Sunday, October 31, 2004

Mentor Material

I got an email recently. A fan of my poker blog wrote me for some advice ad more specifically asked me to be his mentor. I was flattered of course, but how to let the college kid down easy. I've seen him play online at Party Poker and he used to follow me around from table to table watching me play. Here's his email:
Hi Doc,

This might sound weird what I'm about to ask but hear me out. Over the past year and a half, I have supported myself mostly from poker. I had a weekly game that created an income of roughly $150 a week for me, which paid more than the job I was working. My runs online have been hit and miss, but I've only had successful cash-outs in live play. I have dominated the 3/6 game in live play over my 20 or so sessions. Online...well, basically I'm a joke. I just cannot seem to win. I'll get up a grand or so, then slowly bleed it all away. I've been playing no-limit since I first started playing due to the Moneymaker boom, but lately I've been trying to get more into limit because so many people say that it's where the money is at, plus I've been very happy with my live cashouts.

I own nearly every major poker book out there except HPFAP, but I've read that one several times. I own Super System, Theory of Poker, Winning Low Limit Hold 'Em, No Limit with Cloutier, and Caro's Book of Tells among many other lesser books. I've studied and put in the time an effort to tweak my game to the best of my ability. I still have many issues that I need to take care of, one of the main ones is my lack of self discipline. I'm not positive of the percentages, I play more on my knowledge of the game/opponents and my reads, including just playing solid poker. My problem happens when I tend to get up alot I start playing worse hands in positions that don't grant them.

I'm e-mailing you for two reasons: one of which is that I've been a faithful reader of yours for the better part of 6 months. The other is that XXXXX suggested I shoot you an e-mail so you could help me at this crossroads.

All I really think about is poker, and I'm willing to put in the time and effort to make poker my living. I'm seriously considering moving to NYC , possibly get a job as a dealer. I can't move to Vegas or AC yet because I've still got 2 years and 2 months until I turn 21.

Bottom line is I love poker. And I know you do too. I think that there is a lot that I can learn from you and I'm looking for a mentor, someone who I can learn from, who can kind of show me the ropes around New York and I'm asking if you can do that. Take your time I know it's a weird proposition. Diane tells me that you're a writer. Maybe there's some work I can do in exchange for following you around and playing? I know that I'm young, but I'm really eager to learn.

Thanks again,
Thinking about going pro
I actually took the time to write out a thoughtful and honest response. Here you go.

Hey Thinking About Going Pro,

Sorry for the delay. I wasn't blowing you off, I just wanted to have time to give you a proper response.

Unfortunately, I have to decline your offer. I am flattered... but I'm nowhere near the level of poker mastery where I could be giving someone sound advice on their game. It's one thing to teach my girlfriend's friends how to play poker... it's an entirely different thing altogether to be a mentor and coach.

I would also like to add that I'm not a very positive role model... even my closest friends will tell you that I can be a psychotic selfish asshole from time to time. I would be a bad influence on you.

Now, don't get upset... but I am going to be honest with you... stay in school.

Poker will always be around but you are missing out on one of the most valuable experiences in your life... your late teens and early twenties. I just turned 32 and although my life is kick ass, those memories of ages 18-22 burn holes in my mind.

I am thinking about a young hoops player that has the potential to go pro. He is tempted by fame, power, money... all those things that make the American dream sweet. However what they don't mention to him is that the world is a tough place... life gets harder the older you get. I always thought it would be easier but here I am in my 30s and it's harder than ever. Add that to the fact that poker is a tough business, tough culture, and an insane aspect of our society. You can go broke in one hand. All the best pros have gone broke. Hellmuth, Scotty Nguyen. Even TJ Clouiter has the reputation of being the best broke poker player in the world. It takes hard ass work and plenty of luck to kick out a humble living like the Erik Siedels of the world.

Some poker bloggers I know should go pro. They don't because they have the foresight to understand that you cannot possible support yourself and a family on gambling money alone.

Sure you and I are in the same boat... I'm not married, no kids, no responsibilities. But if I want to gamble I can because I have money coming in that I know I can rely on if I lose at poker. I've been playing seriously for a year... keeping notes on how I'd do as a full time player. And I'm not doing well. I cannot live off of poker alone. Instead I shifted my mentality.... writing and part time work pays the bills. Poker gets me the extra things in life... like nice dinners with the ladies, or Yankees playofff tickets for my brother's B-day, or a trip to New Mexico. I've been spending my bankroll to get the other things in life that my humble existence as a writer has never paid me off.

