They say I have a gambling problem. That is really not the case. If you have a gambling problem, that is, a serious and legitimate gaming addiction, you’re only up or down lately. When you go on a slide and lose a bunch of someone else’s money after losing your job everyone loses their head.
The fact is that I have been playing cards since I could hold them. In my family it was just something we did and I had a gift. That gift paid for college. Everyone seemed proud of me for graduating in four years and coming out in the black. I never took a student loan or had a job. All I did was play cards.
There are things called streaks, everyone has them. For a month or two, no matter how much sleep you get, you are tired. Some people call that depression, some call it a streak. Some people go on these streaks for years without ever knowing it. People think that life has consistency to it but it doesn’t. It can’t. You’re either on your way up or on your way down.
After I graduated I got a job as a statistician. It sucked but I could go in whenever I wanted and bring my work home as long as I gave my boss the paperwork on time. It fit in well with my lifestyle, I could sleep in and show up late, take a long lunch and work until I finished, then go home and drink, and if I finished early on a particular night I could go play some poker before coming home and still have time for the quality time with Greg and Jimmy.
I guess the problems started the first year of the pool. I got second place and Mark won, and everyone was so excited for him that they ignored the fact that I had more deaths than he did, but he won because of points which is fine, but he picked Tupac Shakur as a joke and got lucky. I would have been happy to have been outpicked, but for a joke to beat me for the money really messed with my head.
When we went to Vegas, I wanted to show everyone how much money skill could win if not pitted against dumb luck so we pulled in and I jumped out, tossed my keys to the valet and hit the tables hard. The saying goes that the house always wins, but there are things you can do to tip the odds in your favor. Every game has its statistics that change throughout the game, and knowing these is huge.
I wont go into details, but rest assured that my background in gambling as well as mathematics makes recognizing and capitalizing on these percentages incredibly easy and I was on a tear for the first thirty-six hours, then I got tired, but I had no idea where the room was, because none of the guys told me, and my cell phone was out of batteries, and I didn’t know Mark’s last name so I just hung out on the casino floor until they came looking for me again which wasn’t until Sunday.
That, I guess was the beginning of a streak that I hadn’t ever heard of, let alone experienced. It lasted four years straight, non-stop and I pushed it as far and as hard as I could. I lost my job because I stopped going. I stopped going because I was making twice as much in the casinos and card rooms as I made at work, so economics demanded sacrificing the work that benefited me the least.
Around the time I lost my job is when I met Al. He was a rounder like me, that is, his game of choice was poker. He was a regular in the big game at the casino, and the more I played in it, the more I noticed that he never lost either. He noticed the same about me, and soon we were casino pals.
We never hung out away from the casino because we both had our own friends, but since I was the only pro I knew, and he had the same problem, we gravitated towards each other. We were essentially colleagues and our relationship was strictly professional. We would sit around on breaks from the game and talk shop, that is, swap stories and new strategies that we were working on, bounce ideas off of each other and things like that.
It was through these conversations that Al revealed the wonderful world of sports betting to me. I had never really placed bets on sporting events aside from ten bucks on the super bowl with Greg or Jimmy, just to make the game more interesting, just to have something to cheer for. Al appealed to this notion, he said, “if you think ten bucks makes a game interesting, try riding then thou.”
I imagined it. It seemed awful, but at the same time it made me feel liberated. I put my first sports bet down after a twelve hour session at the poker tables. I had won four thousand, so when I put down the two thousand dollar bet on the favorite to win, I was only partially nervous. Al bet the same way, and we relaxed in the sports book to watch the game.
I won. It was the most intense basketball game I had ever watched or heard of, and I played competitive basketball all the way through high school. I played in three state championship games, two of which were decided by less than four points, and somehow sitting in a leather chair miles away from the actual action, I was more involved than I ever imagined I could be.
Cashing that ticket in was like an orgasm. I had to lean on the counter to keep from falling over while the woman counted my thirty-five-hundred dollars. Sports betting seemed to be the easy ticket. It was less involved and intense than poker, and the odds were already declared before I put my money in.
The streak continued. I had enough money saved to pay rent for a year and I was still winning. I upped the stakes as any gambler would do. If I was winning five thousand every day and only risking one, I could win ten by risking two, or fifteen by risking three. So I naturally put down ten because fifty thousand dollars sounded great and after a four year streak I felt more or less invincible.
