02/04/2008

Has Poker Made Me a Better Person Part 3

Barry Carter

I bring to an end this week my discussion on whether or not pursuing a career in poker has ultimately been a positive influence on my life. I could of course go on forever with tiny little changes to my life (Including ‘pro’ I get to watch the reruns on Frasier on Channel 4 in the morning and ‘con’ I miss these little fruit salad things my work canteen used to do) but have tried my best to stick to the broader things that I might look back at on my deathbed.

Pro – My observation has improved

One great side effect of playing poker to the extent that I do is that I now notice things I never would have five years ago. I still can’t tell what cards a man is holding by the expression on his face, but poker has taught me that a wealth of information available to you if you are prepared to look for it. Little things, like flaws in a friends story for why they can’t make it to the pub or the fine print in a contract. Poker has taught me to exploit the tiniest nuggets of information and has also helped me, for the first time ever, to win arguments with my girlfriend.

Con – My attention span is f***ed

Shame really, I have the observation of Sherlock Holmes but will have forgotten whatever it was I observed within the minute. This is entirely due to online poker, which has turned my attention span into one that a goldfish would mock. The speed of online poker means that I am forever channelling my concentration into 45 second independent events and it has affected my ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

Thankfully I still enjoy reading books unaffected, although for some strange reason no sooner have I picked up a newspaper than it is back on my coffee table completely unread. One unusual positive side effect of this is that I have developed an uncanny ability to not listen to a single word my girlfriend has said to me, yet repeat it back to her word for word when she accuses me of not listening to her (Poor girl, she really gets some stick from me on this website, I think I’m becoming the Les Dawson of poker).

Pro – I respond better to good and bad luck

There are times in poker where flopping a set is as regular as clockwork and other times where you will call out the one gutshot card that busts your hand just before it inevitably hits the river. Poker is a game where you can literally play perfectly and still lose for long periods of time, it is also a game where you can be rewarded for being an idiot. Once you learn to stop whining about cracked aces you just come to accept the role the poker gods play in your life. This has really had a positive impact on the rest of my life. Poker has taught me to just get on with things when life deals me a shitty hand and not to feel guilty when a bit of good fortune comes my way.

Con – I am a slob

This for me is probably the biggest single con. I used to be in really good shape and was one of those metro sexual chappies you read about. Now I am 2 stone heavier and have a tendency to forget to shave for an entire week. Not having to wear a shirt and tie every day means that I have really let myself go and although I go to the gym still, it’s more of a damage reduction exercise than anything else. I do make an effort when I play in live games of course, or whenever I do anything social, but usually by Friday afternoon I look like a Yeti wearing the one thing he has remaining in his wardrobe because he has forgot to put his clothes in the wash for two weeks.

Pro – I do something I love and I don’t get taxed

Having spent 6 years in the pensions industry I can say with confidence that when you do something you love, you never work a day in your life. I pinch myself every day when I think about how lucky I am to be working in an industry that I love and while most people dread Mondays on Sundays, I can’t wait to get back to work. Whether it’s playing poker, writing about it or just talking about it with someone, it never gets boring.
Obviously I fill in a tax return for my writing work at the end of the year like anyone else, but not getting taxed on my winnings (which make up a lot more than my writing does) really invokes smugness. If I write a bunch of articles I invoice for £1000, I might get back about £780 after tax, but if I win a grand I get to keep the lot. If I wanted £2000 a month take home salary, I would need to earn £32,325 a year, but from playing I would literally just have to win £24,000, it’s as simple as that.

Con – I have no job security

I’ll end on a negative, mainly on balance and also because I don’t want to end things with people thinking I’m a smug twat. As we speak I have savings, a healthy bankroll and several great magazines and websites who are more than happy to pay me to write for them. However, I don’t have any contracts, no sick pay, no holiday pay and no pension.

There are many factors which would see my career go tits up in a heartbeat. UIGEA could be enforced (highly doubt it but you never know) and kill the industry worldwide or Gordon Brown could decide to have his own little version waiting in the pipelines for us. My bankroll could disappear when I go on a bad run, it could be the target of online fraudsters, I could find myself at the table of a ‘super-user’ or so on. It could also be as simple as the people I play against will ultimately just be too good for me to compete anymore.

I started this series of discussions to ask whether poker has made my life better. I may have followed every ‘pro’ with a ‘con’ – but that was really to seem balanced and to make it a little more entertaining. The fact is my life is 100% better because of poker and the cons are unbelievably outweighed by the pros. Poker can and will destroy the lives of those that were probably going to destroy their lives at the casino anyway, but for me, like many, it has rescued me from a humdrum existence for which I will always be grateful.