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Playing on the Hustler

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Playing on the Hustler

I’ve been pretty indecisive about writing this. I tend to be pretty private about my past and life experiences, and although the thought of expressing myself and opening up about my past was always in the back of my mind, it never came into fruition. That is, until yesterday, when I found myself surrounded by a hoard of people, from all walks of life, young and old. I was at a rave, under the influence, with my sensations heightened and my brain flooded with serotonin, jumping and screaming up and down for hours in unison. While I was having the time of my life, in between all the commotion, I kept pondering to myself, what was the meaning of it all? 

“It’s go time.”

I took one last deep breath of the warm Los Angeles air, admiring the view of palm trees, glistening from the sun rays beaming down. Today was the day I would be playing high stakes poker on television.

I was fortunate enough to have been invited to play on the most highly watched poker stream of America, Hustler Casino Live. As I walked in I went straight to the cashier’s cage and told them to withdraw my whole balance of twenty-five thousand dollars which I deposited a few days before, cash. I signed a paper, confirming the transaction, and the lady counted out five chocolates, each chip worth 5000 U.S. dollars.

My adrenaline was at an all-time high, the stream would be starting in half an hour and I couldn’t stop pacing back and forth. Many of my friends back home would be tuning in and I knew many of the streams that were put out by Hustler could potentially reach hundreds of thousands of views. 

The game today was 25/50 occasionally with a 100 dollar straddle, with the minimum buy-in being 5000 dollars and the maximum being uncapped. As I walked up the staircase to the televised table, which was located in the back of the casino separated from the ordinary poker tables, I noticed 5 different cameras, each one lasering in on a different angle to capture the best poker stream possible. 

Hustler Live was the gold standard of poker streams, and for the right reasons. The stream attracted all sorts of characters, including Mr. Beast, one of the most viewed social media personalities, billionaire Stanley Tang, who founded DoorDash, and Ryan Garcia, a young boxing sensation. On the day of my stream, once each player arrived and we drew seats, I found myself sandwiched in-between two poker stars.

To my right there was Mariano, a young poker vlogger who quickly amassed millions of views on his YouTube channel, and to my left, Brian Kim, a crusher who regularly plays the biggest games in Los Angeles. Each of them casually had over 50,000 dollars starting off. And then there was me, at twenty-two, sitting with 25,000 dollars in front of me and playing with some of the world’s best. So, how did I get here?

I was a troubled kid. During my school years, I’ve gotten countless infractions and detentions. The week when I got my first car, I crashed it into a pole. On the breaktime of the SAT, one of the most important tests that colleges look at on a resume, I was on the phone calling my mom telling her how I got kicked out (yes, she was fuming). I’ve had three paid jobs: serving, bussing, and caregiving. Each of those three jobs fired me. I could go on and on about all the troubles I’ve caused, but frankly, there’s too many to keep count.

From the outside, my life looked normal. I grew up in the quiet city of Novi, Michigan born to an upper-middle class family. My parents were hard-working Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. in their late 20’s in hopes of chasing the American Dream. Michigan is a calm and peaceful state, and nothing too crazy happens around here. The communities are very tight-knit and most names and faces in my neighborhood were recognizable. 

I grew up alongside two younger brothers, and although we didn’t always get along, we at least had each other's company. The morning of the weekdays started off with me walking with my brothers to the bus stop. After school finished we would go to swimming practice, and after swimming practice we would practice piano together at home. On weekends, we attended the dreaded Chinese school. Chinese school was pure hell, two hours of zoning in and out while the teacher attempted to teach us American-born kids about Chinese culture and language. Truth be told, I don’t think any of us young delinquents were paying much attention, if at all. We were all just waiting for the clock to hit 2 to finally have our freedom back and continue on with our lives. 

It was during the end of the 5th grade when my parent’s abruptly told me I was switching schools. At the time, I didn’t understand why my parents were sending me to a different school. Initially, I protested against leaving my friends that I made in public school, but my parents were insistent that I switch. Eventually, I stopped asking questions and attended my first day at Detroit Country Day School (DCDS), a private college preparatory school that was ranked the number one highschool in Michigan. I didn’t know at the time, but it also had the most expensive price tag, a whopping $30,000 to attend each year.

DCDS was filled with students from the wealthiest families across Michigan, including General Motors CEO’s daughter, various NBA players' sons and daughters, and numerous offspring of doctors, lawyers, and successful business owners. I was surrounded by a new community of kids who all came from privileged backgrounds, and although growing up there would always be food waiting for me on the dinner table, I never felt that our family was privileged. 

