Why couldn't I sleep? I lay in my university halls bed, next to my girlfriend, thinking about how on paper, my life is perfect. I'm at a top class university studying mathematics, I found a good woman, I have a loving family and was financially comfortable. All I had to do on a day to day basis was study for my degree and follow in the footsteps of academic success in my family. Why was I so bloody miserable? Surely, I'm beyond fortunate to be in the position I'm in. Am I the most ungrateful little shit the world has ever seen?
Depression is something I've battled with for as long as I can remember. It's always felt like a part of me, a sadist companion who shows up to get the final punch in to knock me down when I'm struggling to stay up. It has always had its peaks and troughs, and to be truthful I've experienced it so much over the past 5 years or so at times I forget it’s not normality. However I've learned to deal with it, but more importantly I think, I've learned to understand why it is happening and how to combat it. For me at least, it isn't random, something triggers it. All I had to do now was work out what exactly in this perfect life was so negative it was triggering mental illness.
It wasn't that night I figured it out, it was the next morning, about a week ago from when I'm writing this. I'd gotten maybe 3 hours of sleep as I dragged myself out of bed to a Multivariable Calculus lecture, walking through the campus full of wondrous buildings that made me feel nothing and the hundreds of faces who all had the same dull expression of unmotivated, unrested academic pain. I sat in the dim, packed hall, and listened to the droaning sound of someone explaining something to me I couldn't give less of a shit about. It hit me at that moment - is this what I want to do with the rest of my life? I looked around at the sea of students, some diligently taking notes, some (most) browsing Twitter or Facebook on their phones, a healthy portion taking a nap. The answer to my question was a resounding no. It hit me hard - I am wasting my life learning about things I don't care about in order to get a job I inevitably won't care about. I was sentencing myself to a life of boredom and self-loathing. Bingo. Reason found.
But then again, maybe I'm just depressed. Maybe I do love maths and I just don't know how to appreciate it anymore. Maybe I'm a spoiled little shit who just needs to learn to be grateful. I had absolutely no idea. Was there any solution to this? Do I commit another two years of my life to this? Would I be able to motivate myself enough to not fail? Would dropping out be the one thing I talk about when I'm asked about my life's biggest regrets? I decided to follow a piece of advice I've always lived by - "If you don't know what to do in a situation, don't do anything until you absolutely know what the best course of action is". Outside of his comical ramblings and bizarre tales, occasionally my father did come out with something of use.
About a month ago, over the Christmas break, I had discovered Pot Limit Omaha (or PLO). I'd always played poker, starting from sitting in the common room in school, using calculators to keep track of pots, to playing online with fake money, slowly transitioning to playing online with real money. I enjoyed it as a hobby, playing the classic No Limit Texas Hold'Em (the poker you are probably familiar with if you don't properly know poker), but there is so much information available, the game is so easy to learn and there are just so many options to play it that even at the micro stakes, the majority of players are very good and the games were too difficult for me to consistently turn a profit without devoting more time than I could to it. Then one night, over Christmas, I was very bored and unstimulated by the nitty full ring NLHE games on Pokerstars, that I decided to devote $2 of my precious bankroll to sit at a PLO table. I turned it into $16 in the space of about 2 hours. I absolutely loved it. It was so much more complicated, so much more fun. I thought I was the best player in the world. I thought I'd found something which was going to start to take all of my free time. One of these thoughts turned out to be true.
I blew off my studies for it and devoted hours and hours to trying to learn the game, and one thing hit me very quickly - PLO is a very different beast from NLHE. My initial profits were nothing more than just luck. I realised I had to take this a lot more seriously if I wanted to beat the variance infested, unsolved, unreliable grumpy teenager of poker that is PLO. I downloaded the free trial of PokerTracker and played and played and played. And lost and lost and lost. My losses for January 2016 were -$46.12 over 3731 hands, which may not seem like a lot, but I was playing PLO2, at a loss rate of 51.63BB/100. I redefined shite - and I have never been more determined before. I was going to master this. I changed my approach, I added in a lot more studying and hand review sessions to my poker time, I read PLO From Scratch. I watched a huge amount of PLO videos, I sat there for hours looking over the equities of my decisions and reviewing my reasoning. I forced my girlfriend to sit and listen as I talked through hands with her, which she probably didn’t give a shit about but sat through it anyway. During February 2016 I have turned my first profitable PLO month. And I still know almost nothing.
