Saturday, 27 March 2010

In the past few days I took my video camera around Uddevalla:

The East train station:

This is how I feel on the inside:

A boat:

Getting the bus home after seeing my therapist:

A little ambient number near the police station. This would have been longer, but I nearly got hit by a train:

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The day after I lost $1.5 million, I was half-awakened by my mother through my bedroom door. "Get up! The window cleaner is here! You know, he is a little retarded, but still climbs up a ladder to earn an honest living. That's better than you, isn't it?"

The day before I'd felt like some kind of God; wing'd-with-Awe; keen-scented; inviolable. I desperately wanted to feel that way again, now I was just another teenager being shouted at by their mother. When I was in high school I used to know a black-nailed girl who cut herself. She told me she didn't hate herself; she just wanted to feel something. I understand that now.

I don't like my mother's disgust; but I regret only that I'm out of the game. Do you want to know how it had felt to be winning and - yes - losing so much? If normal life is a 20 - talking to a pretty girl at a party, her pupils dilating in excitement, oh my God I think she likes me, or holding my grateful grandmother's arm as she walks unsteadily through the park, or, once, racing dog sleds over sheets of ice - then, for me, playing six tables of $500/$1000 PLO is at least a 100.

It's also a lot like getting an enema. It can get messy and unpleasant, but soon after, I feel like I've purged a lot of shit. When I'm losing money I get angry and feel such hatred for everyone. I'm normally a calm, nice guy, but tilt brings the darkness out in me. Perhaps you noticed, when Ziigmund bust me the final time, that I called him "tjuv", or thief. Where did that come from? I had been beaten, and all I had left was insults. I'm glad when the game is over and these sour angry feelings are gone.

The hardest part to explain is always the end. Hastings and I were even for a long time before the collapse came, swinging just $500k either way. Then I was like a boxer being pummeled in the corner after ten rounds of an even fight. When he had me down to one table and $80k, what did I think was going to happen? When I rallied and got back up to $350k, and still played on, did I think I could win a million back? No, I knew my game had gone, and I was shoveling chips like December snow; but there was a terrible fatalism about me and I knew I couldn't leave until it was all gone.

I wasn't able to think of the money as having any value outside the game. That's nothing new for me, I never can. But also I couldn't see it had any value within the game either. I couldn't see I could start over the next day when my head cleared. No: it was totally impossible for me to stop until I had lost everything to Hastings.

Most people go their whole lives without ever losing a million or more in a day. This last year it seems to be happening to me too often. It still hurts, but never so much as the first time. It makes me feel a slight ache, a tightness, as if mildly hungover. Whenever I bust my account I spent a day or two downloading music, trying to find songs that evoke the grandeur, frenzy, euphoria and despair I'd felt playing poker.

Then, newly aware of my own mortality, I find myself rediscovering the life to which I'd become a stranger. I'm thrilled to find I've lost nothing but money I never needed anyway. My neglected high school friends are still drinking in the same bars; or playing the same MMORPGs, in Henrik's case. I embrace him as if I were a brother back from a war. And I find myself listening with quiet acceptance to my mother's criticisms. I'm so chastened I even tell her I love her, though under my breath.

In my loss I have seen death, and resolved to live on.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

I don't wanna talk about the things I've gone through...

Monday, 15 March 2010

My psychotherapist, Bengt, is supposed to stop me being such a degenerate, but he doesn't even know how to play PLO. My parents say I have to see him if I'm to continue living in their house. They see my gambling as an offense against labour and God. They were recommended him by our neighbour, with whose nymphomaniacal daughter, Molly, he apparently did great things.

So every Monday morning I spend an hour sitting in a comfy chair in his consulting room in the centre of Uddevalla. Today's session was difficult because I'd only had four hour's sleep. I'd pour myself another glass of water, pausing as if on the cusp of disclosure, but really I was just thinking of the $900k I had in my poker account. The previous day I'd managed to get money online. I was losing $590k after the first hour, but winning $750k after eleven hours. When I went to bed at 5am I'd won just $68k.

My desperate urge to play again could hardly be lessened by the thought that $68k is surely more than Bengt earns in an entire year of sitting in his drafty room feigning interest in other people's problems.

I find our sessions to be invaluable training for the poker table. In therapy, like poker, you looks for tells, while trying not to reveal too much about yourself. Bengt never speaks of his own life, but from his face, his clothes and his manner I try to guess where he lives and who he goes home to.

He's in his mid-40s and carries his strong frame apologetically. But he's smarter than I first thought. At first I tried to make him laugh or shock him, until I realized he considers jokes to be a nervous evasion of truth. His pauses can be deadly. He never rushes to speak; knowing that if he stays silent, most people will carry on talking and reveal more than they'd intended. I soon learned to withhold my thoughts and let the silence drag.

