Note: This was written at the very end of 2008
I started playing poker my freshman year of college at Rutgers University in 2001. One of my roommates taught us all about hold ‘em and we began to play little $5 and $10 tournaments. Eventually I started depositing $50 online every once in a while and running it up a bit playing underrolled and not really knowing what I was doing. During my junior year, I started making trips down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City to play 1/2 NL at the Trop. I played my first ever live tournament in the summer of 2004 at the Borgata. I don’t know why I registered for it but it was a $100 rebuy satellite to the WPT 10k main event. I only had enough for one buy in, lol. At my first table there was an empty seat for a while and eventually a floor guy came over and told the dealer that a World Champion was coming to fill that seat. We thought he was joking until Robert Varkonyi took the seat. He actually knocked me out when I shipped like 4bb from the CO into his BB and he called with KQ and beat my 910.
By my senior year, I was in A.C. constantly often playing 30-40 and sometimes up to 60 hour sessions at a time. I won a decent amount playing pretty nitty and thinking very first level. I remember thinking at the time that I found it hard to pay attention to what was happening during hands that I wasn’t involved in and I remember in particular I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking for when I was paying attention. Like I said though, I won what seemed like decent money at the time and I was happy.
May 2005- The Beginning of my Poker Career
I graduated from Rutgers in May of 2005 and decided that instead of using my Political Science degree to get a job I would take my poker skills and $3,000 bankroll and move to Atlantic City and play poker for a living. I was extremely fortunate because my Aunt owned a condo in nearby Margate and she allowed me to stay there when I needed to.
I spent most of that summer playing 1/2 NL at the Trop and having a good time. To be honest, I did more of the having a good time then I did of the poker playing. Most days consisted of me waking up around 6 pm and doing nothing until about midnight when I would head up to Trop and play for about 3 hours. At 3 am, the dealers shift would end and I would go with them to various bars/casinos and drink/gamble usually until about 8 or 9 in the morning. This was basically my life for the next 5-6 months. I spent all of the money I made and never put anything away or tried to build a roll. If I had any kind of bad run for a few days I’d be in trouble and wondering what I would do. I started accumulating lots of credit card debt and in general I was making bad life decisions.
November 2005-May 2006
I was pretty depressed at this point in time and wondering whether I had made the right decision to play poker. All of my friends from my hometown were either working 9-5’s or still in school and besides my dealer friends, it was a bit lonely down in Margate. I began playing online a bit and had some success in smaller tournaments. I also began to play more 2/5 live and even some 5/10 but I was nowhere near ready to play those games both monetarily and skill wise. I still won for the most part but still never built a proper roll, still never put money away, and just let debt accumulate. In December I took a road trip to Toronto for the Full Contact Poker launch at the Hard Rock. I met Daniel Negreanu there and had a great time.
With the start of a new year, I decided I could no longer continue on the same path that I’d been on since graduation. During this period I pretty much just grinded along for a while and spent lots of time hanging out with friends. I started helping out my family business a bit making money on the side for a few months but when I chopped a $200 Borgata Ultimate Poker Weekend Tournament for 5k in May 2006 I told my family I wouldn’t be helping out anymore. Around this time is when I really started focusing on developing my game especially by talking a lot with a couple of friends I met online, Jordan and Jon. Jordan and I were at the same stage in our development poker wise so it was great to have someone with whom I could share my similar experiences. Jon helped me with a lot of poker concepts that I really didn’t understand previously as primarily a live player. I also started talking a lot to a great player named Tom who will play a large part in my poker story. I can say without a doubt that the friends I’ve made through poker have helped to shape my game more than anything else. I spent most of my time playing tournaments online and cash games live.
June 2006-September 2006
I started playing the rebuy tournaments on PokerStars once or twice a week during this time. In the middle of June, I chopped an almost 2k player field heads up for about $3,000. I decided I would make my first trip ever to Las Vegas for the WSOP. At this time, even with the 3k win, I probably had at most a 5k bankroll and life roll combined. Regardless, I was going to the WSOP. My friend Josh and I stayed at the Jockey Club for a few days followed by Caesars for a few more days. I spent most of my time playing online tourneys during the day and cash games at Caesars and Bellagio at night. I lost the first five days of the trip and was feeling really down on myself. I had a little bit of money left online and about 1k left to my name at this point. I can remember vividly going to bed on the fifth night saying repeatedly “Why do you do this to yourself?” On the 6th night I won a ton in the 1/2 game at Caesars playing like 15 hours straight until 8 am. I didn’t wake up the next day until about 3 pm. Josh was going out to meet some FCPers and Daniel Negreanu but I decided to stay in the hotel room instead and play the 3rebuy on Stars. 1849 players later I chopped it again for $3,315. Almost as soon as the tournament ended I went down to the poker room at bought in to the 2/5 no cap game with like 1.4k and ran it to like 2.5k in a few hours before retiring for the night. The last night of my trip was a Saturday night. My flight left Vegas around midnight so I spent the night playing 6/12 limit raising every hand dark and downing coronas. It was 11 pm before I knew it and I hurried upstairs to pack and ran out to the front of Caesars only to discover a line about 50 people deep for a cab. Since I was now a balla, I waved down a limo guy and took a $100 limo ride to the airport.
