I Supported A Family Playing Poker: 5 Dark Realities
Ever dream of ditching your boring job and becoming something cool, like a bounty hunter or a card shark? Yeah, you roll up into some poker tournament, do a bluff, say some tells, flop down eight aces, and walk out a millionaire. We, uh ... we don't know much about poker. Fortunately, we know someone who does: We asked professional poker player "Mikko" if any of that was even remotely close to true. He laughed so hard he started crying, then just kept on crying. He told us ...
Nobody Thinks It's A Real Job
We've already talked about how it's possible to make a living playing cards, but the whole thing is an unsexy, daily grind of memorizing tables and doing math in your head for just-OK money. If it also involved a co-worker named Karen stealing your lunch from the break-room fridge, it'd be virtually indistinguishable from working at an office, but that's not how your friends and family will see it.
Stolen lunch they can understand. Karen stealing your pot on some dumb-luck river card
when she should have folded on the flop? Not so much.
Mikko explains: "Imagine how happy your family would be if you were unemployed and suddenly told them that Walmart was willing to pay you $9 an hour to stock shelves. Now tell them you are going to play a game of skill for a performance-based commission of around $3,000 per month, and see how badly they'll react. A few of my family members were downright upset by this, and for years I kept getting weekly calls from them that Walmart, Target, and Home Depot were hiring."
"I also had to field questions about when I would stop playing to get a 'real' job," Mikko added. "Once, I won entry into a fairly large tournament with a prize pool of about $10k," Mikko told us, "but since it fell on a family-outing day, everyone expected to see me there, even though that money would have paid the rent and daycare for an entire month, which were due in a week. My fiance had to answer a dozen 'Where is Mikko?' questions, and when she told them what I was doing, they'd go, 'Pfffft, that's not work! He should have been here.' My family thought I was off having fun somewhere, even though some of those times I was miserable, or tired, or sad."
As opposed to the Walmart job, where everyone absolutely knows you're miserable, tired, and sad.
And, really, how is that last part not exactly like having a "real" job? There's just no pleasing some people.
You Will Be The Bad Guy
Unless you're made of stone, taking other people's cash will sometimes make you feel like the biggest bastard in the world.
"In the very essence of my being, I am a people-person," Mikko told us. "I love to hang out and laugh and have a good time. But when it comes to choosing between my rent and yours, I won't hesitate to stab you in the back until you do your best Julius Caesar impression. ... The one story that sticks in my mind the most was at a local card room playing No Limit Hold'em with a george named Mack."
"George" is what some gamblers call desperate players that tend to make a lot of mistakes during a game.
Like real-life versions of this guy.
"I asked him his name, what he did, basically everything to lull him into a false sense of ease. He finally relaxed enough to call on a bad hand. When I showed him my cards, he looked genuinely hurt. I raked in the pot (which was all the money he had) as he sloooooowly pushed away, turned, and left. At which point I had to go outside to convince myself that that was part of the game, just in time to see Mack wipe his face and drive away. I didn't play again for three days."
He genuinely felt bad about what he did, but he's done the same thing several times since then, because, as he'll tell you himself: "If he had taken my chips, my daughter wouldn't have had a place to stay or maybe food to eat. I can endure anything as long as my daughter doesn't have to."
The Stress Does Weird Things To You
Playing professional poker isn't all downside:
"I did love playing poker because it afforded me time with my daughter," Mikko explains. "I was there in the mornings to wake her up and fix her breakfast, help her pick her outfit for the day, and make her lunch, and drop her off at school. But an hour later I would stare in an adult man or woman's eyes and take their rent money. How does anyone go from being a happy, loving dad to being Death, Destroyer of Life Savings and Probably Marriages?"
Mikko at work.
Mikko's found himself developing a split personality that emerged only during card games, like if Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk only in the presence of college funds going down the drain.
"While playing at this one club, I would act happy, nervous, kinda manic, all to reinforce this persona of a crazy wildman giving away money like it was made of snakes made of spiders. I would move around in the middle of hands, pretend to forget what cards I had, and some of the old grinders would get crazy upset, while others found it amusing. I also used to carry a sizable amount of cash ($1,000 to 2,000) so people who didn't know me were always assuming that I was a criminal, or accused me of dealing drugs, theft, or pimping."
Needless to say, Mikko found himself hiding a lot of the details about his work from his fiance.
"Honey, have you seen my 'pimp shirt'? I'm tired of the 'coke dealer' one" is not a conversation
you want to have in a relationship.
"I learned to lie to protect her, at the cost of the support of the second-most-important person in my life aside from my daughter. I became very lonely because of this, and it started to affect every other part of the relationship right up until it destroyed it."
It Can Be Hell On Your Body
"I would eat crazy healthy at the tables," says Mikko. "I looooooove steak, hamburgers, and soda, as my ever-widening waistline will attest to, but for the four years that I was grinding, I would not touch that stuff while I was playing."
Poker sessions can last anywhere from one to 115 hours (the longest on record), so unless you put the right kind of fuel in your body, any serious card game will beat your exhausted, malnourished ass into the ground.
Meanwhile, this douche's bodily fluids are 90 percent Vesper martinis.
Typically, Mikko would have "chicken or fish -- no pork or beef -- iced tea with Splenda or water, and fruit like bananas, pineapple, mango, and honeydew. Heavier meats, sugar, and caffeine would provide a temporary boost but would bite me in the butt later. Sitting at a table for anywhere from a couple hours to 31 hours (my longest session) isn't great exercise, so if I ate that stuff, I would get jittery, sleepy, or lose focus. My main snacks of choice during game time were salads." And, of course, alcohol was completely off limits. Basically, all the fun stuff you see in movie poker is a terrible idea.
This fucking guy, man.
You still get to say "hit me," though, right, Mikko?
It Can Be Dangerous
Mikko told us: "Most of the other poker players were small-business owners, bored housewives that needed something to do while their husbands were working, college kids hoping to make a few bucks, or just tourists dipping their toes." Still, it doesn't mean that the card games are good places to bring your kid.
"My 4-year-old can already do probabilities at a high school level."
"I almost got robbed once as I was leaving a card room, and I personally saw two 70/80-year-old guys almost get into a fistfight over a $50 pot. ... I have also met a few 'procurement specialists,' some 'street pharmacists,' and one or two 'adult companionship technicians.' One of the craziest things that happened to me was a guy at a local card room who was wasting time by intentionally playing ultra slow. The players asked him to speed up; the dealers asked him to speed up. ... Finally, the floor-person put him on a clock and counted down one minute out loud. After the floor reached zero, he declared the hand dead. At which point, the guy flipped out and threw a glass against the wall, then flipped a portable serving table in the air, and threatened several players, screaming that he was gonna kill all of us."
"Sorry, I'm half time bomb on my mother's side. Countdowns really get me riled."
"Security didn't hesitate, and suddenly everyone smelled bacon as they tased him 'til he dropped. The police showed up about two minutes later" (possibly lured in by the smell).
Mikko is the warm, loving, caring father of a daughter, and he will not hesitate to steal your blinds; check-raise you on the flop, turn, and river; trap you with the nuts; or run face-first into a straight flush laughing maniacally. He also has a Facebook. Mikko's daughter has a YouTube channel, where she posts zany life adventures and strange observations. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Things I Learned Cheating (And Getting Caught) In A Casino and 5 Things Only Dealers Know About Gambling At A Casino.
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