It was fascinating watching Audley Harrison talk about his time as a ‘poker pro’ on the last series of Celebrity Big Brother.
A few years ago I spent all of day one of the WSOP Main Event on Audley’s table, and had actually met him earlier that week after he’d won one of the daily Bellagio $2500k events for nearly 80 grand, but even after a result that big it was pretty obvious he wasn’t cut out to play poker for a living.
On CBB he talked about being addicted to the buzz of poker and how it was only after he’d experienced the lows as well as the highs of playing cards full time did he realise that the buzz he was actually chasing was the one of being a winner, being the best, which he hadn’t experienced since his amateur boxing days, which of course culminated in his Olympic gold medal.
Whether that was the true reason he gave up playing poker and went back to boxing, or whether he just decided that even as a bit of a journeyman pro, his name and past glory means he’s likely to enjoy more paydays trying to avoid getting canvassed rather than felted, it serves as a stark reminder of how difficult it is to be a successful professional poker player, and the emotional detachment you must be able to employ to remain not only sane, but at the top of your game, if you’re to earn a living from poker.
I’ve played poker for a living for eight years now, and it’s true, the game gets tougher every year.
Opponents are better, more experienced, have used training sites, books, forums and even blogs to improve their game, and the general state of the economy means people in general have less ‘spare’ money for hobbies like poker, meaning the games are much more pro heavy.
But what is generally not as widely discussed is the mental side of poker, and this is what Audley was talking about. The physically huge heavyweight boxer wasn’t strong enough mentally to deal with poker.
The highs are great, but the lows are tough.
Meet anyone new at a party and the fact you’re a professional poker player will leave them bursting to jealously ask you question after question, only pausing to tell you how cool a job it must be and how boring their lives are compared to that of a jet set travelling cards player.
When a bloke who gets punched in the face by giants for a living is telling you how hard it is, you know it’s not all sunshine, five star hotels and first class travel!
Actually instilling ‘professionalism’ into your game – preparing for sessions or tournaments correctly, working on faults in your game, replaying exit hands and seeking the advice of others, selecting games correctly, having discipline to leave games that are not profitable to name just a few –is one of the main failings of those who decide to play the game full time.
So next time you think you’d love to give it all up and play poker full time, remember that a man who has tried both would rather be lamped by 18 stone giants!