Vol. 19: Gambling away the future
I landed safely in Ljubljana without further obstacles only a few hours before the start of the EMOP. I was tired, but chose to wait at the airport for a plane coming from Finland that'd land an hour later. I had a ton of friends coming to this tournament, including a good friend who I was going to be rooming with, and everything suggested that we'd have a great time even if we ended up busting the tournament early. But that wasn't in my plans at all. I had spent all my time awake, and also most of the time I was meant to be sleeping in the last couple of days learning about tournaments, and I really, really wanted to win this one.
We cabbed to our hotel and still had an hour before the start, but problematically we couldn't find a single restaurant open anywhere. The hotel restaurant was closed, and no matter what direction we walked in we couldn't find anything. We ended up going to a café and getting toast that had probably been made about a week ago.
The tournament started, and I found myself full of self confidence from the beginning. It was just a silly 1100€ tournament, among the smallest I had ever traveled abroad for, and my opposition was weak. I was still very much a donk myself, but I played more solid than probably ever before thanks to getting a lot of Bond18isms in my head. I didn't have a lot of trouble lifting my 20k starting stack to 40k during the early levels.
I went to the dinner break with double average, feeling happy with both my performance and my stack, but also starving to death. That awful toast had been the only thing I'd eaten in about 24 hours, and I couldn't wait to hit the buffet. I still wasn't able to do that, though, because I had one important thing to take care of. The sponsorship negotiations for the forthcoming year.
It was with a big Entraction skin, and like I said before they had sounded very enthusiastic in their e-mails, and it seemed clear that pretty much all I'd have to do was to meet up with them and we could sign the papers. I was so happy about it, this was a site way bigger than TowerGaming, and it seemed like a logical next step in my career. I felt marginally bad about negotiating with them when I still had an existing contract with Tower, but then again I wouldn't have been there in the first place if Tower hadn't been screwing me over for months. They just didn't really leave me choice, and this deal was all I could've hoped for.
The meeting was very casual. This is my only face-to-face sponsorship meeting ever with a poker site, so if you're curious how it works, this is how. I met their two managers, who were dressed in casual clothes and were also playing in the tournament. We looked for a place to sit down, and the only unoccupied chairs we could spot were at a roulette table, so we sat down there. They asked me how I was doing, how my traveling had been, and we chatted for a few minutes about random stuff. Then they gave me a short speech about the deal they wanted to offer (mainly EPTs and EMOPs for the next year, and I'd have to pay a cut of the bigger buy-in stuff which I was fine with), and I said that it sounded fantastic. They said they'd e-mail me the contract soon, we shook hands and that was it. I ran into the buffet, enthusiastic, and told my friends that I just scored a sponsorship deal for the next year. We toasted with white wine, even that I don't like white wine.
At about 300/600 I found my first big hand of the day: AA. A guy raised from middle position, I 3-bet him in the cutoff, and he made a really big 4-bet shove for what was about 40 big blinds if I remember correctly. I snap called, and I remember assuming I'd be seeing a semi-big hand, but instead he turned over 8d7d. The moment I saw his hand I just knew I was going to lose, and instantly drifted away from my zen mode to my old tilty, emotional self. The door card was the 6d and I already gave up. Sometimes you just know it. And sure enough, he binked his flush and I was down to a bit below starting stack, which was just 30 big blinds now.
This is when I took all of my new tournament knowledge to use, though. I had never really had a good idea about short-stack play – I had got it right semi-accidentally most of the time, jamming 20 big blind stacks with decent hands over late position raises. But I had never actually thought about it, studied it or wondered why I should be doing it. Now I knew this all, and despite being on semi-justified tilt from my beat, I decided that I wasn't going anywhere for a long time.
I fell entirely card-dead, the aces were the only legitimate hand I saw all tourney long. I managed to stay afloat with steals and re-steals all the way until the second to last level of the night, 500/1000. I had about 25k, and shoved KTs over a late position open. He thought about it for some time, and after about 15 seconds I thought he's probably going to fold and if he doesn't, I'm probably flipping anyway. Not exactly. He finally called after 30 seconds and turned over AK. I wanted to berate him for nitrolling, but managed to stay composed and just concentrated on sweating the flip. I was already really mad at myself, because I really wanted to win, and I definitely didn't want to exit this early. I wanted to impress my new sponsors too with a deep run. ”Come on, poker gods, give me a ten just this one time!”, I thought to myself.
