The Night I Got My Bankroll

We normally play poker for pennies, but today we cemented a priceless bond. I missed his birthday party yesterday because I was working (10:45 AM to 10:40 PM with an hour break to commute and change clothes in between jobs) and had come to celebrate with him for a little bit… and ask a big favor. I pulled out the super size dark beer I had brought to share (the only gift I could find in my house to bring), he poured us each a glass, and then I popped the question. “I need to ask you,” I said, taking a deep breath, “How serious were you when you said you would be willing to give me a $1,000 for the World Series of Poker?”

“I could give you $1,000,” he said as he sat up a bit taller, listening intently to the two minute description of my IndieGoGo campaign and the poker tournaments I hoped to play in should the plan to fund my artisan candle maker and freelance writing career succeed. Then, he simply said, “Okay,” or, “That sounds fun,” grabbed his checkbook, and handed me my bankroll. It was the most surreal moment of my life to date. It got even crazier when he suggested that I only owe him the $1,000 should I win and nothing if I lose. I had to explain that he deserved the lion’s share of any profits I acquire. I am a nobody and this is a huge sum to be given with no strings attached. For taking this type of chance on me, I believe he deserves 60% of my profits (after taxes).

So, who is this crazy man willing to throw gambling money my way? Around these parts (my blog), he is known as Willy. One of the first stories I posted here was about our penny poker games and the way he and his friends make me feel like a poker shark. We met about nine years ago through one of my many jobs. He is a bit older than me and has admitted he finds me attractive, but he has never made me feel he expects anything in return for any of the generosity he has shown me over the years. All he has ever done was remind me that there are great people disguised as average human beings everywhere you turn. It’s unlikely anyone would have predicted this level of friendship would grow between us, but it merely goes to show that you truly never know what can happen unless you ask for what you want.

My IndieGoGo campaign is already 40% over and I am only 5% funded, but I have the seemingly least attainable piece of the puzzle already in my hands. If you fund the campaign designed to help me break free of my minimum wage evening job by Friday, I will reveal the identity of my backer. This angel gave me the funds to buy my way into the poker tournaments that will make my entire dream possible. I would leave this Saturday morning to visit my cousin and interview her about her experience surviving a double lung transplant then play in the $20,000 guaranteed first prize No Limit Hold’em tournament at Lucky Chances Casino in Daly City on Sunday before driving home. The following Wednesday, I will enter the satellite tournament for the World Series of Poker Main Event at Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles. The rest will be up to fate to decide.

Help Me! I’m Not Sick, But I Am.

Most people give up once plans A, B, and C fail. Me? I move on to Plans D, E, F, G, and H simultaneously, believing that if I work exponentially harder and smarter I will eventually achieve my goals. I’m fairly certain I’ve exhausted multiple alphabets’ worth of plans at this point in my quest to earn a respectable proportion of my income as an artisan candle maker and freelance writer… but I have not given up! I began changing my eating habits around the same time I got serious about building a writing career, about three years ago, believing that my physical and emotional (creative) well-being are intricately related. I now believe that the proof of my determination to live my dreams and its effect on my health is written all over my pale, bony body, for better or worse.

