May 11, 2022

Reflections on my 15 years as a poker player

VSO writer and Irish poker pro David Lappin has reflected on his relationship with professional poker after reaching the 15th anniversary of his career. [Image: Tambet Cask]

The trapeze artist

There is a short story by Franz Kafka about a trapeze artist who never got off his trapeze. An acrobat with a singular dedication to perfecting his craft, so special was his act that the circus manager accommodated all of his wishes and idiosyncrasies. When the circus moved from town to town, the trapeze artist was transported in the fastest car directly to a second trapeze, erected in advance, so that he did not have to endure unnecessary time on the ground.

like having the cheat code of a video game

I am not a gamer. If I were, I would be a screenwriter. The truth is, poker has been my safety net, my sleight of hand, my shortcut. The hardest way to make an easy living? It was more like having the cheat code for a video game. This week marks the end of my 15th year playing for a living – a complex, swinging, circuitous journey; the odyssey of a coward through a landscape of chimerical dreamers.

Develop a style

When I started, I played more than ever since. I had a few thousand dollars to my name and the temerity to think I could make other people’s money off of them.

Knowing what I know now, it’s clear that I was incredibly lucky, far exceeding my expectations in those first few months. It was nice to be oblivious to that fact and to have a fire burning inside me, even if that fire was fueled by the desire to prove that I was right and those who said “you shouldn’t play poker” were wrong.

According to the Hendon Mob database, LappinTotal live poker winnings exceeded $600,000. [Image: The Hendon Mob]

Over time, I became more conservative – knowledge tamed me as playing pick Kelly Criterion, and a tighter, more aggressive style turned me into a nit. It was an ignoble metamorphosis. The flames were extinguished, replaced by glowing embers as steady poker success blinded me and made me careless; a smug, fat, self-satisfied bastard.

choose poker

The thing is, the people closest to me didn’t say “you shouldn’t play poker”. They said “you shouldn’t play poker. You should write”, but I chose to hear only the first part. They could see that I had become shy after putting everything on the line for a few screenwriting projects. Baring myself on the page and tearing it down left me feeling useless, humiliated, and angry.

I could have got back on the horse and put myself in danger again, but instead I chose poker. Somewhere in the chaos and vagaries of a card game, I found my footing. It was like being in the eye of the storm.

bow against windmills rather than attack the enemy within

I know now that this decision was only superficially courageous. I was leaning against windmills rather than attacking the enemy within. I had developed a fear of failure; a malignant fear that metastasized and infected everything; every introspection, every decision, every reaction. It paralyzed me, becoming unrecognizable by its omnipotence.

A story already written

With poker bolstering my wallet and my ego, I let the writing play second fiddle, keeping my vulnerable parts at a safe distance. I’d like to think my poker history hasn’t been written, but the truth is it has. It was written by me over and over again, embedded in the stories of half-written protagonists, sublimated in the characters of TV shows that were never made, woven into the narrative structure of storylines that were loved, but not enough.

This week also marks my seventh year as a poker podcaster, the best creative itch I could find in the game. This VegasSlotsNews Online column has been an equally cathartic outlet, a vehicle for my opinions but also more than a fair share of indulgent philosophical musings.

one day, he asks the director of the circus to replace him

Each time the circus moved to a new city and the trapeze artist had to come down from his perch, Kafka described how it changed him. His brow furrowed and his nerves began to tremble. His childish fearlessness dissipated until one day he asked the circus manager to replace him. The abyss that had always been beneath him was something he had only just recognized for the first time.