My Mum never wanted me to get involved with any form of gambling. I remember when I was 6 or 7 years old and went bowling for a friends birthday party, I used my remaining 40p at the end of the party to have a turn at the slot machines. I can still remember my excitement as the coins came pouring out.
It was somewhere in the region of £15 to £20 I won. After getting dropped home, I gleefully sprinted into the sitting room to share the details on my successful afternoon, pouring out this bundle of 20ps onto the couch. Well, it didn't exactly go to plan. Not only did I get a lecture on how I shouldn't be gambling, my money got confiscated to be donated to the local's children's hospital, Temple Street. It's not even something my Mum would be too adverse to these days, she just didn't want me to develop any sort of gambling habits from an early age. I was obviously heartbroken. The irony of it all is that it was in fact my Mum who gave me my first introduction to poker almost 20 years ago now. We used to play 5 card draw on family holidays. I was always a big fan of card games, however, there was something that bit more intriguing about poker. Your faith wasn't always in the hands of the cards. You could bluff. Even from a young age I was spewing about versus my parents attempting to bluff my way to the pots containing jelly beans! Obviously as I got a little bit older, it was no longer cool to be associating with your parents, let alone spend your evenings playing card games with them. So there wasn't to be much poker for a number of years.
The next time I would really encounter poker was when I was 15 or 16 in transition year in secondary school. There was a group of lads in my year that would play daily. Lunch time, after school, any time they had an opportunity. They were however playing a different game. Texas Holdem. I didn't really understand how it worked, but I was fascinated by the opportunity to play a game for money. I've always been attracted to money. It was around this I would either bring my toastie machine into school, selling sandwiches on break for a tidy little profit or purchase as many stingers bars as possible while the school shop was open and sell them for 150% mark up (20c to 50c) when it closed during study time. So I needed to work out firstly, how to play this game, secondly how to get into the one the lads were playing.
After getting one of my friends who knew the rules to teach me, I eventually got into this game with a hefty €2 buy in. I was in. I lost every single day for weeks. I just didn't understand it. I'm naturally a very competitive person and was utterly determined to win in this game. There was just no way these guys were that much smarter than me. I purchased a book, 'Super System' by Doyle Bruson. I read it from cover to cover. Absorbing every single word. I was ready to battle my way to a few wins in this school game. Alas, no joy. I decided, fuck that and got myself a new group of friends to play with. They were just too good. Finally, I started to get some results. I was winning most days, I'd packed in selling the toasties to spend all my spare time playing poker in the study hall. After a few months of this, one of the other guys who played in the game that I could never win came to me and dropped a bomb. The other guys had been cheating the whole time. I was a complete noob. I never saw a problem with the dealer looking at the bottom card and potentially swapping it to change the course of the hand. Oh the naivety. Lesson learned. Little did I know at this point there was a poker boom going on, on the virtual felt where kids not much older than me and in some cases the same age were becoming rich over night. All thanks to a man called Chris Moneymaker.
That summer I was obsessed with poker. My girlfriend at the time was worried I had an addiction. I'did. At this point i wasn't dreaming about playing this game for a living. I just loved the game. It was all I wanted to do when I was awake. I would organise home games with my friends at every opportunity. I enjoyed them at first, however the rest of the lads just didn't enjoy it as much as i did and I quickly got bored of them not improving. This brought me to the market leader Party Poker. It would be my first venture into the online world. They had daily free rolls with 1000s of runners and $5 up top at 6pm and 7pm. I don't think I had one dinner at the dining table that summer. Each and every single evening was spent trying to spin up a roll with cashes we had from the freerolls. I was obviously still terrible at this time. I can vividly remember a few times, (when I had brought my freeroll winnings to the 2nl cash game tables) when I had AA I would tank to the very last second of my time back before getting it in pre. I thought I was the biggest boss on the planet. I had trapped my opponent. This was 2007. At a 2nl table. It didn't matter what you did, it was going in pre. This isn't one of those success stories, where I never deposit and run up my freerolls to $1000s. That never came.
It was this summer I decided to move schools, here I would finally meet a few lads who lived for poker just like me. There was a core group of four of us who would spend every single lunch and hour after school playing until the cafeteria closed. Shane, Ian, Paul and myself. The stakes had increased. We were ballin' out of control. €5 winner takes all. We would sporadically be joined by others. We had a good thing going, until one of the guys who joined our game, his parents called in to inform the Principal that he had to sell his playstation games to pay the debts he owed to the game. GG school games. Myself and Shane were the two who took it the most serious, back then he was definitely the better of the two of us. He just had a naturally ability for sniffing out weakness in against whoever he was playing against, and then applying the aggression to win the pot. Don't get me wrong, he was probably still awful. But back then when the people he was playing against were incapable of hand reading, pure aggression was often the way to win. I feel if he hadn't of fell in with the wrong crowd many years ago, there's a good chance he'd be living here in Malta with me grinding it out. Anyway, I had turned 17 now, our game in school had been put on hold, so we were itching for some live action. One of the guys, Laurence, who had moved from the same school I was previously in, to the one I was in now, told me about a local pub game not too far away from my house. A €40 buy in. We were playing the highstakes now boiiiis! It ran every Thursday evening and was run by a gentleman called Nick.
It happened to be non other than EPT tournament director extraordinaire Nick O'Hara that was running the game. I walked into a room with about 5 tables set out for players. They had professional dealers. I felt a little bit nervous but I wasn't going to play scared. According to Doyle, if we got a draw we just had to go for it. Apply max pressure. I'd agreed to meet Laurence at the game, after a brief little chat I was off to conquer the world. Or at least this €40 freeze out in a nice old mans pub. After getting there with way too many flush draws than we should and in general sun running we made it to the final table. The table was mostly older gentlemen enjoying their night out of the house and having a few pints, and one younger rugged looking face I sort of recognised as the older brother of one of the girls I went to school with. Kevin. On the bubble with 7 remaining, I opened AJ into Mr.Killeens big blind and we went to the streets. I fired 3 on something like Th4h4x Kx 2x and Kev was in the tank. Eventually, he pushed his chips over the line, flipping over KQhh (CHEERS FOR THE NITROLL BUD!) and I was done. Busto. Fairy tale over. Dreams crushed. I'd noticed the sexy wheels he was driving, a 1990 Toyoto Starlet. I knew he lived in close proximity to my house, so I thought the least he could do after busting me was give me a lift home. He duly obliged. It was to be the start of a friendship I still haven't been able to shake almost 8 years on.