Well I guess I'm officially a professional online poker player now.
Things have been going really well and I've been grinding online tournaments 2-4 nights a week. At the time of writing, I'm up to #27 in the Pocket Fives UK rankings. I've won a few tournaments and a couple of weeks ago just missed out on a triple crown for winning three tournaments with a prize pool of over $10,000, on three different sites within a week.
But one night recently things did not go to plan. A couple of hours into a session whilst playing around 7 or 8 tournaments and with around $1,000 in play, my apartment where I'm staying in Berlin had a power cut.
It's pretty much a nightmare scenario and I knew that every minute that the power was out was costing me money, as my equity in each tournament slowly diminished. After lighting some candles and waiting for about five minutes, I decided I had to make a run for it. I quickly packed a bag and jogged 500 metres or so down darkened streets to the nearest major crossroads, where I frantically tried to flag down a cab. At this moment I was glad I was in Berlin, as Berlin has BARS and they are open LATE!
Taxi secured, we ambled slowly towards the nearest collection of bars and clubs on Bergmanstrasse. I didn't know the German for "If you break the speed limit I'll pay you double", so we cruised along sluggishly with the driver humming to easy listening music. My slightly agitated state did not cause the accelerator to be pressed down further
Out of the taxi like a bullet, I had the laptop out and began running down the street, repeatedly hitting refresh on the wifi network list. After a little while I found an unsecured connection, so I stopped for a moment, logged in, played a few hands (doubling up in one tournament) and then continued to move.
Eventually, salvation! - A man sitting outside a bar with a laptop. I raced in and after a quick exchange with the efficient barman (don't you just love Germany), in which I was able to locate a plug socket, the wifi password and a large beer - I managed to log on to all my tournaments. Despite missing around 40 minutes, the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been.
I wish I could end the story by saying I went on to win one of the tournaments, but that night it wasn't to be. I struggled on manfully, busting out of each tournament one by one accompanied by some of the worst music in the world.
In my haste to find a wifi connection I had been less than diligent about my choice of watering hole. And that's right, horror of all horrors, I'd stumbled into..... A WINE BAR.
This place was bad. It played a selection of the most unappetising soul, watered down reggae and accountant friendly 'dance' music that is humanly possible. Of course, they wouldn't want to offend one of the well dressed members of the Berlin's chic and upwardly mobile middle class that supped wine by candlelight and discussed property prices and David Hasselhoff. Quite what the regular patrons of the bar made of a sweaty, bedraggled Englishman hunched over his laptop in the corner smacking his mouse button repeatedly, alternately cursing and cheering under his breath as he downed several beers is anyone's guess.
Included in the Ford Mondeo drivetime mix was of course, Birmingham's finest purveyors of steaming horse terd, UB40. Several years ago I'd been tortured by UB40's greatest hits, Abu Gharib style, whilst sleeping in a German leisure centre. This reacquaintance back on German soil brought back painful memories of what I now describe through gritted teeth as 'that long night in Essen' (these memories were only partly soothed at the time by a visit the following day to the quite marvellous Bochum Mining Museum).
Also in the mix was Sade, Phil Collins, Sting (natürlich) and a lot of other inoffensive and totally unmemorable vocalists. At one point a song began that had something about it - I thought to myself that things might be about to change, but I was wrong. It seems that song was just TOO INTERESTING for that establishment and the barman quickly skipped the track and moved back on to some bland, insipid neo-soul.
So there I sat for several hours, painfully busting out of one tournament after another without cashing, being aurally assaulted and stared at by German estate agents.
People ask me what it is like to play online poker for a living. Some think I travel around with the world wherever and whenever I want, don't pay income tax, don't get out of bed before noon, don't have to answer to a boss, don't have to wear a tie, watch as much daytime television as I want.
Yes, I'll admit, this is all true. But instead, what I will tell them to do is the following visualisation exercise...
Imagine this scenario. You are trapped in room unable to move from the table for more than a few seconds at a time, you can't even get up to go and use the bathroom. Sting's greatest hits is playing loudly on repeat. On the other side of the glass in an adjacent room, the faceless and soulless members of UB40, who you only recognise by their Brummie accents and appreciation of the musical canon of Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, slowly and methodically set fire to over $1,000 of your hard earned money. Whilst doing so, they alternately cackle maniacally and attempt to call Ali Campbell to try to desperately beg him rejoin the band.
This, my dear reader, is the 'balla' lifestyle of a professional poker player.