When I arrived home, I learned that one of my friends from AC, Jon had won his main event seat online. So again with my new found riches I booked another flight back to Vegas just four days after I came home. I played a 1k Bellagio Cup event during my second trip but got knocked out about 100 players before the money. I spent a lot of money during this trip and won just a little bit playing cash. After returning from the second trip I realized I spent wayyyy too much money. In August I made the 3rebuy final table again in a 2k player field this time finishing 9th.
September was spent playing a lot of live cash. I was having a great month but still spending a ton of money. One night in the middle of the month I somehow ended up in a 5/10 game that started out as a 1/2 game with 2 very rich drunks. I had about $950 total behind me when drunk guy #1 opened UTG for $25, drunk guy #2 called of course and I made it $100 total with QQ. Everyone folds back to DG1 who calls and DG2 who shrugs and calls. Now at this point DG2 is reaaaaaaaaaally drunk. It’s about 4 am and he has killedd like 20 jack and cokes and just took a shot of jack. I haven’t mentioned many hands that these two guys have played but basically they kept taking their 1.2k and sucking out on people for the whole stack and running it up to like 2.5k or so and then losing all back down to like 1k and then repeating. DG2 in particular caught a one outer in a 2.7k pot earlier and also made runner runner flush to crack a set in a 1.5k pot all in on flop. So $300 in the pot preflop and the flop comes 10 6 2 rainbow. DG1 checks and DG2 bets $200. I think for a very long time. Every other time he had a big hand he was check raising why is he leading into me now? I can’t really rationalize things because he is really drunk and could be playing completely different from how he had been playing before. So finally I decide to push for $810 total I believe it was, bad guy folds and drunk guy slurs “Why’d you have to do that” before calling with 22. As I left the casino that night I remember thinking to myself yet again, “Why do you do this to yourself?”
Despite that night, I decided a week later to drive down to Florida and stay with an old friend for a week. I played online and relaxed at the beach for most of the week and had a great time. When I returned to Atlantic CityI probably had about 3k to my name yet again but decided to use 1/10 of it to buy into a USPC $340 prelim event. 362 players entered the event and I made it to the money. Eventually we got down to two tables and I was moved to Men the Master’s table where he had like 300-400k which was like 1/3 of the chips in play. Men was absolutely hammered by this point and was acting like a complete dick. Every single hand he was taking about 5 minutes to make simple decisions and mouthing off to people. Then when a kid flashed one card after shoving over him preflop and getting a fold, Men physically picked the kids cards up off the table and looked at them which of course incited a riot. During this whole ordeal the floor never gave him a penalty and allowed him to do whatever he wanted. I got moved to another table and shoved 10bb from the SB with 88 but ran into the BB’s 99 so I was knocked out 14th for $1,416.
October 2006-December 2006
October of 2006 was a particularly fun month in my life. I took several road trips throughout the month culminating with the ultimate road trip across the country. A childhood friend of mine lived in San Diego at the time and needed to get her car back to New Jersey before she left for the Army. I volunteered to fly out there and then drive back with her. I spent a total of 2 hours in San Diego before we took the 50 hour trip back to New Jersey non stop. Although we didn’t get to stop and see all the sites, I had a great time seeing the country and I’d love to do it again some time.
I came back from my trip focused and really ready to make some money and get my finances straightened out. I started off the month making two final tables online for about 2k profit. Then at the end of November I went on the biggest rush up to this point in my poker career. It started off with a 2nd place finish out of 159 entrants in the Tropicana nightly tournament. It was a $40+10 buy in with a $40 add-on after the first hour and I won 2.2k for it. Later that week I won 2.4k in one night playing 2/5 and had several other decent wins throughout the week. With this money I was able to pay off some bills that I had been putting off and it also insured that I didn’t go broke as a result of all the trips I had taken in September and October.