multi blue headshot SM
Dec 2013
headshot june 2016
June 2016

Beginning about six months ago, when I first slid into a size two after more than a decade as a plus size woman, friends, both close and long lost, often through Facebook, began inquiring what I had done to lose all the weight. This group of friends thinks I look amazing and wants to know what I did so they can yield similar results. At the same time, a smaller but still noticeable portion of my friends inquired if I was/am sick. These people seem genuinely concerned I might have cancer as I have never been anywhere near this thin the entire time they’ve known me. After thoroughly pondering this dichotomy, I have come to the conclusion that both groups of people are seeing part of the current me accurately. I am both healthier and happier than I’ve ever been and a bit sick and tired of the race, holding a high potential to lose my mind. I lost the weight in healthy ways – juicing, eating more vegetables, lowering my overall caloric intake and cooking my own meals from scratch as much as possible – but I’ve been eating plenty of sweets, bagels, and other formerly forbidden foods lately in order to maintain my weight.
Ever since I took a night job as a barista seven months ago, I’ve struggled to find time to prepare even the most basic meals. It’s not that I have zero free time, but all of it has been monopolized by my dreams. I work 40 to 50 hours at “real jobs” to keep my bills paid – positions which inspire me and fuel my creative heartfire – and the only thing I want to do most days is work on my dreams. I don’t wake up wondering what I want to eat for breakfast. I wake up wondering how many writing, candle, or photo projects I can complete before I head out to work and/or after work before I need to go to bed. Food is an afterthought. I feel honestly too busy to care if my stomach is growling some days. It’s not exactly a healthy attitude. I scrutinize my behavior enough to ensure that I eat at least 1200 to 1600 calories per day and began taking daily vitamins (most of the time) to make up for my sacrificed nutritional moral code.
The deep, dark truth of the matter is that juggling all of my needs and desires is beginning to drive me a bit crazy. I must do the thing I hate to do most. I must ask for help. I must admit I cannot achieve my dreams alone. You are my only hope.
I realized I needed your help months ago, but it took a bit more time to figure out a plan that would lead to success. Not having a night or weekend job would open up the time I desire for candle making, writing, traveling, and playing poker. Unfortunately for me, I need money now. Thankfully, I have a plan. If you would be so kind as to support me in at least one of the following ways, I believe my dreams can come true:
1) SHARE MY STORY – This is the most important part. I need the support of several hundred people for my plan to work and know that it’s unlikely I will find that many in my immediate circle of friends. I have around 1000 contacts between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I’m fairly certain I can not get 40-50% of you to buy in to my plan literally. However, if ten to twenty people with 500 friends I don’t know share my story, I would only have to engage around 5% of the audience to succeed. That seems possible.
2) SUPPORT MY BOX OF FLARE CAMPAIGN ON INDIEGOGO -This is my plan to raise the capital needed to break my unhealthy cycle. This plan will buy me time at home to work on my dreams and nourish my body and (possibly) buy me some time to play poker and work on my novel.
4) BUY A PIECE OF MY POKER ACTION – I attempted to set up a campaign for backers on YouStake.com, but have been unable to get them to add the tournaments I wish to compete in to their database. Please contact me directly if you would be interested in backing me in the $350 NL Holdem tournament on Sunday, June 26th at Lucky Chances Casino ($20,000 guaranteed first prize) or the $550 satellite tournament for the WSOP Main Event at Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles which I believe to be my best (and possibly only) chance to get in the big game. (I chose the tournament at Lucky Chances both due to the prize pool and so I can travel to interview my 25 year old cousin about her experiences with cystic fibrosis and surviving a double lung transplant.)
5) CONSIDER USANA – I have decided to work on my health using the vitamins, meal replacement bars and drinks offered by USANA. In fact, the ethics of the company’s head scientist impressed me so much my sister got me to break my boycotts on vitamins and participation in MLMs. Let me put you in touch with my sister, Dr. Sarah Pollard, so we can stabilize our health together in the days to come. Your choice to set up an auto order for vitamins could send me a little love for many, many months to come. (It is possible I will earn a commission off your choice to order USANA.)

A Poker Analogy for GMO Foods’ Existence

We have verbally duked out our opinions in public before and gotten nowhere. So, this time, my friend requested my thoughts by texting me a link to an article entitled, “All of our food is ‘genetically modified’ in some way – here are the different types of GM technology.” I, naturally, decided to take my sweet time responding… and write a blog post.

I would like to begin by admitting that I can see the logic in this type of reasoning. The argument is sound in its own way. The problem for me is that it fails to adequately address the fact that the mere existence of genetically modified foods is the underlying concern of opponents like myself, because they represent an entirely new level of risk. While making a plant better able to resist pesticides (or repel the bugs itself) might be a scientifically similar process to increasing the plant’s ability to survive a drought, the potential for undesirable consequences is plainly far greater.

Pesticides are poisons. They kill bugs. They harm things. Is it really possible for them to harm one type of being and not another?

GMO crops are not confined to laboratories or grow rooms. Pollen and other plant particles blow in the wind and spread naturally. How can one say that proficient cautions were taken when these new crops are allowed to corrupt all others that surround them?

The author of the aforementioned article says that the chance of risk with GMO crops is low, then links to this article which discusses a fail-safe that might someday exist because it has been developed. The need for this scientific breakthrough is backed up with a quote from George Church, a Harvard Medical School genetics professor: “I don’t want to be alarmist or anything, but I think the point is that these organisms do spread.”

So, please tell me, how is the fact that we are developing protections now supposed to calm my fears about the effects of changes we have already spurred into motion?

To me, it’s as if I just caught you with an extra Ace in the deck and you refuted my accusations of cheating by saying that you were merely trying to encourage the continued evolution of a deck of cards as we know it and, subsequently, the game of poker. While it is true that the precise number of cards in the deck has changed over time – Jacks were once Knaves, and Queens and Jokers were admitted shortly before playing cards took their modern form – none of these changes were done covertly. The cheater (or evolution proponent) with the extra Ace gained a distinct advantage over those around him by asserting the desires he now claims were for the good of all involved. Whether the game continues with or without the extra Ace is not the issue I’m most concerned about. I want to know what we are doing to ensure that all are aware of and agree upon the rules of the game going forward and how we are going to repay those who were directly affected (aka cheated out of something) by the changes that began prior to unanimous consent.

