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.