He asks what I want out of life and what my goals are, and how I might achieve them. He's explained his role as a therapist is to help explore my thought processes, but not to tell me what to do. Our sessions feel circular; the breakthrough never comes; or if it does, it's forgotten the instant I leave the room.

He nods understandingly when I tell him I'd won a lot of money in the previous week then lost it all back. As a Freudian, he thinks gamblers are masochists. I don't tell him it was a million and a half. He asks if it's my parents I'm really trying to hurt. Perhaps I want to get back at them for something. What could it be?

In a flash I remember the powerlessness I felt as a child when my parents told me we were moving to the town from the countryside. I thought of all the friends I left behind. And my first day at high school, when the bullies flushed my head down the toilets just because I said I liked Klaus Nomi.

I swallowed the memory; it was too painful, but also too petty. People get over much worse. Maybe I was never destined to be a happy teenager, whatever school I'd been to, wherever we'd lived.

I realized I was saying all this aloud. In my fatigue I'd told Bengt more than I'd intended. He replied with a rare sincerity "You must learn to listen to your still, small voice within".

"Oh yes, I hear it" I said.

"What do you hear?" he asked. "What does the voice inside you say?"

"Pot, pot, pot!"

I stood up, put on my coat, and hurried out to the bus stop. I'd soon cleared my mind of all thoughts but one: when I was back on Full Tilt Poker, should I start at $60k or $100k PLO?

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Yesterday I lost the last $60k in my FTP account. Early afternoon I started multi-tabling Jungleman at 50/100 hold'em. I've beaten him before. With a good run I'd soon have $150k. Then I'd ask him to move up the stakes and I'd have $300k. I'd go through opponents and by nightfall I might have a million again. I've done it so many times before.

I'm sorry if you find my lack of prudent money management somewhat offensive. Perhaps you yourself dream of having a $60k bankroll, a hundred buyin rule, and a steady income. But that is not how I am. I'm not interested in grinding out your bourgeois living.

But soon I was losing and on tilt, and when I asked him to play higher he said no. I often find my opponents try to set the terms of play; it's all part of the game. Although I was losing, he clearly viewed me with caution; as if, as a jungle man, he saw me as a drowsy but dangerous snake which might still bite. So, since he wouldn't give me action, I short-stacked the first player I found at 100/200 and lost the rest.

After that, I had to get out of the house. I put on my heavy black coat and boots and walked straight out of the door. I didn't want to speak to anybody, not even my best friend Henrik. I just wanted time on my own. I caught the bus to Emaus nature reserve on the outskirts of town. It's one of my favourite places. There are beech and hazel trees; oak trees, elm and ash.

As I stomped through the snow, I saw a couple in their late 20s, and their young son of about 5 or 6 running ahead, chasing after their fat little dog. The boy's entire outfit was colour-coordinated the same shade of blue. Just that little detail stuck with me. I imagined his parents together choosing it in the shop. I looked at the man and I thought, this is what it means to be a strong man: to have a wife and a son and a dog. That's true strength. One day I might want it too.

I walked to the top of the reserve where there's a great view over the nearby Gustafsberg reserve and the city fjord. I found a clearing and I just laid down on the snow and felt myself inhale and exhale and looked up at the gray sky. I just wanted to feel something, to be reminded of my mortality, of my place in time and space. It's always like this after I have been gambling; it is like coming up from the depths of the ocean; I must learn to breathe again; to feel the air on my skin.

It was dark by the time I caught the bus back into town. I found myself walking past Harry's Bar just off the main street in Uddevalla. Probably people I knew from high school would be there, with their hair products, house music, and designer labels. I had enough money in my pocket to get in, and briefly thought of it. A dozen shots of tequila suddenly seemed a very attractive proposition. Then I caught my reflection in a doorway, realized my back was still wet from the snow, and I hadn't changed my clothes since Wednesday. I went back to my parents' house.

Once more in my room, I logged on to FTP to check the action. There was a PLO game going; players I knew I could beat, if only I had chips. I felt like an injured footballer bitterly watching the game from the sidelines; but I made notes in my mind from what I saw of their play. Always processing data. I soon logged off, though, feeling the old sickness rising in my stomach. I ripped off my clothes, got into my single bed, and tried to sleep.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Maybe you want to know how I slept after 20 hours of play and losing $1.5m. Well, I slept as soundly as I’ve ever done. Having lost at poker, I was lost to the world. My once restless mind was now empty, and at peace. Imagine the calm and tranquility on a battlefield after the last breath; or when an apartment block has been demolished. The carnage is over, and much has been lost; but now, everything is still. I slept with the serenity of the dead.