Sure I'd like to ascend to the next step. But that's pure insanity. Poker will become like any full time job... if you ever had one you'd realize that at some point all jobs are the same... they all suck.

You are better off getting a job on Wall Street than going to Vegas to play poker. You'd make more money right away and have a health plan and a great resume builder. It might not be as glamorous, but your parents would be proud of that career choice of yours. When you make a ton of money (like I did) you can walk away knowing that you'll have food and a roof over your head for a few years.

My advice to you again, is to get a college degree. Stay in school. Have fun. Do stupid shit. Make friends. This is the part of your life when you need to make mistakes. Have poker be a major part of your life, but I think your academic and personal life should be your main priority right now. Once you are out of school... then you can do whatever you want. Because if you go broke as a pro... then you have a college degree to fall back on... and you won't be slugging beers at a bar, or making latte as Starbucks, or worse dealing low limit poker 40 hours a week to dipshit tourists. All of a sudden you'll get that bad taste in your mouth and it might sour your outlook on poker.

I also draw from personal experience. What I wanted to do when I was 19... was far off from what I wanted to do at age 25 and age 30. You see what I'm getting at? People change. Life throws curveballs at you everyday. I can tell you this... all my friends at age 19 never envisioned what their lives would be when they are 30. And we all agree that the most influential times of our lives were those college days. Don't walk away from that. Most people would love to be in school.

What's the rush especially since you are not 21 yet? Take this time to get better. Reread the books. I do that all the time. When I first quit my job on Wall Street to be a writer I knew deep down that I wouldn't be a great writer until I was 40. I am still 8 years away from that point but today I know I'm on that path. Why? My discipline to write everyday and have that as my main focus. But with the oversight to understand that life experience will make me a stronger person and artist.

When I started playing poker I made a similar assertion. I won't be a good player until I'm 40. Sure I crush home games and win a little when I go to Vegas. So what. Any idiot can get laid in a bar if they have enough drunk girls. But I know that if I play a little everyday and hone my skills... that in 8 years I'll be the best writer and poker player I know.

Your game needs to mature like a fine wine. Let it. The biggest mistake you can do is chase down a silly dream... today. Wait a few years. Get a degree. Have a kick ass college experience. Be a big fish in a small pond first. Crack your college games. Then, get a job even out of college and work hard to build up your bankroll by storing away your paychecks. That's how Fossil Man did that. Even Moneymaker to an extent. They had 9-5 jobs... a place where they could support their family and use a little of their income to build their bankroll, etc.

Don't feel the urge to be like those idiots like Dutch Boyd and Fishman. Don't forget as much a Dutch Boyd is an idiot... he got a college degree at a young age and law degree and worked in the real world before his foray into poker. He had some personal wealth to fall back on. Same with Barry Greenstein and Paul Philips. There's no pressure on them because they are super rich. Poker is a game for them. And that's why they play great. Poker is as mental as much as skill. I don't think you have the head to play just yet.

I could have blown you off or simply said words of encouragement. I'm sure you probably wanted to hear that. But I'm not one to bullshit. I shoot from the hip. I call things like I see them. You have raw talent... but that is simply not enough. I also know that life is precious and there is more to this world that gambling and poker. Hey, I'm lucky. Writing comes first. Poker is second or third. But that's what makes the bad days at the tables a lot easier to gut out. Because I know I have other aspects of my life to thrive in. When you lose, and lose big... that tends to seep into your everyday life. And then you and the people in your lives get affected. Losing is a disease. Once you are infected it's a bitch to snap out of that funk.

Carve out a life for yourself and add poker to that mix... but don't make poker your primary objective at such an early age. You need a backup career if all else fails. Set a realistic goal such as: I want to move to Vegas when I'm 25. Until then you have several years to get better and build up that bankroll. In the meantime, go outside, read a poker (other than poker), make new friends. Travel the world. Fall in love. But don't waste your precious twenties at the poker table with the score of losers and degenerate gamblers. You can waste your 30s and 40s doing that!

At the same time, I'm not one to tell you to gove up on your dreams. If poker is what you really want to do and if it's really in your heart... then follow your dreams... but don't rush them. If you wait a few years, you'll be better prepared to be in a position where your dreams have a better chance to come true.

Hope this email helps.

Thanks for reading,

I have not heard back from him since then.

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