It was summertime, the time in South Carolina when the nights were as hot as Minnesota days and mosquitoes battled the bats for midnight snacks. It was a time before ceramic chips and thousands of dollars would sit on the table in the G-Vegas poker games. Back in those days, the days where the entire room’s bankroll couldn’t buy a home computer, we played in my garage. Lawnmower gasoline fumes hung in the air and mingled with the stale beer and liquor smells. We played on K-Mart-bought folding table-toppers and my 11.5 gram eBay chips were the envy of the G-Vegas circuit.

It was on one of those nights, then a pricey $20-buy-in event, that Shep brought his son to the game.

“Kid needs a nickname,” somebody mused as we drank it up and slung chips around like we were big-time professionals.

I was one of many that night that figured we wouldn’t see the kid again. After all, he was maybe old enough to drive and $20 buys a lot of Taco Bell and mini doughnuts. I was one of many players that night that found themselves wondering how such a young buck was winning. And I was one of many players wondering if we were wrong in introducing the kid to what some people still considered to be capital “G” Gambling.

Somewhere along the way–I can’t remember if it was that night or some other time, maybe at BadBlood’s–somebody dubbed the kid “The slot gacor Wolverine.” And somehow, it stuck.

***

Poker is a game that not only can, but will eat your soul if you let it. Just looking at four months of my own stats shows that I am just as tasty to the poker soul-eating monster as anybody. Of course, it wasn’t until my soul was half-digested did I stop for a moment and wonder if I had been deluding myself for a long time. Indeed, I wondered if maybe I had let myself believe that I was stronger than all those people who warned about the dangers of getting in too deep. As bar singer Allen Ross once sang in a different context, “It’s a slap in the face, it’s a kick in the ass. That’s what you get, when you get attached.”

Wins and losses (and, yes, subsequent losses) had stopped phasing me a great deal. I’d grown numb to all of it. It’s what I’m supposed to do, I told myself. And that’s true, to a point. We’re supposed to see the chips as chips and forget about the money involved.

Recently though, I’ve had a lot of discussions with Mrs. Otis about my frequency of play. She gently reminded me that I had a lot of other things in my life that I could and probably should be paying attention to. I resisted, of course, because I had a lot of things I wanted to do in the coming months. First and foremost, I wanted to get unstuck. This year has been a tough one and I’ve slid through a couple of slumps that were downright scary at points. What’s more, as I’ll likely be spending most of the summer in Las Vegas, I wanted to build up a side roll to fund a few WSOP events. Finally, I’ve recently become bent on playing in a WPT main event. I’m not sure how the urge set upon me, but it’s become a bit of an obsession.

All of that said, I’ve cut back to 2004 frequency of play (at least in the last couple of weeks). While I can’t admit to liking it per se, I think it probably has saved me from going down a dark road toward broke. Broke–poker broke anyway–is something that scares the bejesus out of me.

***

In the past year, I’ve met a lot of what I call The Poker Kids. In one particular case, I overheard a conversation with a kid who was talking about getting into a sit and go at a major tournament. His young friends were saying, “Go for it, man.”

I heard him mumble, “I think I have an edge.” He wandered off and I wondered if he could handle the buy-in to a $100 SNG. About ten minutes later, I found the kid seated between Greg Raymer and Carlos Moretenson. They we’re playing for $10,000 a piece. A few hours later, the kid had taken second place to Joe Hachem.

The kids are everywhere. Anyone who even watches TV knows that. There are kids winning millions of bucks before they could’ve even finished college–if they’d gone to college in the first place.

Out in the mainstream, there are people who have what are some probably legitimate worries. These kids are playing for the kind of money that few seasoned mainstream adults wouldn’t spend on a house, let alone risk on the turn of a card. What’s more, these kids are skipping an education in favor of the big money available now. Frankly, its hard to blame them, I guess. However, in the event (some would say “eventuality”) that the poker boom goes boom, these kids will wake up with no higher education and find themselves virtually unemployable. What’s more, if the games do dry up (and I’m not ready to admit that is a certainty), these kids will be reduced to either playing against the best in the world for their rent money or being forced into a real job that doesn’t pay in a year what these kids had been making in a month playing poker.

***

The Wolverine was good and got better. Just a few weeks ago, he drew the seat on my right in a local tournament and we played against each other for several hours. Although I had many years of experience on the kid, he had absorbed so much in just a few years of playing with us. He was making moves when he sensed weakness. He was careful when he should’ve been. At times, he was outplaying me. And once, when I outplayed him (maybe the only time all night), he pulled me aside to ask how I made my decisions on the hand. He wasn’t cocky. He wanted to learn. Somewhere along the way, he has picked up the impression that I know something about poker, and he mines me for whatever information I’ll give up. It’s flattering, especially when most people consider me a drunk donk.

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