In June of 2004 I was at a crossroads. I had just graduated with an engineering degree from Stanford, but I had no job – not surprising, I suppose, since I never applied for one. I hadn’t been the most diligent student, but I had managed to save nearly $10,000 from playing poker. A portion of that haul funded a tequila-powered spring break in Cabo, and the rest was stuffed into shoebox that I hid under my fraternity house bunk bed. Now, faced with the option of crunching numbers in a cubicle or taking my shot at playing poker professionally during the biggest boom in history, I chose the latter. And so the day after graduation I said good-bye to my supportive but apprehensive family, crammed all of my belongings into my car, and began the 500-mile drive to Las Vegas.
I didn’t do it for the money, though money was good – out of the gate I was earning nearly double what I would’ve made at an entry-level job. No, playing full-time poker was about the experience – and as recent college grad with minimal living expenses, it was incomparable. While my friends were working 100-hour weeks building pivot tables for managers that assigned work “because they could”, I set my own hours and lived a life that I couldn’t have imagined just months earlier while making the drive to the Nevada desert.
Most days I’d run through my morning routine and head into my office (aka the Bellagio poker room) after lunch. My working sessions typically lasted until about midnight, depending on the game quality, my mental acuity, and how aggressively the servers pushed free Coronas. On weekends, profits made from check-raising drunk tourists and D-list celebrities funded every kind of debauchery imaginable, and with friends visiting nearly every weekend there was rarely a break from the hedonistic deluge – resulting in some questionable financial choices and temporary bans from a couple casinos.
I knew my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable – not because I couldn’t maintain it, but because I didn’t want to. Poker was, and still is, a huge part of my life, but it’s ultimately a zero-sum game. And if I’ve learned one thing since I first started playing cards nearly 20 years ago, it’s that I enjoy poker most and play my best only when it isn’t the focal point of my life, but rather a vehicle to enable and support other interests.
That said, the lessons and skills learned playing poker have given me a foundation for personal and professional success. Professionally, poker helped me realize my need for autonomy and laid bare insights into human behavior that have led to successes in sales and sales leadership. It also improved my risk tolerance, which led to a role as a founding team member of an AI startup that raised $36M from top venture firms and investors.
Personally, poker has helped me develop stronger relationships forged through a common interest, both among decades-long close friendships and heretofore strangers spanning all walks of life. Even my wife, who was initially skeptical of dating a “gambler”, has become an unequivocal supporter and regular travel partner during my monthly trips to Vegas (though the explosion of world-class dining and shopping hasn’t hurt either).
Today I share what I’ve learned about life and work during my 10+ years as a professional gambler and entrepreneur. Want to learn more? Check out the available resources below:
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