In poker, when you catch someone changing the rules during the game, you kick them out and confiscate their money. Conversely, thanks to U.S. patent laws, when traces of GMOs are found within neighboring crops, the corrupted seeds are confiscated and given to the patent holder. Without the ability to use the seeds that their own crops produced, the farmers must buy seeds from somewhere in order to stay in business. Thus, merely letting the GMO farmers continue to play their game as they designed it fuels the market for GMO seeds and the goods they produce. It’s as if the cheater is allowed to both keep his chips and steal the chips of any who didn’t notice the extra Ace in the deck. It is infuriatingly wrong. Any questions?

My Brain on Poker: 5 Fundamental Beliefs

  1. Everyone is most concerned with their own game (aka personal gain) and I must take full responsibility for the direct and indirect consequences of my actions. Sometimes we poker players purposely “misplay” a hand or two to make our opponents doubt our skills. We set them up to pay us off on a larger reward in the future. I believe corporations with great power have utilized similar tactics to ensure their success and I try not to play into their game. For example, I do not wander around my local stores looking for something I want and/or need and would prefer to see in person before purchasing, then turn around and buy it online because it is $10 cheaper. Cheaper is not necessarily better. One of the easiest ways to go broke as a poker player is to participate in every inexpensive hand that comes your way. The path to success requires pondering and maximizing the value of each bet placed. In life, that means pondering what kind of jobs the companies I support create in the world and how they influence our culture as a whole in addition to evaluating the true worth of the products themselves – be it a cab ride, pet sitter, vacation rental, paperback book, or article of clothing – because each choice matters more than we imagine at the time.
  2. While just playing the game is fun, it’s more fun when you’re winning. Everyone isn’t so much “out to get you” as they are “in it to win it”. Most people (or businesses) don’t want to step on your toes to move up, but they will happily do so if they “need” to. The thing is, we actually need each other to succeed as a whole. Progress comes from working together. Exchanging ideas is an invaluable aspect of life and everyone, everywhere is playing off the information they receive on a day to day basis as they live out their game plan. It is human nature for us each to put our own wants and needs first – to try to win – so, if you let the world make your decisions for you, don’t be surprised when you aren’t overjoyed with the results. Play your own game and play to win.
  3. You must know both when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em in order to play a good game and only you will know when those times are for you. Everyone is dealt a different hand in life, just like they are at the poker table. Even among those playing “the same hand”, each is looking at it from their own unique perspective. We might share five cards in common, but we have two of our very own to use with them and a position that could change everything. What works for one person may or may not work for another, so take each piece of advice with caution, remembering that each of us is ultimately responsible for looking out for ourselves. We should begin our game using the knowledge of those who have already proven successful, then allow our own unique experiences to teach us the modifications that best suit our own needs.
  4. The only thing I can control is myself. We need to respect the fact that everyone is playing their own game and take pride in devising our personal strategy. We cannot make people like or want us, but we can grow into the person we want to be one step at a time. Once you have devised (and mastered the daily implementation of) your own unique strategy, you will be more content and likely to succeed in life. However, in order to achieve long term success, you have to be adaptable and change up your game from time to time. Predictable players face predictable problems. In fact, being flexible is likely the most important component of any life plan or poker strategy as change is one of the few things we can expect with certainty. Also, change is far less scary when you anticipate its arrival (if only by acknowledging its continued presence) and take control of each opportunity to react in a way that helps you grow into the person that you want to be.
  5. Always be willing and ready to go all-in, but wait for the opportune moment. Winning players spend a lot of time preparing before they venture into high stakes poker. I believe they personify the statement, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” That’s why I’m not rushing to the felt as often as some might think I should if I really want to play. I do really want to play poker, but I believe that “extra” cash will appear when the time is right for me to take my game to the next level. In fact, one might say it began trickling in this week when I received a few ridiculously generous cash tips. Coincidentally, right before the money began to appear, I learned that my favorite local game has started up again. I may not have my desired casino bankroll yet, but somehow it feels only a hop, skip, and a jump away. If you do find me seated at the World Series of Poker’s Main Event in less than eighty days, it will seem an immensely lucky feat. However, it is a ridiculous dream for which I believe I have been preparing my entire life – a lucky moment I would not be surprised to see in my future. You can’t push me all-in, but you can be sure I’ll call that bet when the time is right.

Digging Out of the Muck

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It dawned on me sometime shortly after I began working on what will (hopefully) forevermore be known as the longest transcription session of my life – I am my problem. (Transcription is when you type out a tape recorded conversation verbatim.) On the one hand, perhaps I had been right to believe the voices that have told me not to be bothered by my continued struggles because I always figure something out – adversity brought out my fighting spirit and has led me to do some amazing things. On the other hand, I always seem to be complaining about the same problems and the words my interviewee had used to explain his life were screaming truth at mine: “Under pressure, you can dig holes faster.” I thought about the 10,000+ seconds of tape I had left to transcribe, how many more moments I would have to endure listening to myself mucking up my interview with personal asides, how many years I’d been working on improving my writing skills already, and burst into tears. I realized that I was stuck in a bad cycle and would need to start taking steps that seem illogical to break it since clearly none of the steps that I have taken – the ones that seemed logical at the time – are producing the results I desire.

