The Trapeze Artist: Reflections on My 15 Years as a Poker Player

  • This week marks David Lappin’s 15th year playing professional poker for a living
  • After initially gambling with temerity, he gradually developed his current style
  • Lappin chose poker over his screenwriting career, in which he had suffered setbacks
  • He now finds creative release in his Lock-In podcast and VSO News writing
David Lappin
VSO writer and Irish poker pro David Lappin has reflected on his relationship with professional poker after reaching the 15th anniversary of his career. [Image: Tambet Kask]

The trapeze artist

There’s a short story by Franz Kafka about a trapeze artist who never came down from his trapeze. An acrobat with a singular dedication to perfecting his art, so special was his act that the circus manager accommodated his every wish and idiosyncrasy. When the circus traveled from town to town, the trapeze artist was transported in the fastest car straight to a second trapeze, erected ahead of time, so that he would not have to endure an unnecessary moment on the ground.

like having the cheat code to a video game

I’m not a gambler. If I was, I’d be a screenwriter. The truth is poker has been my safety net, my sleight of hand, my shortcut. The hardest way to make an easy living? It’s been more like having the cheat code to a video game. This week marks the completion of my 15th year playing for a living – a complex, swingy, and circuitous journey; a coward’s odyssey through a landscape of quixotic dreamers.

Developing a style

When I started off, I gambled more than I ever have since. I had a couple of grand to my name and the temerity to think I could win other people’s money off them.

Knowing what I know now, it’s clear I got incredibly lucky, running way above expectation in those early months. It was nice being oblivious to that fact and to have a fire burning inside me, even if that fire was fueled by the desire to prove that I was right and those who said “you shouldn’t be playing poker” were wrong.

According to The Hendon Mob database, Lappins total live poker earnings have surpassed $600,000. [Image: The Hendon Mob]

As time wore on, I became more conservative – knowledge tamed me as game selection, Kelly Criterion, and a more tight-aggressive style transformed me into a nit. It was an ignoble metamorphosis. The flames were extinguished, replaced by glowing embers as consistent poker success blinkered me and made me insouciant; a smug, fat, self-satisfied bastard.

Choosing poker

The thing is, though, the people closest to me hadn’t said “you shouldn’t be playing poker.” They said “you shouldn’t be playing poker. You should be writing,” but I chose to hear only the first part. They could see that I had become gun-shy after putting it all on the line for a couple of screenwriting projects. Laying myself bare on the page and having it come to nothing had left me feeling worthless, humiliated, and angry.

I could have got back on the horse and put myself at risk again but instead, I chose poker. Somewhere in the chaos and capriciousness of a card game, I found a foothold. It was like being in the eye of the storm.

tilting at windmills rather than tackling the enemy within

I know now that decision was only superficially brave. I was tilting at windmills rather than tackling the enemy within. I had developed a fear of failure; a malignant fear that metastasized and infected everything; every introspection, every decision, every reaction. It paralyzed me, becoming unrecognizable through its omnipotence.

A story already written

With poker bolstering my wallet and my ego, I let writing play second fiddle, keeping my vulnerable parts at a safe distance. I’d like to think my poker story hasn’t been written but the truth is it has. It’s been written by me, over and over again, baked into the backstories of half-written protagonists, sublimated into the characters of tv shows that never got made, weaved into the narrative structure of screenplays that were liked, but not enough.

This week also marks my seventh year as a poker podcaster, the best scratch of the creative itch I have been able to find within the game. This VegasSlotsOnline News column has been a similarly cathartic outlet, a vehicle for my opinions but also more than a fair share of indulgent philosophical musings.

one day, he asked the circus manager to replace him

Every time the circus moved to a new town and the trapeze artist had to climb down from his perch, Kafka described how it changed him. His brow furrowed and his nerves began to jangle. His childlike fearlessness dissipated until, eventually, one day, he asked the circus manager to replace him. The abyss that had always been beneath him was something he had only come to recognize for the first time.

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