turned out? What will give you the most peace of mind?

Remember, nobody knows what the f** they're doing.

#3. The Existential Hangover

Cates in the Taj

Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, Tom Dwan -- these guys have such swagger. Watch them at a table and you get the sense they were born to play this game.

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They own the game. It's an extension of their personalities. To play is to be.

Now imagine being one of them. You show up at the Taj Mahal at three in the morning, tired but wired from adrenalin. You make a couple of quick hero calls and double up your opponent.

Another hour goes by. You've won another pot or two and now you have a decision. Raise or fold? You have your read, you know the hands, you can calculate the outs and pot odds.

But does any of this matter? At this level the plays are so finely balanced that they cancel each other out. Sometimes you get the flow and sometimes you don't.

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And yet ... and yet you feel you were put here to make great plays and win pots. Losing a pot -- any pot -- feels like a betrayal. It's an act of cowardice. You shake your head in disgust.

At times like this it hits you: You don't control poker. Poker controls you. Worse, poker can be utterly meaningless. All your 'great plays' are just roll of the dice.

Existential hangover. (Photo: WSOP)

Some players can handle this realization; others crumble. This isn't just an intellectual dilemma. It's a visceral fight or flight response. Your palms sweat, your heart races, your body wants to flee.

When your brain is screaming, "This makes no sense!" the only sane response is to get up from the table. Anything less is insane.

#2. Friends and Family Appreciation Society

There's an old rule of thumb in poker: People will forgive bad beats but they won't forget them.

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Win a big pot from someone with a stone-cold monster and they might grind their teeth and mutter under their breath but they'll respect you for it.

Hit them when they have top pair, ace kicker ... well, you can be sure you won't forget it and odds are they will.

Make big scores regularly and eventually you'll become an object of fear and resentment. People will call you lucky, which is code for "I lost to him once when he hit a miracle draw and now he's beating me by playing tight and not making any mistakes."

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Suddenly, everyone plays tighter, faster and more aggressively against you. You become a marked player. Goodbye, edge.

Friends and family, on the other hand, never forget or forget quickly. In their minds you were doing okay until you got lucky. Now you think you're hot shot poker players.

They'll never tell you that you've changed. They'll just gradually withdraw. They won't borrow money, they'll return favors promptly, they'll avoid discussing poker or anything else that might lead to you bragging.

Eventually you'll realize that you no longer have any friends or family. Welcome to the club.

#1. Why Do I Feel so Unhappy all the Time?

Chris Ferguson

"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." - Dalai Lama

Everyone expects big winners to be happy but that's not always the case. In fact, very often it's not the case.

Chris Ferguson was one of the most successful high-stakes players in the world but during our occasional meetings at the Bellagio he always looked vaguely pained, as though he had just been reminded of something unpleasant.

Bill Edgar would routinely finish deep in the big tournaments but found himself plagued with self-doubt.

"When I came close to winning or cashing well, I would often wonder why I couldn't overcome whatever obstacles were in my way," he says.

"I think this led to a certain amount of performance anxiety that caused me to choke or lose focus at crucial moments."

Performance anxiety is common among big winners. Phil Ivey once told me that after winning several major tournaments in one year he became convinced he was unable to win another.

He said he tried therapy but was unwilling to discuss the issue further.

Anecdotally, big scores often bring out the worst in people. Greed, jealousy, selfishness, arrogance, laziness -- these are not uncommon responses to sudden wealth.

It's almost as though people mistake luck for talent. If I were this lucky, what would happen if I were truly skilled?

Or, as Moliere put it in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme:

"Fortune, n'est autre chose qu'une femme décaisseuse d'argent."

(Translation: Fortune is nothing more than a woman who counts out money.)


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