Monday, April 05, 2010

A Time Out for Timex

Mike McDonaldWhen Mike McDonald first joined the forums over at Two Plus Two, it apparently took him just a split second to choose a username (so to speak). A quick glance at his watch -- a Timex -- and he’d made his choice. When I first heard of McDonald and his nickname a couple of years ago, I wondered if he was familiar with the old Timex slogan, used heavily in ad campaigns through the 1970s, though less frequently after that: “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” If he was, the nickname seemed a good one, connoting an ability to endure under pressure.

Now it appears “Timex” has made another big decision, though this one appears to have required a bit more study. Has to do with endurance under pressure, actually.

Like many I was somewhat intrigued by that story from last week about McDonald, best known for his win at the 2008 European Poker Tour Dortmund main event, announcing that he was “retiring” from poker at the ripe age of 20. A lot of people found the news interesting, I think, probably because of how McDonald’s announcement sounded several themes with which many poker players are familiar.

The story first surfaced over on the CardRunners site where McDonald has been an instructor and keeps a blog. Last Wednesday McDonald published a 2,200-plus word essay describing his somewhat changed attitude toward poker in a post titled “Where To Go From Here.”

If one reads the post, one finds McDonald doesn’t actually say he’s quitting poker altogether or “retiring” per se. Rather, McDonald explains reasons why “in some ways I feel that the poker chapter of my life is ending” and how he is anticipating taking on some different challenges here in the near term.

McDonald starts out introducing himself as a competitive person who has always enjoyed seeking challenges. Like many poker players he played sports previously, then as a late teen got into poker. He refers to his rapid ascent, including the huge win at EPT Dortmund in January 2008. At just 18 years old, he’d won a whopping €933,600 first prize (about $1.37 million). In the post he notes how following the win he found he’d “lost a fair bit of motivation to grind” and in fact didn’t play much poker for the next short period.

That response in and of itself is probably significant for McDonald, that is, for the big score to have reduced his competitive drive like that. In fact, I’d bet a lot of us have experienced something similar, though obviously not on such a grand scale. Dealing with big wins is in fact quite difficult, and it requires a different kind of mental toughness not to allow success to affect one’s game unduly. Some of us respond to winning a tourney or a hugely successful cash session by playing less well, becoming careless with our bigger bankrolls. Others, like McDonald, become less driven, another potentially significant factor that can negatively affect one’s success at the tables.

Of course, as McDonald explains, he has been able to continue to play well over the last couple of years despite his flagging ambition. And now he finds himself asking a lot of the same questions most 20-year-olds are asking. Hell, these are questions a lot of us keep asking, well after age 20 has receded into the rearview mirror.

The remainder of McDonald’s post sounds a few different themes. He meanders a bit and is at times redundant, but he’s both earnest and thoughtful throughout. And, as I say, I think he’s touching on issues that matter to a lot of us -- whether or not we play poker for high stakes, low stakes, or even play at all.

'Over Here' 'No, This Way'One theme is the sense that McDonald has that “there was no next logical step” in poker for him. “I just kind of feel like there is nowhere to go from here in poker,” writes McDonald, a situation that contributes to his feeling “unfulfilled by it.” A lot of us find ourselves in careers that aren’t fulfilling -- careers that we may have initially sought out because of our particular interests and abilities, but for a variety of reasons no longer allow us to grow creatively or, as, McDonald says of himself, leave us “no longer really feel[ing] the need to improve.”

“I derive almost no fulfil[l]ment/satisfaction/feeling of accomplishment at this point,” adds McDonald. Hard not to respond a little cynically, of course, to the 20-year-old with over $2.6 million in tourney winnings complaining that he lacks a “feeling of accomplishment.” But I think most of us recognize what he’s talking about. A lot of us find ourselves lacking that sense of accomplishment, even if to others we might be viewed as successfully carrying on with impressive, flourishing careers.

McDonald also talks more than once about poker having what he feels to be a negative effect on his relationships with others, noting how it often feels like “poker has become an escape for me” and that it “seems to be a lot more isolating that I initially realized.” He doesn’t like appearing “one-dimensional” to non-poker people, nor does he like finding it difficult to relate to others (both in and out of poker).

Again, full-timers can probably identify best with this sort of love-hate feeling about poker -- especially those of the online crowd -- but I think again this is something most of us find ourselves dealing with in some fashion. Our jobs distinguish us, but they can separate us, too. That can be challenging enough if we like our jobs, but especially tough if we aren’t being fulfilled by them.

There’s another component to poker that the pros sometimes mention -- namely, the sense that one isn’t really contributing to society in a positive way. As a necessarily “selfish” endeavor, some poker players find it a source of discomfort to spend hours and hours at the tables, helping themselves but not necessarily helping others. I think McDonald kind of evokes this idea in an indirect way when he talks about poker being an “escape” and characterizes it as a way “to let time pass.”

Not all of us are thinking along these lines, but again I think many of us do sometimes step back and wonder about our contributions to the greater good. And whether our jobs or other endeavors matter much in the bigger scheme.

Toward the end of the post McDonald admits he’s “probably a heavy favourite to return” to poker. He’s said elsewhere that he will be playing EPT San Remo and EPT Monte Carlo (both later this month), as he’d already arranged to do so. He doesn’t turn 21 until September, so the 2011 will be his first opportunity to play in the WSOP. Wouldn’t be surprising to see him there.

For now, though, there are other things on the young Canadian’s mind, including a possible return to school and/or exploring some business ventures as a means to find something that is interesting, challenging, and that helps him connect with others in more beneficial ways. (McDonald elaborates a bit more on his post and plans in an interview over at Part Time Poker, if you’re interested.)

I like this sort of self-study and attempt to gain perspective. It’s not often I find it possible anymore to identify much with a 20-year-old’s view of the world and his place in it -- never mind one who’s a multi-millionaire. But I think “Timex” gives us all some things to think about.

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Blogger Champ said...

A+ write

4/05/2010 2:42 PM  

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