Cannabis & Cards: A Poker Player’s Zen

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Dear Cannabis, in a lot of ways, I admire where you guys are as an industry.  The money is rushing in; and, the profits are taking off. Being around a boom can be a marvelous thing.

Some of you may be too young or might just not care, but poker had a similar, albeit much smaller boom in the mid 2000’s.

You may have had heard the story: a guy named Moneymaker puts up $39 and turns it into a $2.5M+ win against some of poker’s toughest opponents in 2003. ESPN ratings begin to compound, online poker sites’ profits start to soar and companies start to pour tens of millions into advertising.  They had struck gold.

In a matter of years, companies like Pokerstars and Fulltilt Poker would be valued in the billions.

And, what does all this excitement have to do with a shy girl from Texas?  Well, everything.

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While poker is certainly a game of skill, luck always plays a role, and that’s true in life too. I was modeling in LA when my agent asked if I could fill out a seat in a charity poker tournament for ESPN radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning.  I happened to have the day open, and while it’s mostly a blur now, I wound up with lots of chips at the end of the tournament.  Lots of chips also led to lots of attention. 
Within a short period of time, one of the major online sites of the time had contacted me to play as one of its “sponsored pros” in the 2005 WSOP Ladies’ Event. And, down the rabbit hole I went.

Now, a charity poker tournament is one thing, but, the World Series of Poker felt like a huge deal. Tens of thousands of players flood the Rio All Suites during June and July each year to participate in over sixty tournaments.  And by players, I basically mean guys.

Of course, they usually don’t play the Ladies’ Event; but, many other tournaments are going on at the same time. I don’t know the exact numbers.  But, I’d guess easily over 95% of the players are guys in the other events.

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Now, of course, most guys are gentlemen. Heck, some of my best friends are guys, and I even married one. But being in my 20s at that moment in time, I felt anxious. There was clearly a creepy element afoot; one, I’d learn, that would always haunt the edges of poker rooms.

Guys would make nasty comments and they would even brush up against me on purpose. One dude even used a camera phone to video tape my ass. Not only does one have to deal with this harassment at the table, but poker has a “rail”, a place for onlookers to look on. As you might imagine, the types of people who have nothing better to do but watch other people gamble are not always the most upstanding of citizens.

Poker requires focus, but as you can imagine, I was not focused.  I was frustrated, fearful, on edge, and pissed off.  I was many things, but, focused was not one of them. 

I felt like the door on this opportunity was closing fast, but then, a ray of hope. A smell from the backpack of a friend reminded me of calm, centered times playing video games online. While not always the case, here weed was the answer.

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A hit, a breath, a brief meditation and I was in my seat and ready to play.  I saw the betting patterns, the fake banter, the nervous fingers riffling chips. I was present.

Whereas, 30 minutes prior I was on the verge of a panic attack, now I was a force. I made good folds, well timed bluffs and stayed composed. For me, the stares and glares from the rail, the nasty comments, and rude attitudes all blurred as the game became crystal clear.

I wish I could tell you that I went on to win the Ladies’ Event, but the cards didn’t fall my way.  I did learn a valuable lesson though. Certain players were using their own form of Nootropics, marijuana to navigate the stressful seas of high stakes gambling. 

Some players used it to calm nerves, while others smoked to concentrate. And yet others used it interrupt the monotony of countless hours in the Rio. Certain players attributed their success to it, while others succeeded and denied they used it. 

It was undeniably everywhere in poker; not just the Rio, but in the cash games at other casinos and behind the computer screens in the players’ homes.

Now, of course, all players don’t smoke. Some never do; others only recreationally.  But, for certain players, cannabis turns the chaos of a casino into a place where they can focus and flow. The high speed, high stakes hustle and bustle of a poker table slows to a ballet of chips.

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These days, I have enough confidence in myself and my play to play events and cash games without the aide of cannabis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “above” smoking. After all, it was instrumental in my development in the poker world and, I’m happy to say I’m the proud owner of a Nevada Medical Marijuana card, but, I choose when to smoke. 

If I feel like I need a bit of extra focus, I choose a Sativa. If the night’s winding down, the obvious Indica. And, sometimes, nothing at all. It’s just what I’m feeling at the time. Like right now for example, I’m feeling gratitude for the lucky accidents in life: a random appearance that leads to a career, a simple plant with the power to enhance the mind and heal the body, and for the right cards at the right time.

I think I’ll find the 9lb Hammer and hit the hay. Night, y’all.

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