Flop: T 4 2 rainbow. ”Boom!”, I thought. ”Now, let's hold.”
Turn: J ”Oh no, more outs”.
River: Q ”.....”
I shook his hand, walked out of the casino and straight to my hotel room. I was steaming, exactly in the same way like so many times before when I had lost money playing cash online and wanted to chase my losses. The only difference was that this time I hadn't cared about the money at all, I only had half of my own action anyway and it was a meaningless small tournament. I was like a kid whose candy bar had just been taken away from him, I couldn't stand being out of this tournament so early.
I opened the hotel room door, checked if my roommate was there, and when I found out he was still in the tournament I opened my laptop and fired away a 10/20 PLO table. Fast forward a few minutes, and my online bankroll was gone. I didn't even notice it happening, I just kind of did what I was used to doing (taking a tilt shot), and lost my money to get some kind of relief. And it worked again, the money punted away felt like a burden taken off my shoulders. I was sad about the money lost, but also happy in some weird way. In other words, I was ready to get drunk.
Most of my friends were out of the tournament too. Many of them were the 18 year old / 100k bankroll types that I wrote about earlier. They played these tournaments partially just for fun, they didn't really care about cashing. I didn't want to have to care either. I called some guys, and we chose to meet up at the lobby. The night was still young, it must have been 10 o'clock or something like that. But 10 o'clock felt way too late to be sober in my state of mind, so I started downing drinks at the lobby when I was waiting for the others, and the first thing we did at some random restaurant we went to was ordering drinks in trays, not glasses.
We had a group of about 10 people, all Finns as far as I can remember, and we were all drunk after just an hour of fast and effective drinking. I was the guy telling everyone that we must get drunk, and most other people were tilted from busting too and followed suit. By 11:30 we were all drunk like monkeys.
We elected to go to a disko-like bar one of the young guys had heard of, and took three taxis. We queued for a while, and when it was our turn to go inside we were stopped at the door. Too many of us were just 18, and they had a higher age limit. I gave the doorman 50 euros as a bribe, he took it and let me in, but then still didn't let any of my friends in so I was forced to turn around anyway. Money well spent, again.
The night was screaming of it. Absolutely nothing had gone according to plans in this city yet, and it was midnight, and we were all tilted and needed to see things that'd make us happy to get our minds off of all the injustices in the world. For example, breasts. We went to a taxi stand, asked the drivers to take us to the best strip bar in town and went straight in. The moment we got inside we flipped for drinks and ordered 20 vodka cranberries (the signature drink of Finnish poker players). The strippers got mad at us at some point, because after seeing enough breasts we kind of wanted to just sit and drink and talk poker and other stuff, but they wouldn't let us go. They told us it was a strip bar and we'd have to take lapdances and pay because that was the whole point, and while they were right we were too drunk to understand why they wouldn't just leave us alone, and left without leaving a tip. Not very classy.
Next thing I remember is being at the casino at four in the morning, playing a slot with a coyote theme. There was a bonus round you could hit if you binked three coyotes, and each coyote that hit the reel made a howling sound. I played it with max bet with my friend, and we both howled with the machine every time a coyote appeared. We must have been quite a sight, but sadly the slot took all of our money without even giving us the bonus game.
I slurred good night to my friend and took an elevator to my room. I was really drunk, but not sleepy at all (I'm not sure how people always pass out drunk, I always get energetic and can never sleep for many hours after getting back from clubbing). I opened my computer and tried to play some drunken cash, only to remember that I gambled away my entire online bankroll earlier. I tried to deposit, but I kept mistyping my online banking stuff and couldn't get it done. I wanted action, and since there was nothing else available, I took some cash from the deposit and went back downstairs to play roulette.
I decided to ”grind” it, get soul reads of the numbers that would appear and make sure my playing experience would last as long as possible. I just wanted to get some excitement and the adrenaline rushes, I wasn't even desperate to get my previously lost funds back. I started betting something like 50 euros per round, but eventually got bored and just punted all of my 2000 euros on black. I'd always had a habit with ”insuring” the red/black bets with an additional amount placed on zero, but this time I forgot to do it. Naturally the zero appeared, and I was done.