I was talking to a close friend about the way I was feeling that following evening, after the epiphany-fuelled lecture. He asked me a couple of questions which shaped the decision I made which ultimately led to me writing this. The first being "Is there anything you still love to do?" Poker. Teaching. "Is there any way you can combine both - poker and teaching?" Yes. I could be a poker coach. I felt my sadist companion edge out of the room. "Can you do this viably forever if you drop out of university right now?" No. He swaggered right back in.
I had a meeting arranged with my personal tutor because I'd failed a few exams. So far in the 3 months of uni I'd sat 13 exams - something I personally thought was excessive - and had failed 2. While there, I gave him a rundown of how I was feeling, and he suggested I take a gap year, get a normal job for a year, sort my head out a bit, work out exactly what I want to do with my life. I've never felt so fantastic hearing him say that - A GAP YEAR! I didn't know you could do that halfway through a degree. So many more questions were raised at the prospect of this but ultimately, I knew what I wanted to do. By my father's advice, I could now do something about it.
A plan began to formulate. Ideas, excitement, hope. Get a job, gain some perspective, play poker. My sadist companion ran so far and so fast it was immediately like he’d never been there. I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt normal once again.
So, I'm a 19 year old privileged mathematics student who has decided he doesn't like his course and is dropping out of university to play poker full time after winning a bit at the micro stakes. Wise move, kid. But no, that's not what I'm doing. I am not taking a year out to play poker - I am taking a year out to work out what the fuck I want to do with my life, which at the moment seems like it’s probably poker. I'll work a job with enough hours to get me by, and devote my free time a lot more diligently to PLO. If it works out, great. I’m living my dream. If not, my place will be reserved to go back and do my second year at uni. The exact current situation I find myself in, is my backup plan. I have absolutely nothing to lose.
Okay, so, I have my plan. Now what do I want to achieve here? I have short term goals and long term goals.
Long Term - Become a professional PLO coach. Before this, I will obviously have to become a successful PLO player.
Short Term - Use the gap year and the remainder of this year to put myself in a position with PLO where not returning to uni is a viable option for my future. Provide enough income to allow my girlfriend to get her degree without the added stress of having to work herself part time. Work out where my life is going.
This is the short version. There are millions of other short term goals I've set myself, and these will be discussed in future entries. I’d also like to add that just because giving myself the option to not return to uni is a goal, it doesn’t mean that I’ll be taking it. I think there is a very real chance I’ll miss the degree and want to go back even if I am successful.
Why do you give a shit?
The majority of the future of this blog will be about poker. I will discuss my goals, winnings, losses, methods, conclusions, what I'm doing to study, if it's working or not, where it's going. My main reasons for writing this blog are that I can read it back myself and see how far I've come, and that hopefully people can learn from both my successes and mistakes on the way. Every now and then I’ll do entries like this, because I firmly believe that there is a message to what I’m writing – there are always alternatives and they aren’t always ultimatums. Hopefully I’ll succeed, if I don’t, whatever. I took a year out to explore what having a normal job is like, gained a bit of perspective and got the added experience of a more independent life than I’ve experienced thus far. I’m massively optimistic about this. Hopefully it ends up vaguely interesting.
So, here I am. For the next few months I’ll be making sure I do well enough in my exams that they let me back in, but poker will leave “hobby time” and go to “work time”. Armed with PokerTracker, PokerJuice, PLOQuickPro, a $60 bankroll, a crappy laptop and an absolute shit tonne of determination, I’ll do my damn hardest to make poker work – and I’ll document my experience. I’ll also write other stuff. I’ll pretty much do whatever I feel like doing.
Hopefully see you next time! The next one will be a bit more focused on the poker. Seacombe