I won and I was not surprised; fifty thousand dollars from one basketball game, my salary for the whole first year out of college. I had won in one hour what it used to take me a whole year to earn and it was not nearly as satisfying as I had thought. Imagine drinking a gallon of something that made you more thirsty than you were before you drank it. That was where I had ended up, dissapointed by the biggest win of my life; the pinnacle of my young career.
Al looked relieved. We were sitting in the sports book drinking champagne, expensive champagne, the kind you drink for the taste, and I was chugging it.
“Slow the fuck down guy, what you tryin’a forget about? You’re rich.”
“I dunno,” I said, “I guess it just doesn’t have the rush I thought it did.” I was telling the truth
“That’s your problem. You got a hard on for that adrenaline.” He poured more champagne into my flute, the bubbles collected at the bottom, pooled their courage and exploded towards the top. We clanged glasses and I chugged mine.
“If I shouldn’t be in it for the rush, what should I be in it for?”
“The money, there’s other stuff for the rush.”
“Well, whatever the other stuff is, I think I’ll pass.”
“Sure thing. Well, I haven’t had an honest job in twenty years, if you want to be able to say that nineteen years from now, you stick with me.”
And I stuck with him. It wasn’t an honest job like he said, but it paid well. I took the fifty thousand I won and spread it out over every sport I could. I was betting on horses, baseball, basketball, football, billiards, boxing, cage fighting… you name it, I had money riding on it. If there were odds, I was in them.
I was moving a hundred thousand dollars a week and loving it. My streak was insane and now closing in on five years. I did more than pay bills. I gave my parents money, bought them a house. My brothers got cars, I paid for my sisters wedding, I set up trust funds for their kids to go to college, I bought the guys pizza.
I would have spent more on them, but I knew they wouldn’t understand. If I threw my money around too much they would probably have an intervention or something like that. I kept my money a secret more or less. It was difficult, but I had to do it. I went and got another apartment where I could live as my new lifestyle could allow me to do. I kept paying rent back with the guys, but I was never around more than twice a week, and even that much was too much.
I felt stifled. These were my best friends since kindergarten and Mark, who used to be our neighbor but we kind of fucked him out of college so he moved in. I never really liked him, but he was easy to make fun of and a good sport. But the guys, Greg and Jimmy were as close as my brothers and I couldn’t share this amazing success I was having. It made my huge bank accounts and flat screen televisions and leather sofas kind of lose their shine. But only kind of, because the lifestyle I had created was amazing.
I almost completely stopped playing poker and went to the casinos one day per week to pick up my winnings from the previous week and place my bets for the upcoming one. This would only take an hour at most, and since there is a hundred and sixty-eight hours in a week, I obviously had time to kill.
The first couple weeks I had yet to adapt to the lifestyle. My money was so young, it had yet to learn about the finer things in life. I was trying my hardest to spend more, but it wasn’t happening. I would get the six-dollar burger instead of the ninety-nine cent chicken sandwich, I would get criss cutt fries instead of extra lettuce, an extra large dr. pepper instead of water. I couldn’t spend even half of what I was taking in.
I went to the casino to talk to Al. He was my only friend in the new life, and I didn’t know where to start living the good life. He was where he usually was, at the poker tables. He saw me and stood up.
“Follow me,” he said and walked out of the poker room. I followed, and he lit a cigarette. “Having some trouble kid?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“I told ya, I had a job once too.” He took a drag off his cigarette and pointed at me with the two fingers that held it. “You’ve got more money than you know what to do with.”
“Yeah, I mean, I’m buying the stuff I always wanted, I’m giving money away to my family, I just have so much, and only so much space to keep it. Every wall has a flat screen, and I am just out of walls.”
He shook his cigarette at me. “You see this jacket?” He pointed at his leather jacket.
“Yeah, it looks like my jacket.” It did.
“Well, this ain’t your jacket.” He opened the lapel to reveal the label, it was not in English.
“What, a Japanese jacket?”
“It’s dolphin skin, illegal in the states, thirty thousand bucks.”
“That’s fuckin gross Al.”
“Well, it’s the nicest jacket you’ll ever see. Touch it.” I touched it, it was smooth like glass but soft, like silk.
“That’s fucking amazing.”
“Clothes? I don’t know Al, don’t you think that’s a little, I don’t know, gay?”
Al laughed the smoke out of his lungs and coughed once it was all gone.
“Gay? Kid, I’m wearing a thirty-thousand dollar jacket, it’s a fuckin pussy magnet. Gay…”
“No, the jacket is nice, I’m saying that clothes shopping with another guy is gay.”
