It was 3AM. I would sit in front of my computer, trying to be quiet. My roommates were all asleep, but I was wide awake. There were three big monitors spread across my desk, with numbers flashing and 10-20 tournament tables. I was probably going to make a few thousand dollars tonight and I would be able to tell everyone in the morning.
I was addicted to online poker. College was boring. I found no enjoyment from the classes and didn’t respect the professors. I had just broken up with my long-time girlfriend and lost most of my best friends in the process. Poker was the only thing working at the time. At least that’s what I thought.
I was mostly profitable from the very beginning. It began with making a few hundred dollars here and there. After awhile I moved on to higher stakes tournaments. Some of my friends worked at jobs where they made $8 an hour, and I thought they were suckers. One of my better nights I made roughly $6K or $7K in a tournament. The next morning my best friend told me that he would work the entire summer to make a fraction of that. It made me feel better about myself.
On the weekends my roommates would party. In the past I had been a big party guy, but now I would try to think of excuses to stay behind and play poker. Some afternoons, the guys would go outside and throw the football around. I didn’t go because I was playing poker. Other times I missed classes to play poker, or I left classes early to catch the registration for poker tournaments. When I was back at home, I got excited when all of my family members would finally go to sleep. Then I knew I could play poker without them distracting me.
Truthfully, I was consumed. I was trapped. One night I was drinking and called up my mom. It was around 2AM. When she answered, the first words out of my mouth were, “Mom, I think I’m addicted to poker.” I began to cry and felt my chest swell up. My father, who was concerned, got on the phone too. We began to talk for about a minute and then my phone ran out of battery. I had no access to a charger. My parents were probably on the other end of the call feeling scared and hopeless. It was one of our most honest moments. I went back to my apartment and went to sleep, hoping that they would be able to sleep too.
The next day they arrived at my apartment unannounced. They had decided to wake up early and drive four hours to visit me at school. They wanted to take me out to lunch and talk. Really, they just listened. They told me that they loved me and I believed them. They left after an hour or so, and all three of us felt much better. I stopped playing poker competitively after that.
It was a crazy time that lasted about a year. Anything can trap us. Our job, other people, television – all of these things can consume us. Sometimes failure disguises itself as success. I was easily tricked. You don’t have to be.
These days, if I’m awake at 3AM it’s because I’m out spending time with my friends. And I don’t have very much money anymore, but that’s okay. I went for a long walk this morning through Soho and Tribeca. I love people watching. A little while ago I had a nice conversation with an old college friend on the phone. In a few minutes I’m going to grab a cup of coffee and read Edward Rutherford’s New York. Life is good.
P.S. I have nothing against poker. In fact, I still love poker and really respect a great poker player. Poker is such a great game and too many ignorant people say negative things about something they don’t understand. Like anything, balance is key.