In those last few hours against OMGClayAiken, I was in such a trance I thought it more likely I’d pass out than stop playing. And since I couldn’t win all the money on FTP, what other ending could there be than a massive loss? When his every hand seemed to beat mine, I couldn’t even feel anger. In truth, after a certain number of hours I had completely forgotten I had any other existence outside of the quick movement of my hand on the mouse; call, raise, re-raise, and, increasingly rarely, fold. If I had looked in the mirror then, I would not have known who I was. I no longer knew of myself as a man, a son, a friend, a brother. All that had been forgotten. I had become simply a player in a game.

The gambling experience can be like a psychedelic drug experience – no, that’s not quite right, because nothing is warped; it is more like the hard crystalline clarity of cocaine. But online gambling, like taking drugs, can be a way of effacing yourself, erasing your personality, dropping the ego. Harder for this to happen in a live game, where you are all the time aware of the other players, the conversation, your physical existence. Online is unique in the manner it allows you to disappear.

The other day, Hastings told me he had to quit playing because he had college work. Last night, when he was up a million against me and had me on tilt, begging him to play higher, Durrrr quit me because he had to go get a massage. I don’t get that attitude at all. How can these guys treat the game so casually? How can they walk away, treating trivial, avoidable encounters in their daily lives as more important than the possibility of an epic game, and potentially an epic win? Did Durrrr not want vengeance against me, when I’d been the one to destroy his reputation? Was it a loss of nerve by him? Or did he just want to show he had control of his own degenerate tendencies, and could quit when he wanted to, be the one to set the rules?

I can beat all of these guys from a clean start. I am better than any of them. But after ten, fifteen, twenty hours of play, when I am facing my sixth opponent, even I, the mighty Isildur1, can be slain by an ignoble opponent. Think of me as a prize bull, drugged, stunned, stabbed with darts, falling to a final puny matador.

When I got into bed, I erased any thought from my mind. No point in thinking about hands. When I woke after nine hour’s sleep, it was evening already. I had slept all through the day. I called up my high school friend Henrik. Who can you to speak to, after such a loss? My friends are at university or in jobs where they are lucky to earn 3000 SEK a week. What sympathy could I expect from them if I said I’d won and lost $1.5m in the space of two days, when the most talented of them may not earn that in the next ten years! Only a businessman or city trader could understand such losses; yet my recklessness and youth mean I have nothing to do with that world either.

But I can talk to my friend Henrik. Here’s a picture I took of him in my parent’s garden earlier today:
We became friends because of a shared cynicism and detachment; we thought ourselves too witty, too esoteric for the main crowd at school; but also we were too awkward; too hesitant, unable to live in a purely joyful way. Henrik has got more into video games as I’ve got more into poker. Money doesn’t seem to interest him – he has enough of it, but does nothing with it. He lets it accumulate, with no notion of its utility. He’d never gamble. But, somehow, he can understand poker. He’s the only one I can tell about my wins and losses. As a gamer, it makes sense to him that money is just a way of keeping score; it doesn’t represent anything real.

He came over early evening after he’d finished work. I let him in quickly – I don’t want to talk to my family today – and we go up to my room. He watches me fire up FTP again, and glances more out of curiosity than concern as I remind myself of my account balance. While Henrik picks his eczema and insists we listen to Venetian Snares, I sit at some 100/200 PLO tables, and instantly process what I know of the opponent who soon joins me. I click to be dealt in, and the game begins again.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The last few months have been frustrating. I hated having to play so low, splitting tables, and never getting a real run going. But I knew I'd get back up there. And yesterday, thanks to the generosity of my nemesis Cole and Hastings, I did it.

I feel like a fighter pilot or an orchestra conductor when I've six tables going and the mouse is flying all over, click click click, each decision for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just totally in the zone, my pure poker consciousness; some innate level of thinking. I mean, it feels almost like I'm a puppet on a string, I don't know where some of my plays come from. I just seem to know what to do: when to bluff, when to call, what they've got. Sometimes even what cards will come next.

I finally crashed out at 5am. When I woke up and saw $1.5m more in my account than I'd had the day before, you might think I felt elated, ecstatic, victorious, all-conquering. But the truth is I didn't feel much. I mean, I'm happy, but it was more a quiet contentment than an overwhelming joy. I'm where I want to be, and now I have the freedom to play whoever I want, as high as I want, and for as long as I want. But I'm still $6m down from my peak.

And I still don't have my own place. I'm thinking of cashing out a few hundred grand and getting somewhere to live. At 1am last night when I was six-tabling Hastings, my mother banged on my door and screamed at me to turn my music down. Momentarily distracted, I called a $100k all-in by mistake.

This morning as we were eating Surströmming for breakfast she told me I looked pale, my eyes bloodshot, my skin stretched. She said I looked like a corpse: and no wonder, since I spent all my time indoors on the computer. She asked again why I had to dye my hair black. I think she thinks I might be gay. I told her I did it because black is how I feel on the inside. She told me to get a job. I went back to my room, looked out of the window - another grey day in Uddevalla - drew the curtains, sat back down at $500/$1000, and waited for the game to begin again.