I was even more anxious for action, so I went back to my room to get more cash. But instead of going back to the roulette table I wanted to gamble alone, so I concentrated really hard at trying to get my banking details right to deposit. I managed to do it, and deposited 5k. I didn't decide to play away that much, I just randomly typed those numbers without thinking. And just like that, 5k appeared on my TowerGaming account. A few minutes later they were gone. I felt euphoria, relief, all those familiar feelings. I fell asleep shortly after and slept like a baby.
The harsh reality only occurred me when I woke up with a monster hangover the next day. I had gambled away basically my entire bankroll. I only had a couple of thousand left, and I had hotel bills to pay and so on. I had set up the meeting with David (from TowerGaming) to meet during EPT Prague which would start within a few days, and he had promised to pay me everything he owed, tens of thousands at this point. But they had been shady many times before, so I didn't know if I'd actually get to see the money.
I was once again at a crossroads. I was still holding people's money for the EPTs and EMOPs, a sum that was in the $15k ballpark. I had maybe 2k left, but also hotel bills to pay and so on. I was basically entirely busto. I was also hungover and really wanted to go to McDonald's, but first I wanted to gamble. All the joy and relief of losing the money was gone, and all that was left was panic and anguish. I wanted to get the money back. I needed to get the money back.
I was weighing my options, all of them being of the gambling in one way or another type, when one of my friends sent a text message. He had busted the tournament early on day two and said he wanted to take a tilt shot. Finnish people. I went to his room, and another mutual friend was there too, also wanting to take a tilt shot. We fired up a Stars PLO 25/50 with my friend's account, and split the action 3-way. They actually played PLO as their main game and if I remember correctly Chris Moneymaker was playing (I could be wrong about this, I just remember a name fish being there) so we weren't even drawing dead. They both had big bankrolls, and (given my reputation and image) assumed I had a big bankroll too. Instead I was gambling for everything I owned, and also for money I didn't own.
My friends were ballers, and I had been desperately trying to be one for the longest time. There was no way I could set up a stop loss and not lose my face. When we lost the first buy-in – basically the entire amount I had to my name – I put on a fake smile and agreed that we should reload. I can't remember how many buy-ins we lost, but I think it was approximately $25k, 33% of which was mine. That was almost all of the people's money I had on me.
We were all hungover and tilted, and no one wanted to continue anymore. We took a cab to McDonald's. The guys were on raging monkey tilt, talking about the flips we just lost for what was probably around 10% of their bankrolls. I stayed silent, trying to appear calm and careless, storming inside. It all started to become clear to me. The previous night when I gambled away my money I wasn't really thinking or caring. It just happened, as if I was watching a movie made of my own life. Same thing today – again I didn't really think at all. It just happened. But now, going through a quick sobering up after getting fresh air I started to realize what I had done.
I was due to pay an EPT buy-in about five days, half of which belonged to other people, and my only hope to make it was David's money transfer. So far Tower had sent me about 15% of the promised transfers. This time was different, though, since David had promised he was coming to Prague himself and he had paid for the previous (Vilamoura) EPT just a couple of weeks back. Still, I was getting a really bad feeling. Tower had also had my rakeback frozen for some time, and the amount they owed me was starting to account for a really big number. I sensed this wasn't going to end well.
I know it sounds absurd given how out of control I had been for a long time, but I still somehow saw myself as a poker professional. I had learnt a long time ago that in this business reputation is everything. Finnish pro Juha Helppi once said that poker players are the most honest people he knows, and I couldn't agree more. When you **** up in this business, you're usually done. Your friends are gone, because no one wants to hang out with known cheats, and it's impossible to get any kinds of loans, stakes or anything like that. And what was the worst part for me was the fame I had built for myself. I had hundreds of fanboys who I relied on, who fed my ego and during dark times often gave me strength to keep the show going. If people learnt about this they'd all be gone, and everyone in Finland would hear about this. Everyone would laugh in my face.
After we finished our meals we walked around randomly. I was trying to come up with something new to cover this up. Even that David paying the money was a real possibility, I couldn't rely on it. If I failed to come up with something within a few days there was a very good chance everyone would learn about my entire fake existence – how I didn't have a 100k roll, how I wasn't really a winner at the stakes I played, how carelessly I handled people's money. The deal for the next year would surely be gone, too, and Gina would hear about everything as well. Panic. I couldn't come up with anything.