It was far from the first time I had interviewed Stefan Dobrianov (aka Tedo) and I remembered him saying something to my thoughts about the beginning of his art career – how he broke his bad cycle by deciding to move away from his home country, Bulgaria (something illogical to him at the time), and, later, by making art with leather. I also remembered the many times he had encouraged me to do something that’s never been done before. I then decided that my problem is me. I can’t decide exactly what I want. I haven’t pictured myself on a path of success. I thought I would struggle to pay my bills while building my writing career… and I have. I never believe I have enough time to complete my writing projects, so they all sit partially finished. I had chosen to learn certain writing skills “on the job” and ended up collecting a three and a half hour rambling session to punish myself into figuring out how to better conduct an interview. I had put myself under pressure and ended up digging a really big hole.

That was nearly two months ago and I’ve been trying to slip-slide my way up out of that hole ever since. I’ve been working on seeing myself as a successful writer, artist, and poker player – whatever combination my heart desires – and trying to begin living that life now. There must be a way, if only I dream big enough. Ironically, it has led me to realize that my desires are circular. I want/need to play poker to complete the research for my novel and collect the type of stories I might be able to sell to magazines in order to make money from my writing and live life as a full-time artist. However, I need a proper bankroll of $5,000 or so to begin a career as a grinder at the $1-$2 NL Hold’em tables and, currently, I can hardly pay my bills, much less afford to gamble. (Side note: I am also committed to becoming completely debt free and am not very close to acheiving that goal.) To get a bankroll without saddling myself with potential additional debt, I need a really incredible plan. So, I’m working on it.

My day to day life doesn’t look much different yet, but it feels different. I am refusing to worry about money. I already have two jobs that I work at every week outside my house, several businesses that call me when they need a bit of extra help, a candle business, and my writing. The only thing I want to worry about is whether or not I am growing as a person every day and working hard to make my dreams happen. My income will likely always fluctuate and wherever I focus my effort is where my money will come from in the end. So, I have allowed myself to entertain some completely outlandish ideas about how I might obtain a bankroll right now. (Maybe I’ll tell you more about that another day.) I’m also trying to ensure I work on all aspects of my dream – poker, writing, and my candle business – every week and, since I can’t indulge in my favorite part of the game right now (reading people), I will focus on learning the aspect I’ve long been neglecting – the math. I thought I would hate it, but thanks to Alton Hardin’s book, Essential Poker Math, and the simple fact that he explained how to convert odds (i.e. 4:1) to a percent (20%) my attitude has changed completely. I’m putting together digital flash cards to help simulate the knowledge I would acquire if I could afford time on the felt. Step one is to memorize the precise odds each hand has against any random hand in the deck pre-flop. I have two decks – over 200 cards total – which I’ve been quizzing myself with daily. I’m about to start creating decks with pot odds, number of outs, and estimated equity questions to take my studies to the next level. My cycle is not yet broken, but I am digging out of the muck slowly.

I can see myself succeeding. I am becoming a better poker player every day, at least according to my StudyBlue scores. (Would you be interested in poker math flash cards?) I am a writer who spins out new articles, essays, and poetry regularly. (Did you see my latest poem?) I am a creative entrepreneur who has built a small fan base for her artisan candle line. (Care to try some now and help me pay my taxes? Use coupon code “SpringCleaning” to take 15% off your order of $30 or more in my Etsy shop now through April 29th.) I am also a budding collage artist with half a dozen creations to her name. (Follow me on Instagram to see the more snapshots into my life.)

All In collage
Collage by Rachel Hoyt

It is only on the days that I lose sight of this vision and fail to believe I am living it right now, every day, that I end up lost in a mess of my own doing. So long as I remember I’m all-in, living my dreams, creating the life I want with every passing moment, that reality will continue to come together… but just to be completely safe, I signed up as an on-call transcriber to give transcription the chance to cure both my bad attitude and my financial woes.

“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ~ Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking Glass

Sixteen Wishes for 2016

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There is one story within Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life which I feel she mentions a bit too quickly. It is at the end of her chapter on set design and involves a novelist’s need to know things their characters know – an issue with which I am intimately familiar. Ms. Lamott mentions a time when she was trying to put herself inside the mind of a gardener and felt ill equipped to create her character’s world solo. She called her local nursery, told the gentleman what she was doing, and he proceeded to help her design the garden of her character’s dreams. She even checked in with him every few months to find out how her garden would be doing that season.