“Well you haven’t had much luck finding nice shit on your own.”
“Alright Al, show me.”
Al cashed out of his game and took me to a dark little shop in the garment district. It was unassuming from the outside, just like any other shop with dressed up mannequins looking at their watches or looking off into the distance, with a door covered in black paper and bells that alerted the owner/operator that there were customers.
A small asian man came out from the back room. I could hardly see him, but he recognized Al.
“Terry-san, how you doin?”
“Good, good… what can I get you?”
“Nothin for me, but this is my friend Toby, set him up will ya?” Al slapped me on the chest.
“You got it Alberto.”
“Alright kid. I’m going to cut out so as not to seem like such a queer, since you’re so scared.” Al smiled and turned to leave.
“I was just kidding Al, go ahead and stay.” I didn’t want him to leave me alone with Terry, even though Terry seemed nice, I was not in the mood to be readjusted in private with a strange tailor whose english was marginal at best.
Al stayed and helped me pick out my new clothes. I dropped two-hundred thousand dolalrs in cash into this place, no receipt.
“Thank you Toby, Alberto, see you soon.”
“Ever think we’re in the wrong business Al?” He laughed and lit a cigarette.
“Never. That guy busts his ass and his wife is a bitch, she’s pretty but she’s a bitch.”
“Well thanks Al, this is some cool shit I bought.”
“And I’m sure you got more in mind for next time.”
“Maybe. I think I’m going to take a break for awhile, I’ve never spent so much in a year, let alone in an hour and a half.”
“What do you mean take a break kid? You take a break, you lose whatever edge you got.”
“I’m not going to quit playing, I’m going to quit spending.”
“Kid, if you get too much money in the bank, you’re gonna lose that fire, that need to win, like how you were this morning.”
“I guess so.”
“Then you need some bills. A constant pressure.”
“Then you need some bills. A constant pressure.”
“I have two apartments Al, anything more would just be sick.”
“Why the hell do you have two apartments?”
“Whatever.” Al drove me back to my car at the casino and I went back to my place to hang my clothes up. I was hungry. I grabbed a pizza and went back to the guys’ place to hang out in my old clothes for a bit. I thought about what Al said, about bills. I was making an insane amount of money and I had set everyone else up with a comfortable life, all that I had left to do was get some insurance for myself.
They were all their normal selves. Jimmy and Greg were working on the pool at an insane rate. It was starting to take a toll on them, or so it seemed. Jimmy had been out of work for nearly a year, and probably hadn’t cut his hair or shaved since. From the looks of it, he changed his shirt once a week, and his pants were just dirty. Greg was never clean shaven or well dressed to begin with, but something was just different. He breathed deeper than usual as if he was wearing a back pack or hiking or something.
I didn’t say anything. We all grew up looking for the same adulthood, the most money for the least work, and to work less later you have to work hard now, and one day God willing, you will get to relax. It’s why they put so much into the pool and college, and so little into their bullshit office jobs. It’s why I started gambling seriously and why I put so much of my money away, so one day I could quit.
But that day would not come for some time as it were. And while I was riding high, I wanted to stay up there. I moved out of the second apartment and into a house. It was a nice house, a huge one in the hills. I had a pool, a home theatre, a personal cook, barber, massuesse, bartender, everything. I paid the employees for a year in advance, which set me back a couple months, and the mortgage was five figures, so I needed to maintain my streak.
I had the fire like Al said. The need to win that would keep me sharp, keep me working hard. I put my nose back to the grindstone and hit the casino full time. Al was still there as per usual, and he looked happy to see me all dressed up. He said I looked good, like a real gambler, and that’s how I felt for once. For the first time in my life I belonged somewhere. But not for long.
As my success blew up, other, older gambler guys began to resent me. For the same reason professional atheletes haze atheletes, these guys put me through a lot of shit. It is difficult to describe or convey the stuff they used to pull, and even more difficult to prove, but I know a lot of the stuff that could be viewed as bad luck was more bad blood than anything else.
Sometimes I’d walk into the players club and they’d all stop talking and watch me. Other times, I’d be sitting behind them and one guy or another whose money was lining my pocket would be whining about how “That kid hasn’t paid his dues,” or, “that kid’s luck will run out and everyone will know what I already do.”
It was disheartening. More money than I ever could have imagined and I had still yet to become legitimate in anyone’s eyes. It was not just luck, even though luck had a great deal to do with it, but when you have studied the games as much as I have you know certain things that discount luck, make it a non-issue.
