"Welcome to Osh Hardware, how can I help you?"
"Hi, could you tell me where I could find a drywall repair kit?"
"And do you really have like, a kit or is there a bunch of seperate stuff I should get?"
"Well it depends. How big is the hole? Is it like a nail hole?"
"No, it's bigger than that."
Only an hour earlier, I had been sort of enjoying my Sunday morning, doing normal (for me) Sunday morning things. I was up, drinking Diet Coke, and playing a couple of SNGs on Party while CNN droned in the background. Showcase finally woke up around noon while I was on my third SNG. I had finished 3rd in one, 4th in the second, and was playing four-handed in the third with a healthy stack. He asked me if I was in the mood for breakfast at our favorite diner, which I was, and I told him I'd be finished within 15 minutes. Then I bluffed the wrong guy and lost about half of the stack I had worked so hard to build. And then two hands later, in a "fuck it" moment, I pushed in with JJ and got sucked out on a bad river card. It was a dumb-all in move, because I could have just raised and probably moved my opponent off his hand on the flop. But I was on TILT. Not just from the hand before or the morning's three disappointing SNGs, but from an entire weekend of hours and hours and hours of play with NO money. I logged off, closed the laptop and went into the bathroom, to steam and calm down and to try and get ready for our diner brunch.
That brunch would never happen, because the minute I shut the door, rage just consumed me. I was beyond pissed off. How could I spend this much time on my game and not be able to cash a fucking thing this weekend? I'm a smart person. I read all the fucking books, I analyze all my fucking trouble hands, I try so fucking hard but WHRE ARE THE WINS?! WHERE'S THE CASH?! I just wanted to kick something. Usually I'll settle for the rubber trash cans outside or my pillow-top mattress, but this time, the wall was the closest thing available, so I kicked the wall. I kicked it three times. And it felt pretty good. Unfortunately, I chose the same spot for all three kicks, so on the third one, my bare foot punched straight through the drywall.
Showcase was really pissed and he had every right to be. As I cried and apologized and promised to pay for everything, he said to me, very calmly, "You know what? You have a problem. Because now you're punching holes in our walls because of gambling."
Maybe I did have a problem.
At the hardware store, I bought a drywall patch, a small hand sander, a bucket of spackling stuff, and one of those spatula-like things that spreads the spackling stuff. I spread some newspaper beneath the size 7 1/2 hole, and started sanding the edges of the opening. Mike Matusow stared back at me from the cover of last month's Card Player, which was stacked on top of Lucky and US Weekly on the edge of the bathtub. As I sat and sanded, I wondered, is that what I'm bound for? Sick degenerate-land? Could I really be that bad or at least headed in that direction? And what had REALLY made me so angry, because we all know it wasn't just three SNGs or even 48 hours of sub-par results that made me kick the wall. It went much deeper than that.
Phil Gordon writes about the "Sick Gambler" in his new treatise on No-Limit Hold'em, "The Little Green Book." He says, "Sick gamblers are soothed by losing. It's the only way that they can confirm just how unlucky, undeserving, and cursed they are... They expect to get beaten. They expect the river card to help my hand. They expect that every time I'm on a draw, I will get there...They are going to lose their money, at this table, another table, or the craps table. Someone will end up with the chips." Matusow is a textbook example of this sort of behavior (though, perhaps in its most extreme form). Losing $200K on a couple of sports bets while in jail? Hurling a new laptop into the swimming pool after a bad beat online? That's a sick gambler.
Was I a sick gambler just because I kicked a hole in my bathroom wall? Probably not. But I certainly had been playing like one before I went postal on the lavatory. That morning, I had sat down at my laptop EXPECTING TO LOSE. I was expecting to lose because I had been running bad for about a week. I was expecting to get unlucky because I was having the kind of weekend where my set of nines would be sucked out by my opponent rivering a set of queens. How could I possibly expect to win when my mind was telling me that I was already a loser? Moreover, why was I feeling like such a loser? It's not like this was my first, second, or even fifth truly rough patch as a player. I hadn't even lost much money at all this week. Overall, I was positive for September! So the question wasn't really just WHY was I feeling like a loser, it was WHY NOW? And if poker could potentially make me feel this low and self-destructive, why was I continuing to spend so much of my time on it?
