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The Score That Kept Me In Action

by Nathan Gamble |  Published: Apr 07, 2021


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Throughout my teen years as I made my way across the underground poker scene of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, online poker was keeping a different dream alive. Live play was experiential, full of characters, and exploding with colorful stories from seemingly every player I met at the table. But online poker was full of potential, opportunity, and the ability to turn peanuts into millions.

This fast-paced world quickly drew me in and held my attention at an early age. At one point, while my classmates were studying lines for the upcoming high school play, I was in the back room playing on Full Tilt Poker. Every day of school, I would bring in a flash drive, install the FTP software, play for a few hours, and then delete the program. Rinse and repeat day after day. It didn’t help my education too much, but it certainly helped to pass the time while keeping me in action.

As more time passed, I started making trips up to Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma, to what is now the largest casino in the world. Let me repeat that. It’s the largest casino in the entire world! I had to double check that fact as it was previously only the largest in North America, but they continue to add on more floor space and have since taken over the top spot.

When I first started going, Winstar was just made up of large tents which had been erected in order for people to gamble in. Over time, they have built a massive façade around the outside to represent different areas of the world, hence the World Casino moniker. All this being said, the most important part to me as a young man in search of poker was that it was located on an Indian reservation and had slot machines, blackjack, and poker. And, most importantly, you only had to be 18 to play. For the first time ever, I was legally able to play the game I had loved since I was 12. I no longer had to traverse across the backroads of Texas in search of a reputable table that would let a sketchy kid join in.

I remember my first trip well. It was two days after my 18th birthday, and I won over $700 playing $1-$2 hold’em. I thought it was heaven.

In fact, most of my early days at Winstar were spent at the $1-$2 tables. Although I did sprinkle in a little time at the Omaha eight-or-better games, and a lot of time lustfully watching the players in the high-stakes area scooping massive pots.

Back then, and for many years to come, the highest game in the room was $5-$10, and it seemed like all the money in the world at the time to come up with a buy-in. While I had been playing for many years by 18, most of my bankroll was fleeting and ill-maintained as I used it to buy clothing, food, and entertainment. Poker seemed like an easy way to make money that would always be around, so proper money management just wasn’t important.

As an aside, I once was playing poker until the wee hours of the morning in high school and decided I wanted a ‘new’ car. So, doing what any responsible teenager would do at 3 a.m., I went on to Ebay and bought a Jeep Wrangler from New York for $3,500. It was sight unseen, driver unverified, with no known history on the car. I just pressed the buy button, lit 70% of my bankroll on fire, and hoped for the best.

When it showed up a few weeks later, it had no title, the bottom was completely rusted out, and the shop told me that it was the most unsafe car they had seen, and it would never pass inspection. A few months after mourning my stupidity, I sold it for scrap metal. The drive to the yard was one of the scariest of my life as I had to worry about the bottom falling out on every bump I hit.

I had the skills to pay the bills, but not the responsibility to maintain enough money to consistently play. That all changed one fateful day as I registered for a $300 bounty tournament at Winstar, with $250 to the prize pool and $50 for every player you knocked out.

I started off the event as a tentative $1-$2 regular with minimal tournament experience, but it wasn’t long before I turned things around. I was on a heater and it lasted all the way to the final table. There were piles of tournament chips in front of me on my right and stacks of green $25 bounty chips on my left. As the final table played on, I knocked out every single player until we got down to three-handed play, telling them ‘good game’ while pulling in their chips and adding to my bounties.

The other two players wanted to stop the tournament and talk numbers. I didn’t know what ICM deals were at the time, but I knew that with over 80% of the chips in play that they had better make a compelling offer. They came at me hard and fast right out the gate. “We’ll give you first place, just let us chop the rest.”

They had done the math and realized that if they chopped second- and third-place money, they would fall under the threshold for casino reported winnings. I wasn’t going to stop them from offering me such a good deal, but I made sure to get one last thing from them. I told them they could give me first-place, but they also had to forfeit their bounties. They readily agreed, and I claimed my bankroll-building score of roughly $14,000.

Even today, that’s a nice payday for a single day tournament. Back then, it was life-changing amounts of money. It allowed me to start playing higher and I no longer had to worry about busting every time I was in play. It also gave me an opportunity to be professional with regards to money management. Obviously, the money came and went over time, but that win started off a trajectory in my poker career which allowed me to view the world differently. It also paid for a trip to Hawaii during my first spring break in college, but that’s a story for another day.

In my early days, and for years to come, I was in and out of action based on how much money I had to my name because of how much I spent on useless materialistic items. Hopefully, to some small magnitude, I’ve emphasized through my personal struggles with bankroll management how important money management is in order to play poker for a living.

While you can always reload your bankroll from an outside job if you play recreationally, it is critical that you grow your bankroll and treat your time at the table like a business when you play for a living. If you fail to do so, then you won’t have the opportunity to take advantage of good games, to play in quality tournaments, or simply to stay in action. If your business can’t function, you can’t make money. ♠

Nathan Gamble is a native of Texas where he learned to play the game of hold’em from his father. He is a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, the first coming in the 2017 WSOP $1,500 PLO8/b Event, the second in the 2020 Online WSOP $600 PLO8/b event. A fixture of the mid-stakes mixed game community since moving to Las Vegas in 2019, he can often be found playing $80-$160 games at the Wynn. He is active on Twitter under the username Surfbum4life and streams mixed game content weekly on twitch under the same moniker.