Chasing the Dragon

"It's all about the fundamentals." - Uncle Drew

Life is a series of games where as any Microeconomics 101 course will teach you, any possible edge is always trending to 0. In business we see this as fledgling startups take the place of older established businesses that fail to adapt and change.

In sports, it can appear naturally as players age and become to old to be as dominant as before. Or sometimes, cruel dramatic shifts in the game can cause certain players (Stay Me7o) to become the NBA equivalent of someone in a dying industry headed for structural unemployment.

In the arena of gaming, we're finding that computers can solve or at the very least approximate the solutions to every game, ranging from chess in the 90s, to Go as recently as a few years ago. It's no surprise that poker is next, limit Hold em is essentially solved, with heads up no limit not far behind. Despite what you may think you know about poker, it is essentially a game that is deeply rooted in mathematics, and any turing complete system will be able to figure it out eventually, given the right amount of computational power and algorithms designed to solve it.

It's part of the reason that poker's popularity has been on the rapid decline in the past decade or so. What once became the illusion where "anyone" could succeed is quickly becoming an arena where only the ones motivated to put an enormous amount of effort in can continue to do so. Many poker players during the height of the poker boom saw the writing on the wall and have mostly transitioned into other arenas that are not only more intellectually stimulating, but more lucrative.

Admittedly, in 2006, not only was I lucky in that I had a great run of cards to get to the final table, but I was also lucky in that the effort at that time to be better than most of the field was minimal than the effort one has to spend now by a significant margin. I was good for back then, but nowhere near as good as I need to be to be even break even in today's environment. It's kind of similar how in today's NBA, no one can realistically drink beers and smoke cigarettes during half time as they did in the 90s and still be in the peak physical shape they need to be in, today's players need to always be on and be taking care of their bodies, LeBron spending around $1mm alone in body maintenance every year to continue to be competitive.


Yet here I am, prepared to take my talents back to Las Vegas, NV for the 11th time (I skipped a couple years), probably barely making the top 10% of participants in terms of absolute skill level. I've been playing some here and there online, trying to understand what people are doing from a practical level, but in no way have delved into the intricate nuances of theory and tournament considerations that I would need to be a legitimate top tier player. My true ROI after consideration for taxes and my status as a nonprofessional make it somewhat of a breakeven proposition to even play

My interest level has waned as well, but the fire is still there. There's some truth to my yearly posts after busting saying I'm going to quit, but I think there's a resistance to calling it a career in poker, at least for the main event, because admitting it is kind of admitting that I've turned the page on what's ultimately become one of the defining moments of my youth (something I'm having trouble turning the page on in general, but that's for another post). Part of it is because I'm still the kind of guy with a chip on his shoulder and insanely competitive. But I think  another part of it is because I haven't yet found what I'm effectively supposed to move on to. If I had a family, a career, something to give me some sort of purpose, maybe I'd concede and feel comfortable hanging up the towel. But I'm in a constant flux of meaningless in life, so here I am.

Most of my recent thoughts on legacy and meaning have been centered on the basketball player known as LeBron Raymone James Sr. Not saying that my life or legacy has been anywhere close to what his has been, but where I draw parallels is the idea that he's not quite ready to hang up the towel and quit just yet either. He's had a career that will go down as one of the top careers in NBA history, and now faces an impossible task with an uncertain future with almost guaranteed heartbreak in the next few years as the odds are stacked against him. And yet what else can he do but press on and continue to try? What other options does he have?

As I look at my sad unaccomplished life of unrealized potential, I cling onto some misplaced hope that making it deep in a tournament that doesn't even remotely indicate how skilled someone is (there's still a huge luck component involved in any given tournament) will bring some semblance of meaning to my life. It reminds me of myself after my run in 2006, playing afterwards to prove that I wasn't a fluke, and putting effort into my game as a way of showing to the poker community that I was legit, even though part of me believed that I was not.

And so caught between both acknowledging that the whole endeavor is meaningless from an intellectual standpoint, yet wanting to revisit the moment of glory from an emotional one I now have decided to set a new goal post in terms of my main event career: I will play every year where I don't have a prior commitment as long as LeBron keeps playing NBA basketball. I'm about a year older than the King, but I think he'll probably play until his mid to late 30s, which makes it a good stopping point.  Watching LeBron this year has been nothing short of inspiring, knowing full well the impossible task of beating the Warriors ahead of him, and plowing through making two of those games relatively close with nothing but sheer force of will. After Game 1's debacle, I thought the Cavs were destined to be blown out the next three, but he managed to find the strength to make at least one of those games close. Despite what idiot pundits will say, he didn't give up on that series. And so, as long as he has that passion to strive for greatness, so will I.

Every year after that will be a year by year decision, where I will mostly be playing for pure entertainment, rather than the competitive drive that makes me chase after false hopes and dreams.