On December 5th, 2006 I decided to take $340 and enter the Trump Classic 6 max event. There were 187 entrants and I ended up chopping it Heads up for about 14.5k. There were some fun hands that I remember, in particular I was all in with K6o vs KQo at 200/400 and flop came K6x and I held. Later at 300/600 the button minraised, the SB called and I shipped like 9k with K8dd, button quickly folded and the SB thought a while and called with AJ. The flop came KQ10r with no diamonds but turn and river went 8, 8 for me to double up. The 14.5k was by far the most money I had won in any month let alone in one day. I was ecstatic and imagining really big things for 2007.
However, before 2006 was even over I had some money to spend! The weekend after my win I went on a trip to Chicago with my best friend. He worked for CDW at the time and they flew out all their employees for a big Christmas Party. Since I was flush with cash of course I bought my ticket and went along with them. We got extremely drunk all three days we were there and I shelled out money left and right including buying multiple bottles of champagne for about 20 of my friend’s work associates one night at the bar dropping about $800 in the process.
I returned from Chicago on Sunday and booked a plan ticket to Vegas. My friend Matt Stout (All in at 420 online) had sweat me through most of the final two tables of the Trump Classic. He was turning 22 in a few days so I decided to head out to Vegas with him for the Five Diamond at Bellagio. We stayed at the Bellagio for 5 days. I managed to win a $300 sat. to a 1.5k sat. for a 15k main event seat but I busted pretty early in the 1.5k. I did manage to win a little bit in the cash games to cover some expenses from the trip but I hadn’t yet booked my return flight home. I decided on that Friday that rather than fly back to Philly I would fly to Tampa and meet my friends that were staying there for the weekend. I got into Tampa pretty late Friday night, much to the surprise of my friends who had no idea I was coming there. Rather than sleep on the floor in one of my friends two rooms I decided to get my own room. We spent my two nights there drinking in Ebor Cityand having a good time. I booked my flight back to Philly on Sunday and headed home to relax a bit.
As you can imagine all of that travelling cost a decent amount of money but I still had more money than I knew what to do with. On the way home from the airport I got pulled over coming over the bridge back to Jersey because my inspection was no good on my car. I had a 99 Nissan Altima that I had bought when I was in college but it was really falling apart and I would have to have a bunch of things fixed for it to pass inspection. So because I’m a genius I did something that I regret more than anything I did since I started playing poker for a living… I bought a new car.
I must preface this by saying something that you should already be able to see: I made terrible financial decisions at this point in my life and I had no regard for future consequences. I decided on a brand new 2007 Honda Civic SI complete with navigation and all the works. At the time, I had no proof of income because I hadn’t yet filed income taxes as a poker player. The only way I was able to get approved was to put down 5k and pay something like 16.5% interest. My monthly payment was to be $537 a month. So what?? I was going to make tons of money in 2007, I could easily afford it. So I put out like 5k of 11k I had left to my name at the time to get a new car. At the time of course I was really, really happy but this was obviously a terrible decision which would ultimately lead me to asking myself.. “Why do you do this to yourself?!?!?!?!”
January 2007-July 2007
I started 2007 off on a terrible note. I was stuck about 1k after two terrible beats in a good 2/5 game when I decided to go back to my Aunt’s condo and call it a night around 2 am. When I got back to the condo I realized I had left my house key at my Mom’s house so instead of making the 45 minute drive home, I went back up to the Trop and promptly lost another $600 when I flopped top two against bottom set. This was by far the most money I had lost in one night and represented almost 1/3 of my roll. I made 1k of it back the next two nights but then lost 1.5k total the next two nights.
I broke even over the next few days and then on January 10th I decided to take a shot at the Hilton 2/5 game that I heard was amazingly good. The room had opened about a month earlier and I had heard the action was great. Things didn’t start so well.. I topped off my stack after losing a few hands so I was in for $800. I was able to run it up a bit and had about 1.3k on the table when I somehow managed to get it in on the flop with AK vs AQ on a A24r flop against the only guy at the table who had me covered. A queen came on the river and I was crushed. I took the next 20 days off while I contemplated my next move.
