WSOP National Champion Ryan Eriquezzo Battles Demons Off The Felt
Said He Hasn't Played Any Poker Since $416,051 Score In July
Ryan Eriquezzo won the World Series of Poker National Championship in July of this year. It was a huge accomplishment for him. It was a televised event, the score was for $416,051, and it was the poker pro’s second six-figure cash and second first-place finish of 2012.
So why did Eriquezzo quit poker for the rest of the year?
Eriquezzo’s poker career has been riddled with drug and alcohol problems. His blog, ryaneriquezzo.blogspot.com, offers a series of graphic descriptions and an honest look at how dark of a place Ryan was in. He partied too much, sometimes during and after each day of tournaments. He has been disqualified because of his disorderly conduct. After winning the National Championship, he was at the peak of his career, but he wasn’t happy.
Eriquezzo’s attitude and conduct has since changed, and he has a more positive perspective. He chatted with us about his new path and how it involves helping people recover from the same issues he has recently dealt with. He talks about looking to the future, honoring his own commitments, and his long awaited return to the career he misses so much.
Logan Hronis: Give us a quick synopsis of the your early poker career and how some of the ill-advised risks you took ended up paying off.
Ryan Eriquezzo: Well, I left college and tried to do the $1-$2 grinding, “make a living” thing, which really didn’t go very well at all. I was contemplating going back to school; getting a sales jobs at Guitar Center, Home Depot, etc. I would build up a little bit of a roll, take it online and start grinding micro stakes and never have any success. So I took my last credit card and bought into a tournament, playing against a bunch of professionals—like people who are scary — the people who should be playing a $3,000 buy-in. I had no clue what I was doing, but somehow I got through the field and scored $27,000, which was, at the time, an astronomical amount of money to me.
So then I thought, “Now I’m going to make $100,000 a month playing poker, for the rest of my life.” Which, obviously didn’t happen and can’t happen. I thought I was a prodigy. I had no idea about variance or anything — no idea how far above expectation I was actually running. I just thought I would final table every tournament I played. Then I started traveling around a little bit, just totally enamored by the whole live poker scene. But I really lacked the bankroll management aspect of it, for a while. I would have a score and then be broke in six or seven months because I wasn’t living in a manner that allowed me to deal with the downswings.
LH: Talk about your win at the WSOP National Championship this year. Compare it to your first-place finish at the 2012 Caesars Atlantic City Circuit event.
RE: Both of them were surreal experiences. The Caesars win was very special because it was the first major title I had ever taken down. I had a ring already, but I never had a six-figure score before then. It was a tough field, and I finally felt like I had that breakthrough after working four years for it. Also, because I was stone-ass broke at the time. It saved my life financially.
The National Championship, the fact that it was an elite event, that it was televised, and my mother was there, was an incredible experience as well. But there was also some heavier life stuff on the outside, which made it not as enjoyable. The Caesars win was a little more pure, and there wasn’t so much negativity surrounding it. I’m still completely grateful for it, and I still look back on that. I’m still shocked because I’m a bracelet winner. It was a nice exhale of relief. Winning that tournament, winning all that money, and the bracelet, and still not feeling right within me, is really what made me take time off to address the outside issues.
LH: Switching to off-the-felt stuff, your blog gives detailed descriptions of drug and alcohol issues affecting your poker play in an extremely direct manner. Tell us a little about the journey you have traveled.
RE: Pretty much through my whole career, I’ve been in and out of using drugs and drinking. The example I used was the 2010 main event, where, every night, my peers are going to bed, resting up for the tournament, treating (poker) as a business, and I’m out partying. You can only have so many of your faculties when partying is your priority. I can remember one instance where I had a massive chip lead. I decided I was going to have one or two beers at dinner break, and woke up out of a blackout the next day. I busted the tournament, trying to piece together my night and my tournament. I finally find some buddies at the table. They’re like, “You punted. Yeah, you played like shit.” I got thrown out of the Foxwoods tournament deep — like 30 people left. I was drunk and belligerent, swearing at the floor and stuff.
Aside from the actual decisions on the table, it was also overlapping into my general conduct — having me removed from tournaments and removed from casinos. Poker is funny, because it’s one of the only jobs where you are able to come to work messed up or hung over and there’s not too much consequence. There’s financial consequence, but you’re never going to get fired from poker because your drunk or stoned. There’s a lot of underlying issues why people drink or use drugs. Despite winning, and despite drinking and using drugs throughout it, there was such an emptiness I felt after winning that National Championship. It came from years of not being accountable and not growing, as a person. I won the bracelet, I won all the money and I still didn’t feel good. That’s what prompted me to go home, and take time off from my career to really address some of these outside life issues—issues that should actually be the priority.
Since that win, I haven’t played any poker. But I did come home and get sober. I’ve been diligently working on my own mental health and my sobriety. I’ve actually been able to help other people, through my blog or through meeting people. I spoke to some teenagers and younger adults at a rehab a couple weeks ago. I think I have a strong message to send. I had reached the pinnacle of our career and still, drugs, alcohol, and that whole mindset of the means of dealing with life wasn’t fulfilling to me. So I’ve been able to help some people get sober and stay sober, this way. That’s pretty much what I’ve been occupying my time doing. It gives me a more positive spin and gives everything a purpose.
LH: Do you feel like the issues you have gone through are not uncommon in the poker world? In other words, do you think a lot of poker players go through similar problems?
RE: For sure. Sadly, the poker community is a place where it’s enabled more than most profession. And what comes with tournament poker are a lot of feelings like insufficiency and self-doubt. You’re going to see kids who drink and use drugs. Unfortunately, that’s a coping mechanism when you spend all your time in the casinos.
Yeah, I can think, off the top of my head, like 15 or 20 of my peers — obviously, I won’t name them because it’s none of my business — but now I’m more familiar with underlying causes, conditions, and symptoms. Yeah, it’s pretty prevalent in the poker world, and it’s sad. Hopefully, through my blog and through the process I’m going through, when I do come back in January, I’ll be able to help some of those people out.
It’s great that Greg Merson came out and shared his story. There are some big names in the poker community that are kind of getting it together in this area. It’s our responsibility to extend a hand to the community we are in, because it’s very prevalent. We’re so very lucky to be doing what we’re doing for a living. A lot of us have issues with depression, insufficiency, negativity, or whatever, that cause us to drink and use drugs as a coping mechanism. We were never forced to learn any other positive, constructive ways of dealing with it, in our career.
LH: You mentioned that you have used backers and investors before. If your success continues, will you be more inclined to shy away from investors and play on your own?
RE: One of my biggest problems earlier in my career was after having a big score I would completely drop backers and not have any investors. I didn’t understand the roll management very well. It’s so much easier to not go broke if you have good bankroll discipline and if you don’t decide to take all your action. So, for the foreseeable future, I still 100 percent intend on selling action. You need a massive roll to play live multi-table tournaments.
I’ll never again have one backer with a red number. I’ve found that to be entirely unprofitable. It’s a dismal feeling when you’re stuck $40,000, and you’re playing for a $25,000 first place. You realize, if I win this tournament, I still owe my backer $15,000 and not putting a dime in my pocket. What’s nice about staking is that each individual series is its own separate entity. On any given series, any given month, if you’re on a bad downswing, you can refresh your own bankroll by winning or making a deep run. I handed out quite a bit of money in the Caesars win and the National Championship win. But the way I choose to look at it is like, if it wasn’t for these people investing this money, I would have never been able to play these tournaments.
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