Last week, I finally received the news that I had been accepted by The University of Kent to study towards a philosophy degree, beginning in September. I am pleased to finally have the uncertainty over my future lifted and have begun to start planning the next three years of my life.
After nearly three happy years I have decided to leave my position as an ambassador to 888poker and announce a ‘semi-retirement’ from poker. With this in mind, and given that I have enjoyed the support of so many wonderful people over the years, I thought I should take the time to attempt to explain the context of my decision for anyone who is remotely interested.
I’ve spent four incredible years playing poker full time and I never dreamt that my favourite card game could give me so many opportunities and experiences. Being able to travel the world, record television programmes, meet people from every corner of the globe and enjoy some of the best restaurants and clubs, all while earning money playing a game, is a privilege not lost on me, and a journey that has taught me a lot. More recently though, I have lost a lot of drive to play poker, especially in live tournaments.
Last summer I made the decision to move back to the city in which I previously studied, Canterbury. I was fortunate enough to complete a long-term goal; to buy my own house. Having left London after two years, I concluded that I was unlikely to move back there, which meant a lot more financial security when looking forward to the rest of my life. With this stability, I lost the financial motivation to play poker. Although I enjoyed playing from time to time, I was not finding it fulfilling and began to realise that I should look into some new challenges to motivate me.
I fell into the role as a professional poker player after my last degree. Having already earned a little money playing the game whilst studying, I graduated without much idea of what I wanted to do. As well as being a fascinating and fun hobby, the flexibility of the poker lifestyle appealed to me. I also didn’t have too much to lose: with a degree under my belt, the plan was to find out if I enjoyed playing full time for a year and work out if I could be successful. Had I not wanted to continue, I would’ve treated it as a gap year and headed back to education or perhaps another career. In a competitive job market, the money I was making soon made it an easy decision to stick with it. My idea has always been to build up some kind of ‘nest-egg’, to give myself a financial head start in life and buy myself a little more time when looking for a career. In truth, I’ve never really seen poker as a long term option for me. I’ve always been aware that the games are likely to get tougher and that the market is vulnerable to reasonably sudden changes from legislation or economic swings. That said, I do think there’s plenty of money to be made from poker at the moment, I just didn’t want it to be my long term plan. I guess I always wanted to leave poker on my own terms.
I’ve always tried to question the world, to be conscientious and remind myself quite how lucky I have been. The fancy clubs, restaurants and hotels were a lot of fun but I realised quickly that the things that matter most to me, are the relationships with my friends. Their company and intelligence, their insight and their humour. The truth is that I couldn’t really care less where we go, as long as the company is good. A cheap pub will do just fine. The best part of playing poker full time has been the flexibility of my work schedule, and therefore never having to miss a social occasion because of work commitments. With this I’ve tried to build on old friendships and create new ones. I certainly think I have a lot to thank my friends for, and I think they have managed to keep me grounded and not lose sight of the real world.
With a lifestyle altered to concentrate on the more simple things in life and the security of my own home, I have found myself considering possible careers, without having to worry too much about the wage. I doubt one could think of a more fortunate career situation. However, the magnitude of this opportunity has caused me to feel a lot of pressure in choosing what to do.
While considering my options, and spurred on by some articles by Phil Gruissem, I briefly drew some inspiration from the concept of effective altruism. There is plenty of information online about this system but basically it’s a structured process of earning as much as you can in a money-making career to then donate a significant proportion to charity. The idea being that you can have a large positive impact on the world, despite working in a self-serving job. I set myself a few targets and was able to make a couple of donations that I am very proud of. Ultimately though, I felt that my strengths in this world lay elsewhere and that I could make a bigger impact in another career. For what it’s worth, I see the heights of success of Phil and his crew as a step above what I am capable of, especially with my current levels of motivation. One thing I’ve always tried to do throughout my poker career is have a realistic expectation of my own ability. This means carefully selecting the best tournaments to play online and constantly questioning one’s own decisions.
Over the past few years, before properly considering life after poker, I’ve tried to embrace my inner geek. I find myself listening to debates, podcasts, lectures and speeches whilst playing online. I’ve also started to develop some pretty strong opinions on politics and ethics, a position opposed to my previous relentless fence-sitting stance. This passion for what I think is right in the world, has spurred me further in to the arts, and I find myself reading more than ever. Above all else, I really want to question every opinion, to listen to others and be consistently sceptical of my own views. I am drawn to philosophy for those reasons and I am really enjoying the challenge of looking at every argument from several angles. After this degree, I could see myself continuing on through academia, perhaps going on to lecture and research. Otherwise, I think a job working for a charity or pressure group that I fully support, would suit me well. Something to be passionate about, that I hope can make a difference. Christopher Hitchens once said that ‘the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure and what is true… is the only conversation worth having’ and that ‘I want to live my life taking the risk all the time, that I don’t know anywhere near enough yet, that I haven’t understood enough, that I can’t know enough’. I doubt I’ll come close to always living my life by this mantra, but I’d really like to try.
I’d like to thank 888 for our time together. In the last 2.5 years the site has gone from strength to strength and I hope to see this continue. I’ll still play the odd live tournament too. I have always enjoyed UKIPTs and have met many of my closest friends in poker at those stops, so I know I’ll always enjoy them. Indeed, I’ve already qualified for Nottingham, so I might see you there! The larger tournaments have become less fun for me. The trips to Australia and Barcelona stand out as some of the best of my life but Vegas made me feel quite uncomfortable last year. The ‘Vegas-lifestyle’ culture of financial competitiveness felt all too prevalent, and I think 5 trips in 3 years was a bit of overkill for me. I’m really excited to start travelling for pure pleasure and not dependant on the best poker tournaments. I’ll still play a bit online, hopefully ticking over enough money to pay a few bills. I do still enjoy the game, throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to only have to play when I want to; this has had the added bonus of ensuring that I play closer to my best. I don’t want this to change, which is why it is time to move on, to tackle some new challenges and continue to enjoy this great game as a hobby for the rest of my life.