Ms. Lamott sums up the effect of that experience by saying, “And in the years since, I have asked all sorts of people to help me design sets. I’ve asked them to describe what the world looked like in certain American cities or African villages, inside a particular car in the rain, or down by the water when hoboes still came to town on the train.” She doesn’t specifically say it, but the advice I heard while reading was, “People want to tell you their story. They want to help you. All you have to do is ask.”

I took baby steps towards living out this implied advice in 2015 and ended up landing an interview with my poker hero. I also started asking more questions of strangers and acquaintances and that habit has been producing immeasurable rewards. So, I thought I might start 2016 by throwing out a list of wishes to the world – stories that I hope will find their way to my ears or eyes. While many of my wishes do revolve around the game of poker, you need not be an experienced player to help. I need to hear stories from gamblers and non-gamblers alike to finish bringing the characters and scenes of my novel in progress to life. In fact, if this works, I will likely type my questions for the universe to see far more often. There are plenty more topics of interest where these came from:

Language – I know that, in England, a fag is a cigarette, but I’ll bet some of you know language quirks that I don’t know. Does your little corner of the world have a favorite word that few others use? If English is not your first language, is there a particular word or phrase you find strange or awkward? (I’m interested in all words, not just those related to poker or gambling… but very interested in poker terms in languages other than English, if you happen to know any.)

Food – What is your favorite food? What food(s) would you feel deprived to live without? Does your city/country have a signature dish I shouldn’t live without tasting? (Keep in mind you are talking to a vegetarian who also limits her intake of non-organic and processed foods, so all knowledge on modern junk food is appreciated. I fear I’m forgetting how the average person thinks about food.)

Luck – Do you believe in luck? Recall a time when you or someone you know was extremely lucky (at gambling or otherwise)? Have a lucky charm you carry in your purse, wallet, or car? Or, vice versa, do you feel you are unlucky or even cursed? How does that happen to someone? What are the signs? Can you change your luck? How?

Fortune Telling – Do you know everything about a type of fortune telling I may never have heard of? Do you think fortune telling be used to improve one’s poker game? To predict the winner of a horse race or a set of lotto numbers? How? Has it been done already? By who? Do you know anyone who tells fortunes using playing cards? Has had a fortune read using playing cards? Are you an expert on fortune telling with a theory on why it cannot be used in conjunction with gambling?

Religion – Are you a person of faith? What does your religion or moral system say about gambling? Does it look differently upon games of skill (i.e. poker) vs. games of chance (i.e. the lottery)?

First Game of Poker – If you have learned to play poker, whether or not you enjoyed it and kept playing, I would love to hear all about it. Who convinced you to give the game a chance? Did you risk any cash that day? Use traditional chips, coins, snack food, clothes, or some other imaginative substitute to place wagers? What was the room like? How many people were playing? Who won and lost the most? How did you do? Were there other activities happening simultaneously that you found distracting or enjoyable? If you don’t play anymore, why not? Tell me everything!

“Home Games” – Do you host or attend a poker game in your community? How many players attend? Are women allowed? How often do you play? What night (or day) of the week? What are the stakes (buy in, ante, blinds)? Tournament style or cash game? Texas Hold’em? 5 Card Draw? Omaha? 2-7 Triple Draw? Badugi? With or without wild cards? Are you a woman who knows about and wants to attend these games but isn’t allowed to play or only gets invited when the table is far from full?

Women Poker Players – Are you one of them? Do you know a female who has played a long time and told you her stories? Are female poker players different from other women? Are you a male player who dislikes having women in the game? Or, perhaps you like having women players but think they are inherently weaker players? Why?

Isolated Communities – Have you lived (or do you wish to live) on your own private island or in a commune, monastery, ranch in the middle of nowhere? Why? What do/did/will you have there that you can’t get elsewhere? What might/do you miss out on when isolated from most of society?

Boats at Sea -How long can a boat sit “parked” in the ocean without issues? What safeguards are needed in various weather conditions? Would either a smaller or larger boat wear better or worse than the other?

Cruise Ships – Have you worked on one? What was it like to live onboard? What did you do? For how long? Did you meet anyone you would consider a frequent traveler? What were they like? Have you been on a poker cruise ship? How was it different from a traditional casino experience (beyond the obvious)?

Life at Sea – Do you dream about it? What do you fantasize about? What makes you want to get away? What comforts from home would you be sure to take with you? Have you lived at sea? For how long? What were you doing? What did you like or dislike about it?

The Ocean’s Quirks – What is happening on the ocean floor these days? How does it affect the stability of a pier? An oil platform? An island? A harbor? A coastline? A continent?

Sea Life – Do you know a sea creature with a fascinating habit or ability? Perhaps it can see, hear, or smell things others can’t? Maybe it always does ___ before it pounces on its prey?

Poker Art – Who is making gambling themed art? Please send links.

Poker and Gambling Themed Books and Movies – What is your favorite gambling themed story any why is it better than others? Is there a gambler’s quote you are known to recite?

