David Lappin: Looking Back on the Three Worst Years of My Poker Career

  • Professional poker can often involve hours, days, and weeks of work for zero progress
  • In 2007 I had to grind SNGs to make ends meet in a stressful period in my career
  • 2011 saw my first major downswing shortly after ending a four-year relationship
  • Then, 2015 brought changes to the poker landscape that I had failed to adjust to
7 2 in poker
VSO News writer David Lappin has given his insight into the worst years of his poker career and what he learned from them. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

No auto-save

For those of you old enough to remember when computers didn’t have an auto-save function, do you recall that horrible moment when your computer crashed and you realize that you hadn’t saved your progress? Do you remember that miserable cocktail of emotions: panic, disbelief, anger and regret? It must have happened to me a dozen times, several of which were when I was writing my thesis. 

My immediate feeling was always: “F*ck it, just f*ck it, that chapter can go f*ck itself! There’s no f*cking way I’m going to sit here and repeat myself for who knows how many f*cking hours.” Fortunately though, those knee-jerk emotions always subsided, eventually replaced by a sincere desire to knuckle down and rewrite what was lost better than before. 

Poker is a hard way to make an easy living

In the life of a poker professional we are confronted by a similar anomaly. We can work for hours and days, weeks and months to sometimes make zero progress. We can study and grind only to find ourselves worse off. In January, it was noteworthy how many professional players admitted to being in this predicament, tweeting about a losing year. Poker is a hard way to make an easy living. It can also be an excruciating way to go broke. 

Pretty… pretty good

I had a pretty good year both on and off the felt in 2022. Admittedly, I don’t put in anywhere near the volume I once did as a six-days-60-hours-per-week 30 tabler but I still prioritize playing above everything else. I study more than I ever have before and I concentrate my volume on what I deem to be the three most profitable days of the week.

In terms of raw hourly, 2022 was my second best since becoming a Unibet ambassador. Amongst a plethora of online scores, I won The Supermoon and The Supernova on Unibet. I also had a couple of big crossbars live – most notably 26th in the 6,313-runner Estrellas Main Event and a 4th place finish in the Unibet sponsored International Poker Open in Dublin. 

Away from the tables, Dara and I put out more content than ever before under ‘The Chip Race’ umbrella. We owe a big thank you to Barry Carter and Saron Harford who contribute massively to the show’s success.

I wrote a total of 68 articles in 2022, a mix of news, opinion and strategy here at VegasSlotsOnline News and for UpswingPoker. I also did some commentary at the Unibet Open Malta, Battle of Malta, and Irish Poker Open, but I will admit that this is an area I’d like to commit to more going forward. My recent gig for Merit Poker, alongside Dara O’Kearney and Ali Nejad was a very positive experience and I hope to get more opportunities in the booth. 

There are years that I do not look back upon so favorably

My poker career has morphed into something very different to what it once was and I feel very fortunate to be able to scratch my creative itch with a multiplicity of endeavours within the game. There are years that I do not look back upon so favorably, and I remember them well. 

2007 – Hanging on grimly

Firstly, I’m very aware that my worst years will pale in comparison to many if not most of my fellow grinders. The reason for that is I am a nit and the reason that I am a nit is that I literally couldn’t afford to have a losing month at the start of my poker journey. In my first five and a half years in poker, a low variance predominantly SNG grind allowed me to book 65 winning months out of 66. At first glance, this looks like plain sailing, but it really wasn’t. 

I started playing for a living in the Autumn of 2006. I had just lost my job as the screenwriter/show runner of a TV series of my own creation. The main character of that show was a poker player named Daniel and to research him I had dived into the world of online poker and Dublin card-rooms. In the absence of gainful employment, I decided to try to become Daniel, at least in the short-term. 

