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Editorial: If the Money is Good, Why Quit Poker?

We’ve hit the doldrums of the post-World Series of Poker season and many have used the break to recharge their batteries. Some players will be heading back to the tables when the tournament schedule cranks into full swing in August but others, even though they are highly successful, will step back and not play quite as much. It makes one wonder that, if the money is so good, why would anyone quit poker?

The question was raised after the winner of the WSOP’s $ 111,111 One Drop High Roller, Germany’s Fedor Holz, raised some intriguing questions regarding his future in the game of poker. In an interview with Lee Davy at, Holz told the stories of how he drilled himself mentally and physically prior to the start of this year’s WSOP and was constantly attempting to maintain the mindset that allowed him to play fantastic poker (he made nearly $ 10 million in two months and was runner-up in the $ 300,000 Poker Central Super High Roller Bowl along with his WSOP win). Holz also remarked to Davy that the intensity of the efforts almost was too much.

When asked by Davy if the self-improvement was tiring, Holz noted, “Yes, it’s draining. I am super burned out right now. As soon as I busted the Main (Event), I knew I was done. I have these phases a lot. It’s very exhausting mentally. You have to keep going without showing weakness. It takes a lot of time and I am not even close to knowing myself well enough to understand how much internal energy (I am using)…I have to figure out when the best time is to take a break.”

In a discussion with PokerNews’ Remko Rinkema, Holz elaborated some more on his thoughts in saying, “To be honest, there are just too many situations in which I don’t enjoy it (poker) 100 percent. Poker gives me freedom and I don’t want to give that up. I feel like in Vegas, I give too much of it up. I’ve decided that I’m not going to do it like this anymore (play full time). I made some mistakes this year by making side bets and I will also not do that anymore.”

And this is coming from a guy who is only 23 years old and just banked in two months what it takes some excellent players an entire career to earn (players such as David ‘The Dragon’ Pham, Mike Matusow and two-time World Champion Johnny Chan haven’t made $ 10 million from tournament poker).

To be honest, just to play at the level that Holz does requires a great deal of mental effort. Especially when you’ve got six figures on the table, you really don’t want to make too many mistakes, otherwise that six figure stake is going to be gone quickly. Maintaining that mindset is paramount (as Holz shows) and it can also wear into you quickly both mentally and physically.

There is no doubt that poker is a tremendously strenuous activity, at least when it comes to balancing the financials of the situation. There are few jobs – freelance anything is potentially comparable – where you have to maintain diligence and discipline over where the money is going if you’re going to be successful in the field. If you suffer from a bad week or even something as small as a bad few months, it can be debilitating to your life and bank account.

There are some that say the best time to attack poker is when you’re young, when there aren’t the constraints of “real life” (a mortgage, car payments, family, etc.) that can gum up the works. Even when you’re young, however (and proven by Holz), you can look at a situation and say “this is just too much.” It seems that is what Holz is doing at this point in his life and deciding that, while he enjoys the freedoms that poker offers, he doesn’t want to be sitting on the tables when he’s 50 and have it be his way of making a living.

The life of a professional gambler isn’t all glitz and glamour. We can look to such people as former World Champions Peter Eastgate and Pius Heinz as examples of pulling away from the game. Despite their skills, they’ve also seen that it is very difficult to maintain that level of success and, especially in Eastgate’s case, virtually quit playing. Look back a bit further on the pantheon of World Champions to look at the tragic case of three-time World Champion Stu Ungar, whose own self-destructive tendencies arguably accentuated by the professional gambler lifestyle snuffed his life before some would even consider it started. It takes some incredible fortitude to be able to make a living gambling and, for some, it just isn’t the course.

In Holz’s case, he’s perfectly set to be able to do whatever the hell he wants to do in the future. He’s banked a crapload of money (believe it or not, he’s already ninth in CAREER earnings from tournament poker despite only playing for four years with $ 18,495,174) and would not want for anything should he decide to quit now. At 23, he can go to college (or university as they call it in Europe) and learn whatever he wants at whatever pace he wants. Holz has said that he wants to make a difference in the world and, with his intelligence and determination, there isn’t any reason to think that he won’t achieve his goals.

The big question for Holz will be whether that future is one that sees poker as an integral part of it. He’s going to play in the Celebrity Cash Kings at King’s Casino in the Czech Republic on August 15 (which will be streamed online), but he hasn’t committed to much else outside of that. “I will still be on the circuit,” Holz said to Davy. “I will play Barcelona, Aussie Millions, maybe a short Macau trip, and maybe a short Vegas trip next year, and Monte Carlo. The thing is, this freedom of just saying “no I don’t want to play for the next four months” is important. I have not had that before. In the past four years, I have taken two vacations off. There has been no relaxing, orientation. I had this goal, and I always set new goals until I got where I am.”

As far as our original question – why quit poker? – Holz seems to have answered that for himself. For literally millions, poker is a recreational activity that allows them to make a little cash on the side. It is extremely difficult to be that “professional gambler” – that is why many quit and there are so few in action (successfully) today.

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