Contact me via Facebook or Twitter if you don’t have my personal email. (I will also give a phone number out and schedule interviews with those who have longer stories they don’t want to type out.) Those who have proven they are not robots or spammers, but rather actual humans who want to help, should also feel free to send me links to articles and websites you believe I would be interested in based on this list in lieu of personal tales. Or, if you like, you could send magazine and newspaper clippings, or whatever else you think might help, to PO Box 23804, Santa Barbara, CA 93121. Thank you in advance and no hard feelings if you don’t want to share a story with me. I just wanted to throw it out there. Just in case.

50 Ways to Build a Bankroll

There must be at least fifty ways to build a bankroll, so why don’t I have one? This question began to bother me as I wandered the World Series of Poker in June, noting the vast number of people who had shelled out more than a grand for the big tournament of the day. It officially began to haunt me when I learned the $235 WSOP Deepstack was the recommended “cheap” tournament of the series and had to admit I couldn’t afford that. My entire bankroll for the trip was $200 and I’d already risked and lost a bit that morning in a super satellite.

The next night, I won a healthy stack in a cash game at the Aria which enabled me to leave Vegas with the hope I could build my bankroll on my own, but it didn’t last long. I had to spend half my winnings on some necessities I was too poor to purchase otherwise – clothes that fit my quickly dwindling figure and another jar of the luxury eye cream that keeps me aging as slowly as possible – which left me with only $400 for poker. I won a little bit here and there, but overall the second half of 2015 showed a trend of one step forward, two steps back.

I had been trying not to dwell on the fact that a healthy bankroll would help propel my writing career forward by lending me the ability to be an active member in the poker world, constantly exposed to real life characters who can provide inspiration for my novel in progress, when I came face to face with an unexpected challenge. One of the very handsome celebrities that make Santa Barbara their home came by the scooter shop and, after innocently asking how my day was going, ended up sticking around to discuss poker, which he learned I’d been up late playing the night before. Long story short, his final words were, “If you come up with $5,000, I’ll give you the other five and we’ll go play in the main event together.” I have never felt more motivated to build a bankroll in my life.

It was October 1st and I’m not sure how serious he was, but it got me thinking. It was the third time someone had offered to stake me despite the fact I have yet to score a truly big win to justify such offers. I might want to build my bankroll alone, but what if I don’t have to? What if there was someone out there that just wanted to make my life easier and bet on the little guy (or gal, in this case)? Just before I headed to Chumash to risk my final $60 in a tournament on my birthday two months later, I received a text message from the only man I could think of who might fit that bill.

Sherif didn’t know it was my birthday. He just knew I hadn’t been to the casino in months and wondered what I’d been up to. I didn’t want to tell him I’d thought of him at least once or twice, because it mostly revolved around the fact he was my first backer and the most likely to offer me a bankroll, so I just said I had been well and was on my way to the casino right then. Sherif didn’t enter the tournament, but he was there waiting for a seat at the $1-$2 table when my patience crumbled and I lost it all on pocket sixes. He offered to buy me in to the cash game, but I knew I was too grumpy to play well and declined. Of course, when I let it slip that it was my birthday, Sherif insisted I couldn’t go home. So, I let him take me to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants instead.

Pried open by two glasses of white wine and a decadent seafood pasta, I told my poker pal the highlights of my life outside the casino – my many jobs, my paltry budget, and my novel. As suspected, when Sherif learned a few of the many reasons I hadn’t been to the casino recently, he became inclined to rescue me further. He agreed that I couldn’t play my best game using my personal funds and offered to take me out to see what I could do under optimal conditions. “How much would you need?” he asked.

I let myself blurt out the honest answer: “You’ll never get a number out of me.” I wanted to give him one, but I hate asking for money. It’s like I told him – the poker experiences and my desired writing career are intertwined. I know I need a real bankroll to make that happen, but that doesn’t mean I’m capable of picking a number. Instead, I told him how much I normally play with and he offered to double it. I agreed, but said I wanted to face a real crowd. I want to play at Commerce.

He said he would take me to L.A. that Saturday to see what I could do when I’m not afraid to lose my money, but by the next day he was having second thoughts. He wanted to spend the night on the town as friends instead, “looking for appropriate romantic partners.” I said no. I took it as a sign that he only wants to be my backer if he gets to date me and that wasn’t exactly the deal I had in mind. I’m certain there must be at least fifty ways to build a bankroll. I hope to find my way in 2016.

Forced Blogging Break for NaNoWriMo

Today is one of those days when I have to admit I can’t do it all. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on Sunday. For the second time in my life, I will be trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days or less. The first time I participated in 2013, my goal was to break through the fear that had me writing chapter one over and over for a decade. I succeeded in producing a bad first draft then began the arduous task of editing while researching poker history for details to enliven the good ideas squashed between all the muck.