With around $2,000 to my name, I decided to live as frugally as I could whilst grinding $20 six-person and nine-person SNGs. I was also battling it out in the $24 45-man SNG pool when those games started. I needed around $2,000 per month to make ends meet and for the first few months I just about managed it. Throughout 2007, I scraped by, making between $1,400 and $2,500 per month, kiting money from my credit card to my Full Tilt account, withdrawing by cheque, cashing those cheques to my current account, paying my bills and hopefully having enough left over to pay off my credit card. 

their disapproval added to the pressure

It was a stressful period, made no less difficult by the lack of support from friends and family. I obviously understood their concerns but I also got increasingly peeved by their lack of faith in me as someone who knew what he was doing. That lead to some arguments and an intervention of sorts. Their hearts were in the right place of course but their disapproval added to the pressure that I was already heaping on myself. 

Ultimately, I battled my way through 2007 with my head just about above water. My bankroll was still about $2,000 but importantly, I made the leap from playing four tables to eight. My ability to multi-table was the key to building a bankroll throughout 2008. 

2011 – First major downswing

This was the year that I moved back to Ireland from Connecticut after ending a four-year relationship. My head wasn’t in a good place to grind but I did anyway. Feeling a bit lost and rudderless, I downswung hard for the first time in my career. I fell behind the curve, I made poor bankroll decisions, and at the halfway point of the year, I decided to go back to screenwriting. 

I love the process of writing but I detest the process of pitching to producers and commissioning editors. The next four months were tremendous fun making something in which my writing partner and I believed. The two months that followed those were filled with frustration as nobody could envision the project the way we could. 

a renewed love for the game

I returned to poker, fresh and hungry in 2012 with a renewed love for the game and a sufficient amount of distance from the inner turmoil I had been experiencing in early 2011. I had also found a new poker crew in Dara O’Kearney, Daragh Davey, Jason Tompkins, Nick Newport, Padraig O’Neill, and James Noonan. 

2015 – Failing to adjust to a changing poker landscape 

I’m not going to lie, I only had myself to blame for this below par year on the felt. It would be easy to blame Amaya for my woes (and for a time, I did) but the truth is I played neither hard enough nor smart enough. At the time, I played almost all my volume on Pokerstars but rather than react to the reality of the changing landscape there (as a mass multi-tabler, the Supernova loyalty scheme/effective rakeback had been a significant chunk of my earnings in previous years), I protested rather than voted with my feet.

My shrinking win-rate was accompanied by shrinking volume and I remember thinking then how a poker player’s poker brain is like a footballer’s foot. If you’re not playing enough, you lose sharpness and fitness. My game selection was poor with a bad turbo:normal structure ratio. Up to that point I had gotten by with minimal study and by running hands with players that I coached. We were entering the solver-paradigm and I was starting to resemble a dinosaur.

the second time that I ended a year with a smaller role than when I started it

According to my end of year tally, 2015 was my third-worst year since turning pro and it was only the second time that I ended a year with a smaller role than when I started it. Heading into 2016, I took stock of my predicament and regrouped. I lowered my average buy-in. I reduced my number of tables. I began to study with a specific GTO methodology in mind.

The Lessons

The first thing I would say is that the game has always gotten tougher, players standing on the shoulders of giants, many inching towards GTO while others become exploitative node-locking ninjas. Keeping up to the degree that I have has required a great deal of humility and, on numerous occasions, the recognition of a paradigm shift. It was never fun to have to re-tool my game, especially when that game had made me lots of money. 

The second thing I would say is that a common motif of all three of these years is how they coincided with a period of personal hardship. The lesson to be taken from that is it is difficult to give poker your focus when life is taking its toll. Everyone is wired differently and for some, diving into their work is an important and welcome distraction in times of stress. However, if you are more like me, then recognizing those periods and allowing yourself some time away from playing is probably the smart decision. The game really isn’t going anywhere. 

If you are in a downswing or coming off the back of a bad year, take stock of the reasons, take a pause if need be and try to come back stronger. The computer crashed and you forgot to save your progress. It’s time to just accept that and rewrite 2022 better than before. 

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