“When does the event start?” Ambra asked me.
Let me check.
I pulled out my iPhone and held down the button on the bottom.
“When is the Poker Tournament in Innsbruck, Austria?”
“Checking,” Siri responded. She paused for a moment. “Okay, here’s what I found.”
I scanned through the news feed.
“It starts tomorrow,” I said.
She smiled. “Perfect. I’ll grab my things.”
The fact we didn’t have a car to drive there, clothes for the snow, a place to stay or that I’d have to play on no sleep after driving to a different country was just part of the adventure.
None of it mattered. I wanted to play, and Ambra wanted her legendary Sacher Torte. There was no stopping us.
Our needs are simple; we make a great couple.
The best part about being a professional poker player is the flexibility it affords in terms of lifestyle. And if you’re not going to take advantage of it and go on a whim then you’re not really living.
We packed our bags and by 10:00 am the next morning we were moving. After a delay at the car rental company and a 5 hour drive, we arrived at the hotel at 5:30 pm. I jumped in the shower, changed and was at the table by 6:15 pm.
We went out to celebrate. 888, who hosted the tournament, put on a great party at the local night club. I’m not a drinker, and never while there’s poker in my near future, but good company makes anything enjoyable.
After 2 rounds of gin and tonics with no gin, we went to bed at 3:00 am.
The tournament would start the next day at 2:00 pm, but we wanted to explore the city. I always need to work out before I play, so I was up at 9:00 to engineer my pre-game routine.
The next day I rollercoastered my way through the day, picking up pots when I could and losing two all ins, both with AQ, once against K9 and the other against KJ.
I made the final table as the short stack and finished in 9th place, busting blind to blind.
As anyone who has ever come up short in a poker tournament could attest, finishing 9th is bitter sweet. Cashing and making the final table are accomplishments to be proud of, but the taste of victory makes losing that much more painful.
What I am most proud of however was the severity to which I took the event. For years playing high stakes tournaments with $100,000 buy ins became routine. Bellagio, Monaco, St. Kitts, the list goes on.
I could have never given a €330 buy in event any severity, like a NBA athlete playing a game of pick up basketball.
But in the last few years I’ve changed the way I approached the game. Whereas before I was competing with the others, measuring my successes and failures relative to those around me, one day I decided to only compete with myself.
In watching other great athletes like Roger Federer play tennis, I realized that the desire to improve yourself is the only thing that keeps you going. And it’s the only thing that makes sense.
That shift changed everything. Because every day, every game, every hand is an opportunity to be just a little bit better than you were yesterday.
That self-drive translates well at the poker table and makes otherwise ordinary situations exciting. I found myself running back from breaks to not miss a hand. I fiercely wrote down hands I played, and, even after I busted, still reviewed them using equity calculators and went over tough spots with colleagues.
I couldn’t have done this a few years ago. By measuring my success and ability on an outward level, I only found enjoyment in the elite nosebleed games of Macau or the high roller tournaments in Monte Carlo.
But if I’m being truly honest, I don’t play poker to win money. Heck, I don’t even have to play.
So when I do decide to hit the tables, I have one intention in mind: to be the best. And that means I have to be just a little bit better than I was yesterday.
And that quest, my friends, is one that lasts a lifetime.