I took a deep breath of happiness. I was in first class on Hawaiian Airlines (due to points from many trips between Vegas and Hawaii). I was enjoying the ability to stretch my legs, a sexy prospect on a 5-hour flight. And I had just noticed “McSteamy” from Grey’s Anatomy in first class when we exchanged (in my mind) a wink of acknowledgment. I pulled “Check-Raising the Devil” by Mike Matusow out of my backpack. Could it get any better than this?
The only books I could manage reading for the first year after my divorce were poker memoirs. I’m an avid reader, and a few poker memoirs might have popped into my reading list before that year, but during that year, that was all I read. I re-read my favorite, “The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King” by Michael Craig multiple times. I read Doyle’s, Annie Duke’s, whatever memoir I could grab. I remember the first trip I took after the divorce. I had Craig’s book clutched in my hand like a favorite blanket, something to soothe me throughout the change and confusion, and reimagining of my life. Poker books were a constant, a lifeline to my new life, and what I wanted to stay connected to.
Poker players are definitely their own breed. They are interesting, different, not like “regular” society, but similar within their own society. When I moved to Maui, it was a breath of fresh air to find other people like me. People who were trying to evolve, maybe were considered “other” by picket fences that kept original ideas inside, along with dogs and 2.5 children. I appreciate other ways of life, of ideas, of the picket fences, and that the fences can give some a sense of stability and structure. To me, the fences feel like bars I need to escape, running to Reno, Maui, or Vegas at the first opportunity.
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I like reading about the risk takers, the boundary breakers, people like Jennifer Harman. I hadn’t learned too much about Jennifer before Michael Craig’s book other than seeing her in a few poker TV specials. I grew to love her spirit and her moxie even more the more times I read the book. My admiration also grew for Ted Forrest and Doyle Brunson. (Although I’d already known much about Doyle before the book.) I wasn’t trying to up my strategy, or become a better player. I was escaping into these players’ “otherness”, the excitement while wondering if it could ever be balanced by an ordinary life. That was the balance I realized that I was searching for.
Finding Michael Craig’s book led me to appreciate Andy Beal’s thirst for knowledge, even though with his bankroll he could’ve disappeared and never had to challenge himself again. I’ve found that the risk takers, the successful ones, almost never stop taking risks, learning different lessons or repeating the same ones that made them successful.
Before my year of poker memoir immersion, I loved books that had romance, and optimism, sprinkled with a sense of “this could happen to you”. I knew I would never be the poker player that Jennifer Harman is, but because it was so far out of my wheelhouse, I could dream with her, without dreaming it for myself. It’s like when I work the WSOP-I never expect to be at Feature Table A, as I know some of my coworkers dream. But I can dream with them while getting to know the people beneath the hoodies and the bravado, humanizing them.
Later I found the book “Molly’s Game” and it immediately overtook Craig’s book as my favorite poker memoir. Molly Bloom is a wonderfully engaging writer, and she made me ask “what’s next? I want more!” She took me right into her world, and made me want to be in a chair absorbing the energy of the room as she hosted her games. (Although you all know by now I’d be asleep before the night finished.)
Molly’s book is still one of my poker security blankets, but it’s joined by “Pulling The Trigger” (Eli Elezra’s autobiography), and by others that are still being created, and lived. The books that Michael and Molly wrote breathed new life into me, nurtured me. Even though I did not even know at the time that poker would be a new part of my life as my job, a passion, and a way to live outside the picket fences.