When I first started in poker (back in 2004), I had never imagined that it would become my profession for more than 10 years. I had just gotten my Ph.D. in power electronics and was looking for jobs, but the economy was not the best, my area of research was too theoretical to be of use for most companies, also at that point I kind of sucked at job hunting and promoting myself, so the best I could find was a temporary adjunct professor position at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana which didn’t pay much. Since I had a student visa in the United States (in the stage of so-called optional practical training), I was not allowed to look for other employment. I definitely wanted to make more money though, so I was seeking legitimate opportunities. On most weekends, I’d go to local chess tournaments and usually win a few hundred dollars, which certainly helped but wasn’t enough.
In 2002, when I was at a friend’s apartment in New York City, I noticed him playing some sort of a card game on his computer, so I asked him what it was. He told me that it was poker, that people played it for real money online, and it was a great opportunity to make money. I asked him how much he had made, and he told me that he had been having terrible luck so far and was down almost ten thousand dollars, but he was planning to win it all back. Now, I knew that this guy was a bit lazy but certainly not stupid. He was a pretty decent chess player (about 2300 FIDE rating). And yet, he was playing this game for serious money without ever bothering to read books and educate himself on the proper strategy. I realized that there must be a lot of people like him. This seemed like a great opportunity as long as I was willing to put in some effort. So, once I completed my degree in April of 2004, I started studying poker strategy books and playing for small stakes online. At first I struggled, but in 2006 I already made about $30,000 from poker, and then every year my earnings increased, reaching about $160,000 in 2010. While I always felt that I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life, the ease of making money from poker back then was just too good to pass up on, at least for me.
Then, over the years, the competition in online poker got stronger due to the increase in the numbers of professionals and fewer recreational players willing to deposit money to play. The poker boom had ended, and the online sites were not getting the same revenues as before. To maintain their profits they started to lower the rewards offered to high-volume players (the so-called rakeback). While a few years ago it was possible to make upwards of $120,000 due to these rewards alone, now the same volume of play would only result in maybe $15,000 in bonuses. This definitely made me think about switching to another career.
There is another big reason, however, why I decided to stop playing poker entirely. I have always been a very emotionally stable person, not letting small frustrations affect my life. Lately, however, I have noticed that the constant ups and downs of poker started to take their toll on me. I began feeling a lot of pent-up anger. Whenever I’d have bad luck in a poker session, I would keep playing on to get even, sometimes staying for 30 or even 40 hours straight at the computer with no sleep and little food. Things that didn’t affect me personally, such as political news, started to really agitate me. I’d spend at least an hour a day reading about the latest events in politics and feeding my frustration and hate. At some point I realized that I simply didn’t want to go on like this. This is not the kind of person I am.
While I could choose to still play a little bit of poker to make sure that I have a stable source of income while looking for another job, I don’t believe I can do it without it seriously affecting my mindset, and feeling constantly frustrated and angry is not going to help me in anything I do. I have decided to put my well-being ahead of whatever money I could make. I want to do something good for the society, to help other people, to keep improving myself, and poker at this point is clearly a negative influence on my life, so I cut it out. I am already feeling much better. I am no longer a poker player. I am done playing poker professionally. This is it. I just don’t want to do it anymore.