This February, approximately one year into the editing process, an idea hit me which changed everything. I decided the entire setting was wrong as a new world came into view. To my surprise, I became excited to scrap everything I’d written thus far and start anew. Not too surprisingly, that’s been easier to conceive than to do. So, I gave myself a deadline – NaNoWriMo. I have three days to finish sketching my plot, ponder character motivations, and paint the details of the world where it all takes place. Sunday, the next draft begins.

It’s time for me to focus. I will post sporadic updates on Facebook and Twitter, but, for the most part, I will be immersed in writing my novel until December. Until then…

Sometimes You DON’T Want to Go Where Everyone Knows Your Name

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They say that poker is all about reading people and that the money is just a way of keeping score. I’ve heard it a million times and have never disagreed with the sentiment, yet I realized recently I hadn’t fully embraced the correlation between cash and credibility. I began to put it all together as I drove home empty handed from Chumash, two nights after tripling up at Ventura Players Casino. I hadn’t lost all of my winnings, but I had lost a bit of my pride. It was the second time this year I’d lost a good chunk won elsewhere at my local stomping grounds. As I consoled myself by singing Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet and Walls of Jericho ­– “my time’s coming, but it’s not tonight…” – I felt it might be time to admit I’d formed a pattern.

To analyze my current predicament, I dug deep, beginning with a cherished moment that happened about ten years ago. It was hardly past dawn and most of the Hoyt clan was sleeping in to enjoy the beginning of their Thanksgiving vacation. I had “bought” my uncle in to the fake money high roller cash game on Poker Stars and we were sitting on opposing ends of my parents kitchen table, playing No Limit Texas Hold’em, discussing our opponents hands (when not battling each other) as my dad observed. Every time my uncle asked, “What do you think he has?” and I gave a close to dead accurate read, my ego swelled with self-righteousness as two of the most important men in my life beamed with admiration. Looking back, I began to wonder if I wasn’t trying a bit too hard to recreate the joy I’d felt that day in the present.

Anytime I call a bullying bluffer on the river with something akin to bottom pair, raking in a pot he probably could’ve stolen if I cared more about odds and pot equity than I do about trusting my gut (or, should I say, about my gut being right), I feel a bit of that joy. My first double up that night at Chumash was exactly that kind of hand. I held pocket Kings, but with something like QQT69 on the board, I checked the river despite having gradually pushed nearly half my stack into the pot on the offense thus far. My opponent revealed the grizzly under his teddy bear demeanor by pushing all in to prove he knew my hand wasn’t invincible. I thought about the range of cards he’d been playing in the few hands I had seen thus far and weighed the odds he had the straight, trips, or a full house, then decided to call. Although I’m a known player there to some extent, his face was unfamiliar and my gut said he was just seeing if the little lady could hold her own. That time, I was right. He told me I “had it” the second I pushed in my chips, then mucked his cards upon seeing my kings.

A few hands later I went up against a different foe with pocket Aces. The bet pattern and board possibilities were eerily similar, but I didn’t bat an eyelash until my entire recently doubled up chip stack was gone. That time my opponent had flopped the nut straight and I was Mrs. Predictable. I wanted another chance to catch a man bullying the little lady. My new opponent had seen that and used it to his advantage. I took a break and tried to remind myself that the actual greatest play during my most recent win was the decision to fold my pocket aces, but never fully recovered from the blow. I played a bit more wisely the rest of the evening, but received far worse cards and was in no way hanging tough.

As I drove home that night, I began to understand why I had been on a bit of a losing streak at Chumash. It wasn’t so much that I waited patiently for hours, only to lose everything as luck fell on someone else. It might be that I was a bit too relaxed around my poker family and often not too hard to figure out. In fact, it might be time to admit that money was proving it did and does keep score. I’d long known the $1-$2 tables at Chumash are often half full of players who would prefer to play for higher stakes but aren’t willing to drive to a casino with ample like-funded poker enthusiasts. I can count on facing five or more local sharks on any given night between the retirees and younger avid gamblers that frequent their felt. I might not remember all of them, but they know me and right when I start to feel at home, they pull the rug out from under me.

While it’s nice to play where everyone knows your name, I promised myself before bed that night that I won’t return to Chumash until I’ve sharpened my game or they attract a larger crowd. After all, my family isn’t there (nor anyone else I should care to impress), the most fun is reading new people, and when I’ve found chances to do that, I’ve made decent monetary scores. Besides, poker isn’t about staying in your comfort zone, it’s about pushing beyond into the great unknown. Therefore, perhaps there’s an advantage to be found playing where no one knows your name or remembers if you ever came back for more.

Meeting My Queen of Poker

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When your life’s work is a solo mission, it can be hard to find “help” in hard times – a bit of recognition or validation to put the spring back in your step. Often you have to just keep trudging forward with whatever energy you can muster, knowing things will eventually get easier. I had been stuck in a depressive funk for weeks, yearning for something or someone to get me excited about working on my novel again, when my parents called and spurred a chain of events that landed me an hour in Bobby’s Room, interviewing poker legend Jennifer Harman.

