The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Professional Poker Player

Lee DavyGuest Post by Lee Davy, March 6, 2014

The poker world has its fair share of success stories, but there is a whole stratum of players who find it incredibly difficult to sustain their success, and don’t really know how to do anything else.

Here is an example of one such story.

Have you ever wondered what life must be like for a professional poker player?

The answer is the same as for questions like: ‘what would life be like as a plumber, or a mechanic, a doctor or a stripper.’

It depends.

The quintessential answer in poker.

It depends.

And it does, because everybody’s story is different. No two stories are ever the same.

Let me tell you mine.

I grew up on a council estate in Reddish, Stockport in the UK. I was one of four children and I guess our classification was defined as ‘working class.’ The only religious involvement I felt when I was young was watching my parents praying that the price of beer and fags never increased on Budget Day.

Like all children I loved games.

My first memory of a game was a football game I used to play with my Uncle Alan. We would write down as many football teams as we could remember, cut them into little strips and then host our very own major football contests using dice to signify the scores. To make the game more realistic we decided to introduce a handicap system after Leyton Orient beat Manchester United 6 − 1 in the FA Cup Final of 1999.

Yes, we were poor.

In addition to paper football I would play Scrabble and chess with my Mum and I got really good at both of them. When people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would tell them that I wanted to be a Scrabble champion or a chess Grandmaster.


I loved winning games the most

I loved the competitive element of both, but loved winning the most. I have felt like an underdog my whole life - still do - and I think this is why I have always enjoyed the thrill of victory and despised defeat.

But most of all, the thought of playing chess for a living just seemed so much easier than being a motorway repairman, which incidentally is what my dad wanted me to do, because “you can earn a lot of money that way son.”

When I was 10 years old my father got a job as a chemical engineer working in Grangemouth, Scotland. The kids hated me because I was English, but slowly I began to realize that if I caused enough trouble in class I would gain their respect.

Grangemouth, Scotland

My standing in the school community started to improve and my grades started to wane. I still loved chess, but I didn’t dare tell anybody that I played it because…it was a bit gay really.

I remember hiding my chess set underneath my bed like my father used to hide his Playboy magazines under his.

From that point onwards I never really wanted to become, or do, anything in my life. I developed terrible acne on my face, shoulders and back, and decided it was best if I hid from the world.

It seemed like I spent my entire life playing video games. I would wake up and the first thing I would do is turn on the PlayStation. I wouldn’t even open the curtains. Brushing my teeth was a real pain in the arse, and my mother kept telling me that my room had this ‘boy’ smell about it.

I only had a few friends.

They also lived in their own dungeons.


Bribery in order to open an online poker account

I learned how to play online poker from one of these friends. He was called Phil the Lane and I loved going around his house because he always had everything a kid could want. His dad was a garage owner and he used to steal money from the tills.

We used that stolen money to bribe his sister into opening an online account for us. We deposited £500 - all stolen from his dad - and gave his sister an additional £100 for opening it for us.

I always smile when I read stories of players who invested $10 and ran it up to millions without ever reinvesting. I lost count of the thousands of pounds we stole from Phil the Lane’s father as we gambled, lost and reloaded.

His sister was the only winner from the whole affair.

Then one day, Phil the Lane got caught, he got spanked, the account got shut down and I had no reason to be his friend anymore.

I couldn’t find a job and the only money I made was through babysitting and from a Saturday night DJ slot I got at the local pub. I was earning about £60 per week and it was all going into online poker.

local pub in Grangemouth, Scotland


Then one day, whilst playing online, I had my big break when I won a seat into the Grosvenor United Kingdom Poker Tour (GUKPT) £1,100 Main Event in Blackpool. I ran hotter than mustard and finished third for £50,000.

I never told anybody about my win. Partly because I thought my parents would increase my rent money but also partly because I was a little bit embarrassed. By this time I really wanted to do this for a living. That GUKPT run made me feel special, but I still felt like a fraud. Still felt like I should have been on the roads pouring tar for a living.

Within a few years my game had developed and my shots all worked out. I started to earn more scores in the £1k events up and down the country and soon had over £100,000 in my account. I also had some decent scores online, but nothing close to how well I was doing live.

By this time I had told my parents, and decided to increase the rent. Neither of them liked what I was doing and they made me feel like a bum. My dad had a particular problem with it and I get his point.

Here he is slogging his guts out working 12 hours a day so he can feed the family and I was earning more in a day than he earns in a month.