And that’s when I began living the life of a professional gambler. I would play for two days straight, sleep for twelve hours, and take two days off. It gave me time for vacations, which is something I never got to do while I was in school. I never really traveled much at all, but I spent a lot of time on the road; the school-far-from-home paradox. I would drive to L.A. once a month, an eight hour round trip and all my sight-seeing consisted of was desert and the bus-stop towns past San Bernadino. Not exactly what I would call worthy of vacation, more of a commute.
So I did the traveling thing. Pick up a couple girls, get on the next plane to somewhere and go get drunk for a couple days, or put on my old clothes and go back to the old apartment and hang out with the guys. I don’t know which was more pleasurable, well, I do know which was more pleasurable, but I can’t decide which one I liked more. Every guy fantasizes about jet setting to some beach with two bottle blond coctail waitresses and being in complete control for a couple days, but there is something to be said about being normal, about spending time being quiet with people who know my history.
But I was rich and one thing I learned is when you are rich, you don’t have to choose. I did everything I wanted whenever I wanted, it was more than nice, it was amazing. Complete freedom, I could sleep when I wanted, work when I wanted, eat, drink, go for a drive, play golf, whenever I wanted. The only limit to what I could do was my imagination and my ability to be awake.
When I was in college, I would usually only go to bed out of boredom or responsibility, and now that I was never bored and completely free to any and all whims, sleep wasn’t really as much of an advantage as it used to be. I developed a pretty severe coffee habit, about a cup an hour. I tired energy drinks too, but they seemed too fake and they hurt my stomach a bit. I wanted to stay awake, but not the fake way. I looked at the ingredients and began experimenting.
Nothing really worked as well as I needed it to. I went right down the list until I got to B12. Now this was readily available over the counter at any pharmacy, and not too expensive, not that price was an issue. The bottle says one tablet in the morning and one tablet at lunch for increased mental sharpness. It was like coffee in pill form. It kept my head sharp, which is a definite plus in my line of work.
But I have a tendency to ride waves, so instead of taking one in the morning and one at lunch, I took two every four hours. I could stay up for seventy hours and not show any signs of fatigue: no yawning, no fidgeting, no loss of attention, nothing. I would pop these supplements, work for three days straight, sleep for one and take three or four days off. People thought I was on drugs because they would go home, sleep, hang with their families, come back and there, in the same seat, in the same expensive clothes, would be me and an insane amount of other people’s money.
And Al was apparently known around the gambling world for being a guy who knew how to get things. Gambling was a side job for him, and when he wasn’t sitting in a game he was connecting guys who had money and needed drugs to guys who had drugs and needed money. Of course he took a small percentage as a matter of business so he was never involved officially aside from being the middle-man.
I had a friend growing up who I lost touch with, but a few years after he moved away with his family he overdosed. It wasn’t as personal as it probably could have been, but he was a big enough part of my life, of all of our lives where we felt the need to swear an oath never to do drugs. Jimmy is the only one of us that ever went farther than the occaisional joint. He tried coke in college, but he said it was stupid. I think his exact words were, “I got really fucking wasted, put a straw in my nose, breathed in only to feel completely sober, have my teeth go numb and ramble on like some slurring shaman,” so I never felt the need to try it myself.
I guess the B12 could be considered a drug, but I didn’t get high or anything so it would be a hard argument to make that my motives were anything suspect. It was just like coffee; too much coffee and I’ve never met anyone who needed to go to rehab for a ten thousand dollar a day nonfat soy latte habit. The B12 was just another point on my score sheet. Yet another edge over the common man. Another step towards mastery. The pros could think what they wanted, they could whisper all they wanted, they already talked enough, I didn’t mind them having one more topic.
I was in awe. If I would have known winning like this was possible I wouldn’t have waited to hate my job so much before quitting and gambling full time. I went to college in Vegas for God’s sake. I was in the gambling mecca taking sixteen units and working in the school cafeteria playing poker on the side. I spent college working full time, going to school full time, playing as much poker as I could and sleeping whenever I got the chance. They think I never paid my dues, I think they should try college.
I was being forced to prove myself daily and it began to pile up. Just because I had never been six figures in gambling debt and had to starve to achieve my dream, never beat the wrong people and caught an ass kicking, never had to learn anything the hard way, didn’t mean that my success was in any way illegitimate. I was frustrated.