I’d promised myself a year prior that I would visit the World Series of Poker (WSOP) that year to do research for my book, but accepted the fact I couldn’t afford to follow through days before my dad’s call. His voicemail said he was going out of town for a week and mom wasn’t recovering from hip replacement surgery as quickly as expected. They wanted to pay me to come to Arizona and help around the house for the week. I thought it was the perfect excuse to stop in and visit the WSOP and emailed my only friend in Vegas immediately to inquire if I could “book” a room for the days before my parents needed me. Once she agreed to provide me lodging, I confessed my entire plan to my dad and, somewhat to my surprise, he happily agreed to pay enough to cover whatever spending money I would need for my time in Vegas as well.

As soon as the plan was set, I felt like my dynamic self again – the girl who can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. Staring at a former art class project I’d recently uncovered, I remembered that, for some reason unbeknownst to me, Jennifer Harman had begun following me on Twitter before I’d ever looked her up. (I wasn’t actively following anyone at the time.) I took it as a sign and began drafting a letter to request an interview. I spent the entire evening trying to find a concise way to describe the moments that had led me to that day and my dream of writing a poker themed novel with a character inspired by her. The next morning, I messaged her a photo of my art project to prick her interest and request her personal email address so I could send the full story.

RH painting

Less than five hours later, Jennifer Harman had read my email and decided she would “love to sit down with [me]” while I was in Vegas. She also offered a bit of advice in regards to the career struggles I’d admitted to: “Remember that you don’t ever have to be off track on your goals. You just go for it. It’s only you that you have and this very very short life.” Suddenly my problem became floating down from Cloud Nine long enough to prepare for my interview and pack for my trip. I was going to meet one of the women I admire most in the world despite having a sparse resume and two throw away drafts of a novel as my only qualifications.

Before I knew where the time had gone, I found myself seated in Bobby’s room at the Bellagio, inches from Doyle Brunson’s backside, discussing life and poker with Jen Harman between hands, on tape. For the first time in my life, I was the writer interviewing a celebrity. I felt like somebody and my hero had made it happen. For an hour, Jen let me peek into her life like a friend. She taught me new variations of poker, showed me all her hole cards, and answered any question my heart desired. At one point she stopped Johnny Chan to ask what game he was going to play and lost the chance for an answer by introducing me instead. And, even though she’d hugged me upon arrival and I was departing because she’d just lost ten grand, Jen gave me a second hug and told me to feel free to contact her with any questions that come up later. She even waited patiently while I tried to calm down long enough to hold my cell phone still so I could get a good selfie.

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In the months since, one thing Jen said keeps popping in my mind, “We were all living in a cave before TV came along.” It was right before she pointed out multiple players she called some of the best in the world who most people wouldn’t know because they mostly play cash games. Being the type of rare specimen who hasn’t had cable in over a decade and has never subscribed to a streaming service, I hadn’t truly pondered how publicity might affect a poker career beyond the increased competition it could bring until those words continued to echo in my mind. On the other hand, I am intimately familiar with the hermit’s life. When the Poker Hall of Fame (PHOF) nominees were announced, it finally hit me. Perhaps those words stuck with me to help me see that one thing Jennifer Harman’s career currently lacks is the same thing my writing career was lacking before I met her – proper validation and recognition.

Of course, most poker players know who Jennifer Harman is and would say she’s a great player, but she has yet to win a title the men (aka the vast majority of players) truly covet (other than those two WSOP bracelets). Possibly due to prodding from fans like me, Jen continues to enter the WSOP main event in hopes she can set another female milestone (with no luck) and, time after time, she has been passed over for the PHOF. Perhaps the judges can’t see what I see – the facts that the figures can’t measure. The life Jen has lived away from the table has been just as stressful (if not more so) than her time on the felt. She’s a single mother and kidney disease survivor who went from being a hermit to being a celebrity, all the while being called a degenerate by at least some. She became a poker player to make a living and has spent the majority of her career battling the fiercest high stakes competitors in the land. On top of all that, Jen dedicates time to improving poker’s image by being available for interviews and mixing poker with philanthropy, i.e. her annual Nevada SPCA charity poker tournament.

Poker is, was, and always will be a big part of Jennifer Harman’s life. I dare say she inspired a fair portion of today’s players to join the game. Jen doesn’t actually need the validation or recognition. Not getting it will never change who she is. However, if years of service, dedication to the craft, and raw skill are the marks by which one establishes themselves as part of the elite, then Jennifer Harman has long been a member and I hope it will soon be official via the Poker Hall of Fame. In the mean time, she’ll have to get by knowing she is, has, and always will be the Queen of Poker in my book.