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Best of Ryan McLane
When pondering whether I really want to become a professional poker player, I often use a simple comparison – is Jessica Simpson really someone I want to date, or am I happy just coveting from afar?
Sure it sounds good on paper. A passerby asks you, "What do you do for a living?" Looking at your questioner, you bring your designer sunglasses down a little bit from your eyes and respond with a directed stare "I play poker for a living."
Ever since I began my little high school ring game eight years ago, I've loved the game of poker to the point where I've imagined a life of doing nothing but playing for profits in games around the globe.
To validate my intentions, I bought dozens of poker books and began playing whenever I could. I'd watch the World Series and World Poker Tour events, trying to mimic the professionals in hopes of one day becoming listed among them.
The concept is appealing. Pack up a suitcase and move to Vegas. Risk it all in a high-stakes game of who the hell cares. It all sounds amazing, that is, until you have a mortgage payment or worse, a lady friend.
As you get older, the reality of playing poker professionally hits you like a Mike Tyson right. What happens if I lose my bankroll? Can I keep the house if someone pushes me all-in? Will my girlfriend ever stop hounding me about getting a real job?
For most, that's where the dream ends. Many amateur players are happy to keep the dream a dream.
While covering PokerRoom.com's inaugural "Become a Poker Pro" tournament aboard the Majesty of the Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise ship, I had a chance to observe players aspiring to go professional and test my theory in real-time.
"Become a Poker Pro" was PokerRoom.com's brainchild, an online tournament that produced a final table where a PokerRoom.com player would get a chance to earn $60,000 and 12 entries into the world's largest tournaments. For all intents and purposes, that person would become PokerRoom.com's first professionally sponsored player, boasting a $250,000 total prize package.
I carefully watched the 10 invited contestants' reactions during the tournament to see what they would do in order to capture a one-year professional contract. What I saw was a mixed bag.
Some came geared to play. Skipping the free drink service that I liberally enjoyed, this group of motivated players stayed away from the temptations of the Caribbean and stayed focused on becoming the newest professional poker player. This group did quite well, but seemed the most affected when busted.
Another group of players seemed indifferent to their chances, projecting an attitude of "whatever happens, happens," Win or lose, these players were on a free cruise and there to make the best of it. These players partied hardy, played well in the tournament, thanked PokerRoom.com for the good time, and went home with a smile.
Those were the two types of reactions I expected. I figured it would be one or the other, those who tried hard, or those who didn't care. What threw me for a loop was the third group; the players who were terrified to win.
Seriously, more than one of the knocked out contests actually looked relieved to be done playing. One such player defined my point. When he lost his final all-in attempt, this player smiled for the first time all day, began breathing normally again, regained the color in his face, and happily grabbed a much-needed beer.
Imagine if he had won?
I pondered this reaction for a while and tried to figure out why he looked so relieved. In the pre-tournament interviews, the player was gung-ho, confidently predicting a good showing. He was one of my picks to take the crown.
But when the lights came on and hole cameras were introduced, something changed. I believe for this player it became too real and maybe he decided he didn't want to be a pro anymore. I believe he decided he was happy with the life he had.
Think about it. Can you blame him?
Here was your average guy. One who typically plays above average poker in the comfort of his own home. He probably dons pajamas in most of the Internet tournaments he enters and overall, he makes a little extra income from these efforts.
He has a job and most likely, has a life routine that makes him comfortable. Although the idea of going on a cruise and becoming a professional probably sounded nice on paper, when confronted with it head-on, I think he changed his mind.
Which got me to thinking, would I really leave the security of Boston life to chase the professional poker dream? I honestly don't know. Judging by the face of the aforementioned player, I don't think I'd know until I was confronted with the same bright lights.
Like most of my dissertations on life, my point revolves around Jessica Simpson. I think I would enjoy following her around like a love whipped dog, but when reality kicks in, the once enjoyable trist would probably end in red-carpet tedium, especially since I'm really not that worthy.
Dreaming about playing poker professionally is kind of like dreaming about Jessica. For some, including a couple of young men on the PokerRoom.com cruise, that dream is better left as a fantasy.