Why was I playing anyway?
I played my first hand of Texas Hold'em at a Friday night home game in late 2003 with a bunch of assistants from the office. I was in the middle of both a practical and an existential crisis, as my longtime boss had just left the company I worked for and within the next two weeks I was either going to finally and deservedly be promoted after 3 years of 60 hour weeks, or tossed out on my ass with a severance check. I loved Vegas and I loved Celebrity Poker Showdown (especially that cute host) so why the fuck not try it myself. I left that game at 5 AM with a fistful of twenties, having come in second in the tournament. Two weeks later, I was indeed promoted and let out a huge sigh of relief. I was an executive now, and though executives first and foremost try to conduct business over expense account meals, a lot of shit happens on the golf course, or on the basketball court, or on surfboards off Malibu Pier. Well poker could be my social game since I was in no way shape or form a golfer, a baller, or a surfer. And I loved it. I loved the game so much and started teaching myself in earnest. And I started to actually get good at it.
As I got more serious about improving my game over the next year, work started sucking. Not sucking as in, I was letting assignments slide or getting in trouble-- it just wasn't as invigorating for me as it had been in the past. Right before my promotion, I had been on a movie that was in production, but that film was finished now. I wasn't keeping such crazy hours and flying to location on eight hours notice and doing conference calls with writers in Europe at 4 in the morning. My time was more of my own and the time I now found myself with, I filled with poker. And the more I realized that my new gig wasn't everything I thought it would be, the more I played. Work sucked for a lot of reasons, but I think the main reason I started getting so bored with it was because my job wasn't the challenge it used to be. And I'm the type of person that needs a challenge (and to succeed at it) in order to feel complete and save myself from that evil inner critic I can't quite kill. I knew that even on days when my heart wasn't in it and I was running at half-speed, I could still do my film job well and no one would ever tell me otherwise. With poker, though, every single hand held a new intellectual challenge. It was pure. It was risky. There was huge potential for failure. And it sure was more fulfilling than reading half a dozen body-switching comedies per week. Plus, I could make money at it. And I did start making money at it.
So that was why I started to play. But what about the "why now?" Where had all that anger come from? It was actually so simple. I was angry at myself. I was angry that I had even sat down when I knew I wasn't in the right headspace to do so and I was angry about how I had subsequently played my hands and donked off my chips. I was still angry about how I had played a big hand the day before that ended up costing me a whole tournament. Most of all, I was angry that I had done all of these things when I knew better. No one is harder on herself than I am. And that really has to stop if I want to take my game to the next level. Beating myself up will only make me lose.
In "Ace on the River" Barry Greenstein wrote that good players are honest with themselves. As I sat on the edge of the bathtub yesterday afternoon, spackling over the now-patched hole in the wall, I realized not only how much pressure I put on myself to win, but also how the money had become too important to me. The monetary goals I set for myself were WAYYYYYY too big and long-term. Like "pay off school" and "get out of debt." Poker may eventually enable me to do those things (and I have paid off one card with poker money) but in order to be a consistent, winning player, I have to rid myself of thoughts that poker can solve my financial woes in the short-term. Yeah I got robbed and got a lot of shit stolen. Yeah my car is a piece of shit and my apartment building is falling apart. Yeah I'm 28 and I'm really sick of earning pretty much the same salary as I did when I was 21. But that's where I am right now, for better or for worse. It'll take a lot more than a couple of winning months to change that.
I hope I haven't terrified you all with my honesty. As a first step before returning to the felt, I'm going to think about some short-term goals that might help me re-focus my game. Hell, I think writing this post and "blogging it out" has helped me re-focus and identify some of my biggest weaknesses. But I'm definitely not going to play tonight, seeing as it might scare Showcase. And I don't think I'm ready yet. I might be in a day or two.
But not until I finish fixing this hole.