Back in October I had begun talking very regularly to a girl named Jody that I had been friends with for about 5 years. By the beginning of January we were spending all of our free time with one another. She was still in school at Drexel and also worked a computer job during the day. I decided to start playing 1-2 at the Borgata during the day. This actually led to a big change in my style because most of the day time games were littered with nitty old guys. I became a much looser and aggressive player as a result. I started to play a lot more hands and get involved in lot more decisions which led me to develop my game a bit. After the daytime grind, I would return to my hometown area and spend the night with Jody. I did this 5 days a week and had a nice little schedule for myself. I also really started to track my results around this time. From January 30th to March 20th I played 153 hours of live 1/2 and won $7,886 for a rate of $51/hr. I was still spending a lot of money, however so I still never really built a roll. For Valentine’s Day, I bought plane tickets to California for me and Jody. We went on the trip at the end of March and had a great time even making an impromptu weekend trip to Vegas.
Just prior to our trip to California, I made a deep run in the Sunday Million. I ended up finishing 28th out of 7,000 for $3.3k when my JJ that I shoved for 12bb in EP lost to the BB’s 77. There was one other hand however that will forever be etched in my brain. With 80 players left I was 3rd in chips with 1.5 million. The blinds were 20k/40k/whatever ante and it folded to me on the button. I made it 105k with AKo, the SB shipped for 400k and then the BB who was 5th in chips overall shipped for 1.3mil. I thought for a long time eventually folding and crying when the SB showed A9 and the BB showed AJ. The flop came K high and I would have held and been a very big chip leader with 78 left.
When we returned from California I went back to the live grind. Jody graduated from Drexel and decided (on my suggestion) to get a job at Borgata as a cocktail waitress and take some time off before getting in to her career field. Live poker continued to go well for me. Jody and I put a security deposit on an apartment in Brigantine, two blocks from the beach and 3 minutes from the Borgata. We moved in together on June 10, 2007. Our rent was $1175/month plus electric and cable. Jody worked the 3 am to 10 am shift so I switched my poker schedule to that time which again forced me to switch my game up a bit and again allowed me to really develop as a player. From April 2nd til July 12th I played 222 hours and made $8,554 for a rate of $39/hr. It felt like Jody and I had been together forever. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. On August 8th I went to Helzberg Diamonds and got approved for a credit card and bought her a ring. On August 11th,2007 at Jody’s college graduation party in front of her entire family, my parents, and my best friends I asked her to marry me. She said yes.
September 2007-December 2007
Jody quit Borgata in the middle of August and I knew that I was in quite a hole financially. The bills had started to pile up and it seemed difficult to maintain the poker lifestyle even with a decent hourly rate in the live game. I decided that it was time I look for a job so I could get benefits and supplement my poker income a bit. I got a job at Harrah’s working the front desk and making $11/hr plus tips. I also was able to get a stake to start playing online from my friend Tom that I talked a bit about earlier. He staked me to play 100nl 6 max and heads-up and small tournaments.
I hadn’t really played much heads-up (HU) yet, but Jordan had played it a bit so I had his brain to pick when I had questions. At the time I still played mostly 6max but I began working the HU in every once in a while as well. I got a nice boost to my roll in the beginning of October when I beat 410 other players in a $30 freezeout for 3.1k. My online cash game results were pretty good in October and November and along with the money I was making from Harrah’s I was able to build up some money in my bank account to make sure the bills were paid for a bit. Jody also got a job at Harrah’s from about September until the end of November. We both really, really hated going to work every day though. I felt like I was doing well online and knew that if I put in the time, even being staked I’d be able to make enough to support us. Jody and I both decided to quit Harrah’s. She would look for a job in her career field and I would go back to playing poker for a living, online this time.
Jordan came out to visit again and we had a good time hanging out and we talked a decent amount about HU and sweated a few sessions. I got staked by Tom to play a couple Trump Classic events and a few WSOP circuit events coincidentally at Harrah’s. In my first tournament after quitting my job, I made it to the final table of event #2, a $340 buy in that got 701 entrants. Coming into the final table I was a bit short stacked but was able to basically double up without being called. The blinds were high but I felt confident that if I could get one double up I would have a really good chance of winning. With 7 players left I got it all in pre-flop having my opponent covered by 50k with AKo vs. his JJ. The door card was an ace but the flop came AKJr and the board bricked out. The next hand I got the rest in with A4dd and got 3 callers and somehow ended up against just 66 after a J53dd flop but I bricked out to finish 7th for $8.4k. With my winnings Tom staked me 5.1k to play in the main event. I played well but just never had any good situations on day 1 and busted very early on day 2.