We walked past a gas station and went to buy some Coke. I noticed scratch tickets at the counter with text printed in Slovenian. ”How much are these?”, I asked. The guy didn't speak English. Then I noticed a small sign in the corner saying that they were 1 euro each, and the jackpot was 10 000 euros. Pretty much exactly the amount I needed. We bought all the scratch tickets he had, about 200 of them, and started furiously scratching them. I got the 10k sweat so many times, hit the first two symbols but failed to bink the crucial third one. We scratched so hard our nails changed color. We got back 14 euros for our investment. Last hope gone, right there.
I still had a couple of days in Ljubljana, and there were some side events running. I didn't have money to play them. I had some money stuck on NeTeller that I couldn't withdraw (some issue I have forgotten about), and some on Stars because I had set myself a table limit there banning me from games higher than NL50 (every site should have this option). There was nothing I could do with the Stars funds that would save me from this even if I played day and night, except to bink a tournament. That would have had some chance of working out, but instead I set myself a withdrawal so that I would get the money just before Prague and could try some last minute gamble. I then went through all the sites I had played on, about 30 different skins, and tried to see if I had some bankrolls I had forgotten about (funny story from two years later – I clicked at some promotional email and found 2k on an account I had forgotten about. Early christmas!). I found a couple of euros there, and even 35 euros in one place. I systematically played slots with all of the mini-rolls, trying to hit a jackpot. I failed and effectively cleared all of my accounts from any funds.
I had a marginal amount of cash back at the hotel to feed myself and so on, but I was going to need a load of money in a few days for Prague or it was game over. In other words, I needed David. I started bombarding him with messages, trying to ensure that he'd come. He told me he'd hired a live event manager to come to Prague and deal with all the money stuff. He assured me that it would all be alright, I'd meet the entire TowerGaming pro team there, and I'd be paid every cent. I tried to ask about why my rakeback had been frozen for months (another 10k stuck there) but he systematically avoided the question.
Pretty much all I remember from my last days in Ljubljana is talking to David, trying to pressure him to send me the money beforehands, or to pre-register me for the EPT, or anything that would confirm me being able to play and therefore buying time to make up for the lost funds. I was also trying to get in contact with the live event manager he'd hired, and he systematically ignored this request. He was being very convincing about some things, but still the whole thing smelled a bit fishy, and definitely not something one (especially someone who's about to lose his reputation forever) could rely on.
The first sign of my worst fears becoming reality arrived in my mailbox just a few days before the EPT Prague I was destined to play:
Sender: David Visser
I have just come across a big road block. My new country manager is now in the hospital with appendicitis. So now I am scrambling around and getting things set up myself. He hopes to meet us in Prague. I will follow up with you today once I get things worked out.
I instantly replied (edited version of a longer email):
That's awful, I hope he gets well soon. Please note that I don't need pampering or you to book me a hotel even that it's in our contract. For now all I need is the buy-in for Prague, and we can fix the rest later. You don't have to worry about the past funds either for now. If you could send me a quick moneybookers or PokerStars transfer it'd be amazing. I'm getting pretty stressed over this. Please reply asap!
He didn't reply to my email, or any of the other messages I sent during the next couple of days when I waited in my hotel room for something to happen, refreshing my moneybookers page 10 times an hour.
I finally got a reply when I had already arrived in Prague, just two days before day 1B when I was supposed to start:
My live event manager has just been released from the Hospital and is not able to travel for 2 weeks. I was not able to leave Canada on such a short notice. I am not sure what plans he had made yet for Prague. I will try to contact him asap, but at this point I have no new info.
I sent him a message back, again stating that I don't need to meet the manager, all I care about is the buy-in, and asked him to send it using any method he'd like. Just 24 hours before my deadline he replied with this:
Miikka I am scrambling to see what I can do
I also have been left out in the cold on this
It looks like the money we sent to the live manager is nowhere to be found
This was his entire message. It seemed clear as a day to me that it was game over. I didn't know what to do, so I walked around Prague pointlessly wondering how things would end. Those were not happy thoughts.