I started slipping. They were in my head and I didn’t even know it. I was still making bank, but my play was doubtful. Instead of playing smart, sticking with the numbers I started messing around trying to beat specific guys who had been harping on me the most. I was better than them regardless of my past and I was going to show them. I knew the game better, I knew people better and I was out for blood.
This continued for a couple weeks. It was the cardinal rule of poker to keep it impersonal, and I was doing the complete opposite. I was not trying to win money, I was trying to steal it, and this offended the poker gods or something because this was the beginning of the unwinding. It had been building for some time, and the levee holding my poker wave finally broke.
I had lost before, to go years without having a day in the red would be impossible, and I had taken my fair share of shots to my bankroll, but it usually rebounded within the next couple of sessions. Poker is all about the swings. They’re not exactly pendular, except on a very small scale. The bigger the swing, the more dangerous it is because it is difficult to stop. I mistook the beginning of a huge blow back for just a minor slip.
Bringing yourself off of a poor streak takes attention and skill. Since I was more concerned at the time with busting certain guys then watching my wallet, on the whole I was slipping. I was still beating the guys I wanted to beat, but in focusing my aggression at my cohorts, I let everyone else chip away at my bank roll. And then the worst case scenario came up as it tends to do in times like these.
I ran out of the B12 vitamins and I was feeling tired so I didn’t pick them up on the way home from the casino. I went into the house, walked through the foyer, past the theatre and kitchen, into my bedroom, jumped onto the bed and before I could pick up the remote and flip on ESPN I was out. I had been up for four days and it felt so good to finally rest.
I woke up and it was still dark. I guess I should say it was dark again. I turned on the television and I was watching highlights from a day that I completely missed. My cell phone had about a dozen missed calls on it, all from Al. I called him back.
“Hey kid, where the fuck have you been?”
“I was taking a nap.”
“A nap? Kid I’ve been callin’ all day.”
“Yeah, I slept all day, I was tired.”
“Listen, you need to come down here quick and settle up.”
I had a three game parlay set up, and settling up means I lost. Usually, when I have a parlay that is on the fence, meaning that I picked one winner out of two games and needed the third to win in order to get paid, I would place a back door bet on the team I didn’t pick to win the third game so I would be gaurunteed to at least break even. This was the first time I slept through an entire day, especially one so important. This was a six figure nap.
“Ok Al, I’ll see you.” I was still wearing my clothes from my four day bender, they were wrinkled and probably stunk a little bit, but I needed to go down and pay, or at least try and work something out. I grabbed my keys and hit the road.
Al was steaming when I got there. “I thought I taught you better’n that kid.”
“Relax Al, it’s my money.”
That seemed to make it worse.
“It was your money kid, you fuckin lost. That was a six figure fucking nap.”
I decided that not talking was a good angle at this point. I just looked at him and followed him into the sports book. I didn’t get why he was so mad, we played the same games the same way and he got into the back door on the parlay, so I was the only one that lost here.
I wrote a check to the book, I had been playing so long that I was betting on credit in there, not like everyone else who had to put the cash in up front. It was one of the benefits of being a preferred player at the place. Two hundred thousand dollars was the most I had ever lost, but it wasn’t that much of a hit. It made me realize that I wasn’t as invincible as I thought.
Al was noticably colder towards me ever since the nap incident, but not in a huge way. We still hung out and shot the shit when we were both around, but he stopped giving me unsolicited advice. If I came in an old t-shirt, Al wouldn’t mention that I looked like a jackass, if I slept through another back door chance, I wouldn’t get a dozen missed calls, he even stopped running his picks past me for advice.
It was kind of like when I was in high school and my dad caught me smoking pot with Greg in my back yard. He never yelled at me or grounded me or anything, things were just different from then on, like he expected so little of me that I could never dissapoint him again.
I slowed down my live play considerably and picked up more on the sports bets. This left me with more risk, because I was depending more on research than skill and numbers. It was still better than a coin toss because I knew the teams I was betting on and betting against, but with sports betting, unlike poker, once my money was in I had no way of improving my odds aside from betting against what I had originally put in, but then I would have to double the original bet just to break even, and the in game bets could only go through some nuts-o back room bookie who still wore a bowler hat because he still thought Odd-Job was cool.
I was still taking the B12 vitamins, but not doubling up like I had. They say the sharper the blade the easier it is to bend, which is apparently why one uses an axe to chop down a tree instead of a scalpel. Come to think of it, I have never heard that, I guess those pills work in moderation. I sound smart and I’m not liable to sleep for more than a day.