I continued to play online throughout the rest of December as Jody searched for a new job in the computer field. Things were going well with my stakes with Tom and I continued to save money to make sure I had bill money in case of a downswing. Jody was able to find a good job but it was almost 2 hours away in Princeton. She took the job because the money was good and we decided that we’d be moving away from Atlantic City soon anyway. I was disappointed with the way that most of 2007 went on the poker side of things but I was very optimistic that I’d have a great 2008. Overall, my life changed very dramatically in 2007. I got a girlfriend, got my own place, got engaged, had a temporary job and dealt with the pressures of playing live poker for a living. However, I would soon learn the biggest change of all in the first week of 2008.
January 2008-June 2008
On January 4th, Jody took a couple of pregnancy tests and they all came back with the same result: we were going to have a baby! Needless to say, we were both very, very excited. At the same time, I knew that I had to make big changes in order to support the baby. I knew that I could no longer end the night asking “Why do I do this to myself?” instead I had to wake up every morning thinking “What am I going to do today to insure that my family is taken care of?” We were able to opt out of our lease in Brigantine and stayed at my mom’s house for a few months both to save money and because it decreased Jody’s drive to work to only an hour. After a few weeks of making the commute and dealing with the affects of pregnancy Jody decided to quit that job and take her old job back that she had while she was in college. It was a short commute and she had very flexible scheduling but it was for less money.
I noticed in February that I was doing very well when I played heads-up, much better than I was doing playing 6 max. So on February 24th, I decided I would focus completely on HU. Once I started playing solely HU things started to click. I realized at this point how important focus and a clear state of mind was to poker. I also started to become really good at picking up information about people’s playing styles but more importantly I made the connection that I think a lot of people fail to make. I was now able to take that information and apply it during my matches to make the correct decision.
I was also able to develop a budget and really stick to it. I started two word documents that I still use right now to keep track of my finances. I set goals for my self to pay off personal debt and bills. . I was also able to refinance my car payment and got the interest rate down to 10%. At the end of March, Jody and I moved into a new apartment near our hometown where rent was much more affordable. At this point, Tom allowed me to keep money that I was winning for him in the stake so I was able to start moving up in stakes. In April, I had my best month ever. The only tournament I played all month was the $150 40k guaranteed on Tilt and I finished 3rd for 5.7k. Things also continued to go well with heads up, I won almost 13k in 20k hands.
May, however, was a different story. I started out the month up 8k in 10 days but then went through a terrible stretch including back to back days where I lost 2.5k. I ended up breaking even for the month after about 20k hands. I ran poorly at this time but I also made several mistakes when I got stuck that I knew that I needed to avoid in the future. At the end of May, Jody and I flew to California for a vacation. We spent a few nights there and then rented a car and drove to Vegas. We stayed a night at Tom’s place where I got to sweat him 4 tabling 5/10 and 10/20 6 max and then he and a few of his roommates sweated me playing HU. He also staked me for a few WSOP events and a Venetian Deepstack event but I wasn’t able to get to the dinner break in any of them. On June 8th, I returned toNew Jersey focused and ready to destroy heads up.
June 2008-December 2008
I got back to basics and focused solely on 1/2 heads up. I really began to focus on attention to detail and really worked hard to develop my game. I came up with several concepts that I still focus on when I play every day including my every BB counts!! philosophy and my power of positive thinking philosophy. The every BB counts!! philosophy is about focusing on every single decision at every point in every hand and taking the information you’ve accumulated and applying it to make the correct decision. I didn’t get a ton of volume in but I was able to win about 8k. I began paying down a lot of my personal debt as well as credit card debt. Jody got laid off from her job in early July just a month or so before she was to go on maternity leave. July was another great month for me; I really began to feel like I found my niche. August was more of the same. My VPIP and PFR increased every month that I played. In March, I played 40/36 and by August I was playing 56/48. These days I’m up all the way to 60/54. The change is mostly a result of being extremely comfortable and confident in my ability to make good decisions. I was also constantly talking to other very good HU players and reevaluating my game daily.
On September 3rd, my daughter Ava was born. This was obviously one of the greatest days of my life. With all the baby hysteria, I didn’t get in much volume in September but still had good results. I did have a good October and by the end of the month I had paid back all of the personal debt I owed along with about 13k in credit card debt and 5k in taxes. I also began to save up money in my bank account so I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d have the money to pay the next month’s bills. I had another very good month in November and was finally able to start putting away money for my own bankroll. On December 14th, I played my last day on a stake for Tom. I finally had my own roll and money in the bank to insure that my bills would be taken care even if I go through some rough stretches.
This story ends around the end of 2008. I plan to write entries to cover 2009-present so check back for those.