I started to get friendly with some of the best players in the UK. We would share strategy and go through hands that we had played. On the felt this group of 5 - 10 players was winning everything, and off the felt we were tearing it up.

I lost my virginity to two prostitutes in Leeds after one particularly drug- and drink-fuelled night. It took me a few hours to even get it up and the clock was ticking, if you get what I mean. I hated every moment of it. It was demeaning and not at all what I expected. The girls kept laughing at me. I told the lads that I loved it and gave it to them both hard.

I always felt like something was not quite right in the group. When it came to poker we were a strong unit, but from a personal standpoint I hardly knew anything about them. All we did was talk about poker, drank, took drugs and scored hookers.


Poker bankroll grows

As the bankroll grew, so did my ego and competitive nature.

I started to play all over the world as I enacted my plan of turning pro. The European Poker Tour (EPT), World Poker Tour (WPT) and of course the World Series of Poker (WSOP). I was throwing money away like it was confetti. Booking last minute flights, eating at expensive restaurants and making loans to people I hardly knew.

There seemed to be this rule within poker that you had to help out other poker players. It was the only way to keep people in the game. I remember going to the WSOP back in 2009 and I had spent $100,000 backing people - not because I thought they could win - but because I thought it was the right thing to do.

fountains at the Bellagio, Las Vegas

Then things started to turn sour.

I went from cashing in every event to not being able to make a single score. I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t just me either. The entire circle were having money difficulties, so much so, that at my time-in-need none, of them could pay me back the money they owed me.

As I saw my bank balance dwindle I cried at the ludicrousness of it all. I still had a photograph of my online bank account that showed that I had £600,000.

Today, it contained £6,000. 

I was owed in the region of £200,000 from so-called friends.

Where were they now?

Some of them just vanished. They upped sticks, turned off their cell phones, evaded social media and ‘poof’ they were gone. Others were just honest and told me they didn’t have the money to pay me back. What was I supposed to do? Beat them?

All I could do was hope that one of them would bink a score and I would get my money back. It never happened and when it did they would try and hide it from me. At most I got a few grand back and that was that. It was like pulling teeth.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.


That's what poker players did

There were hoards of players that I had bought pieces of in the past because ‘that’s what poker players did’. Did I think they were good for it? Not really. But I stupidly thought they were friends of sorts. Like we had a common code that we all shared.

These are the people who hurt me the most.

At my lowest point I tried desperately to get backing so I could get back into the game and nobody wanted to know.

Did I turn into a bad player over night?

It was a bitter pill to swallow.

I had been on my own bankroll from the very beginning and I felt like a beggar in the streets as I tried desperately to claw together some money just so I could play at EPT London.

British terraced houses

The most embarrassing moments are when players agree to take a piece of your action in a small event and you have to ask for the money up front because you can’t afford the buy-in.

The excuses I have given to people. The lies that I have told. All for the sake of protecting this ridiculous ego created by poker. Why can’t I just admit that I am broke? Why is it that hard? Can I really keep behaving in this way until I one day bink the WSOP Main Event?

Everyone has turned their back on me.

I can’t see a single face.

“I told you so.”

“Thank you, Dad.”

My dad lost his job and couldn’t find another one. Things at home became intolerable. I had to leave before I lost my insanity, but couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.

Just one big win.

I kept getting so close but the cigar stayed in Cuba.

“I told you so.”

You might be thinking - why didn’t I just get a real job?

Good question.

It’s a combination of ego, stubbornness, cluelessness and story.

I couldn’t get a job when I was 16 so what chance do I have today. What can I write on my CV? Failed gambler who managed to run up a £600,000 bankroll and then gave it all away to other losers.

Doesn’t read that great, does it?


Poker is my life

This is all I know.

I cannot give up on this.

I am too good and the next big win is just around the corner.

Poker is my life. The circuit is my life.

My life used to be spent traveling to the likes of San Remo, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Las Vegas, Venice and Vienna. The circus would just keep moving and this was my family.

I don’t have any family anymore.

I don’t have anyone.

They have all abandoned me.

But I will bink one, one day, and when I do - things will be different. I will be stringent with my bankroll, will only take pieces of value and never lend anybody any more money.

I will be back.

The luck will change

It has to.

I don’t know how to do anything else.


Further Reading:  

irish open
Play the Irish Open

Poker and the Bible

texas hold'em

Texas Hold'em Poker Guide

poker better than sex

Why Poker Is Better than Sex


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