My Story

Owen Gaines
I never played poker for real money until I was 22. My wife and I went over to a friend’s house and we played different forms of poker for $20 or so. Previously, I had a periodic fascination with the game and read a book or two about poker which I had borrowed from the library. But, I never pursued my interest; I was just a bit curious. In 2004, a friend of mine was playing on an online poker site for play money, and I decided to check it out.

I again visited the library and checked out a few more poker books. However, they were fairly dated, and I wasn’t satisfied with what I gained from reading them. The timing was beautiful because Ed Miller’s book, Small Stakes Hold’em, had just been published. I happened to purchase that book two weeks after its release. I loved that book and still do. My copy is held together with shipping tape, highlighted all over and has been read probably 20 times.

I happened to notice the twoplustwo.com website in the book and decided to investigate. I opened an account on the forums there towards the end of 2004. At the same time, I opened an account on Party Poker, an online poker room, and started playing $.50/$1 Limit Hold’em.

I deposited $300 and promptly lost it. I deposited another $300 and ended up putting in my last dollar on the turn with a pair of 9s while holding 89. I was behind. The 9♣ came on the river making me the winner of a nice pot. From there, I went on a hot streak. I was finally winning the way I thought I should. I quickly moved up to the $2/$4 and $3/$6 Hold’em games.

While posting at twoplustwo.com, I learned about bonus whoring. Online poker rooms would offer bonus money when you deposited on their site. You could obtain the bonus money after you’d played a given number of hands. There were dozens of online poker rooms making these offers. So, I started an adventure of whoring on about 30 sites.

My bankroll was growing in a hurry. By this time, the end of 2004 was nearing. My wife had just had our second child and really wanted to stay at home with our two children instead of returning to her job. One major problem with her staying home was seven months prior we had built a large home on 35 acres. We were financially strapped even with both of us working. However, I had discovered this new way to print money, and I wasn’t sure how powerful I could become.

So, I told her we would take the next few months and see what I could do with poker. The following six months, I continued grabbing every bonus from every site. I would get up around five in the morning, play for a few hours, go to work, come home and help with the kids. Then I would play at night until around midnight, get up at the break of dawn and repeat.

During those months, I heavily participated at twoplustwo.com and was working diligently to learn to play poker well. I read over 40 poker books by then and was discussing poker strategy with other players as often as I could. By June of 2005, I was making about twice as much per hour at poker than at my job. Also, between my real job and poker, I wasn’t getting enough rest.

The question was nagging me “Why am I spending all this time at my job when I could make twice as much from home?!” So, I began to explore the idea of playing poker professionally. I tried to be logical about the job switch, but I was hastily growing attached to the idea of becoming a professional gambler. So, that month I made a post at twoplustwo.com about my idea of quitting my job and sought some feedback. I received fantastic advice from many experienced players. I was listening, but not really listening. I could be successful playing poker for a living, and no one could have convinced me otherwise.

In the summer of 2005, I quit my job and got to work grinding at $2/$4 Limit Hold’em. Mind you, I needed to make around $90k a year to make ends meet and not have the family eat Ramen Noodles. At $2/$4, that’s a pretty tall order – especially under the pressure of being the only income for the family.

Revealing this job change to family and friends was no picnic. The vast majority of my wife’s family members as well as my own are conservative Christian people, and no one was excited about the idea. Most people thought I was crazy.

However, the remainder of that year went well. My family had a ton of fun with my time at home and poker was going well. However, finances were still quite tight and moving up in stakes was almost impossible since every pot won was going towards bills. My bankroll had started too small.

Then, disaster struck in January of 2006. The poker gods expressed their displeasure with my throwing caution to the wind. I couldn’t win a hand, and it took me all month to climb out of a very large downswing. However, by the end of the month I managed to make about $2k profit, but bills for a $7k a month budget didn’t slow down. I had hope for February.

By the first week of February, the graph of my results had shot back down a large amount. This was devastating. My mind was shot; my emotions were on edge. The pressure was overwhelming, and I was crumbling underneath it. I was losing my cool with my family and was just unpleasant to be around.
By this time, I had played close to a million hands. This monotony coupled with the poor results made me sick every time I thought about sitting at a poker table.

At my desk late one night in the latter days of February, I had the lights off, listening to some mellow music, playing ten tables of Hold’em…and breaking even. I shut the tables down and sat there. The realization of my circumstances was dawning on me. I leaned back in my chair and thought to myself.

“If you make it out of this, in ten years you’ll still be struggling just like you are now. Something has to change.”

I went into the bedroom, lay next to my wife, and broke the news to her. It was an emotional night as the situation came to a head, and we considered our options. The decision was made to sell the house so we could decrease our living expenses. This way she could stay home with the kids and I wouldn’t be under the tremendous burden of generating a large income.

This was going to look terrible to everyone. Owen quit his job to gamble and now he’s selling his house. However, in my mind, this wasn’t a failure. I had generated a very healthy income; however, not enough to cover the lifestyle we had recently embraced. I had underestimated some very important considerations regarding playing professionally. Had I heeded much of the counsel of the experienced players at twoplustwo.com, I would have been spared this financial squeeze. However, I unwisely learned those lessons the hard way. In this book, I share what I learned with you in “So You Want to be a Pro?”

We put our house up for sale. And, being burned out from the monotony and stress of poker, I decided to find a different job. I found different employment, and we would need to relocate. The story of selling the house is practically miraculous, but I’ll save that narrative for another time.

By April 2006, we were moved and had much lower monthly bills. We could breathe a little bit…but not a great deal. Finances were still somewhat tight, but the site of a limit game was yet sour in my mouth. I didn’t play cards for a straight 11 months.

Around March of 2007, simply on a whim, I decided to take a look at No-Limit Hold’em. I had no visions of grandeur in mind. I knew absolutely nothing about the game. So, I went back to browsing poker forums to see what I could glean.

After a few weeks of research, I decided to toss $300 in a poker account and sat down at a $.05/$.10 No-Limit Hold’em table. By midsummer of 2007, I had worked that $300 up to $30k and was playing in games as large as $5/$10.

Things weren’t going very well at my new job. I wasn’t very happy about some changes they were making. This dissatisfaction, coupled with my success at the No-Limit tables, brought on that nagging question again: “Why don’t I just play for a living?”

By this time, an opening with my job brought us back closer to home. We relocated again, purchased a modest, bank-owned home, and fixed it up. Our monthly expenses were lower than they had been in many years. I aligned the planets once more and took the leap again in November of 2007 by quitting my job and playing poker full time.

Correcting many of the mistakes made in my first attempt at playing professionally, I gave myself a much better chance for success. Years later, I’m approaching ten million hands. Financially, things have gone very well, and my family is in the best economic position we’ve ever been in.

Offering private poker coaching and writing poker books have given me personal fulfillment as well as relief from the monotony of playing the same game for this long.