My family lived modestly and humbly. Our annual vacation was a trip to Florida during the winter months in order to escape the Michigan cold. Instead of flying, we would drive the family’s Honda Odyssey, a trip which took almost two full days. My dad and mom would take turns driving while my brother’s and I would pass the time by looking for the cheapest gas prices. 

On my first day of 6th grade at DCDS, I felt completely out of place. I was forced to follow a dress code and wear a uniform that was itchy and hot. I vividly remember the first day walking into most of my classes late as I wasn’t sure where they were located in the building. I didn’t make any friends on my first day. I was miserable and found myself alienated in such a foreign environment. 

The school’s demographic was mainly filled with affluent white kids, whose parents were high-valued members of society. I wasn’t them. My mom stopped working after she had her third son and I wasn’t too sure what my dad did, only that his work required him to be overseas often and away from home.

My first year of middle school was very rough, adjusting to the increased schoolwork was difficult and making new friends seemed impossible. My grades quickly tanked and I started focusing less and less on school and instead littered my time with distractions whether it was playing video games or mindlessly eating to distract myself from my troubles. Most days I would come home and find myself on the backend of a lecture. My parents were furious that I didn’t seem to be taking school seriously and were wasting their time and money that they spent making sure I got the highest level of education possible. But nothing really changed, and I continued to cope with my struggles by playing more video games and eating more food.

Looking back at how my life was in middle school, I never would have thought my life would’ve taken this trajectory. During my years at DCDS, the teachers and advisors constantly praised us for attending such a school, telling us how we were different and special from other kids our age. Every student seemed to excel in some area, and each student seemed so busy with their own academics and various extracurriculars they had going on.

In my mind, DCDS was the hub for kids to be nurtured and grow, until one day, when we graduated, we would all go off and do great things in the world. And that’s how I thought my life would be.

However, fast-forward to the day I play the hustler stream, and I’ve dropped out of school, left Michigan, and started living a life totally unconventional to someone who graduated from such a prestigious highschool. 

Playing at the hustler was a very unique experience, as each lineup for their shows are chosen weeks in advance, curated to make an action-pack game. Once the game started, I found myself sitting at a table with eight strangers, who each have their own unique background and story, but all share the same passion for the game of poker. 

About an hour into the stream the game turns into a mandatory $100 straddle. It folds to the small blind, a recreational player who decides to open the action to $300 and I look down at J8 offsuit in the straddle, not a holding you typically think is premium. I didn’t care, I was going to make a move.

I quickly bump up the action, making it $1200 to go, and am received with a swift call by the small blind. The flop comes 7♣️6♦️5♦️ . The small blind quickly checks and although I have an open-ender (any 9 or 4 coming would likely give me the best hand), I decide to check-back for pot control and because this low board didn’t seem to be that advantageous for my 3-betting range as a whole. 

The turn comes the magical A♠️ , a card that I could credibly represent, as I initially kicked up the action. The action was now back on the small blind, who interestingly took his chips, counted them out, shuffled them, counted them out again, and put them back in his stack and then checked. The hundreds of hours of live poker I’ve played throughout my lifetime picked this up as weakness, and I decided to put out another bet of $1200. The small blind thinks about it for a bit and decides to call. As the dealer put out the river card, I knew I was going all-in on any river, as I only had Jack high, which had no real showdown. The river came the Q♠️ , and the small blind quickly checked again. 

Within less than a second of him checking, I announce two words: 

“All in.” 

And pray for a fold. 

Unfortunately, my prayer didn’t last long as the small blind snap-called me. I puke a little in my mouth and mutter the words “nice call, I have Jack high”, while turning over my hand. He looks a bit confused and shows A♦️4♠️ for a top pair of aces. I sheepishly inform the dealer that I would like to add on ten thousand dollars and grimace to myself, as my bluff didn’t go through. But that was part of the game, and there wasn’t much time to think about my blunder as there was still poker left to play. 

I ended up losing about 3k, which for a game that size was a pretty normal swing.

When we got our phones back at the end of the stream, I opened mine up:

A stream of positive notifications from friends flooded my phone, who all tuned in that Monday night to watch me play. In that moment, I realized how happy playing a card game made me, and even though I didn’t take the traditional route, there were still people who cared and were rooting for me.

And in my mind, that’s what matters the most. 

So here's a bit of my background and one of the highlights from one of the bigger games I’ve played in my poker career. But there’s so much more that happened. Moving forward I hope to give more insight about all the ups and downs that come with playing poker professionally, my new life in New York, and all the crazy wild stories and characters I’ve met along the way. And I hope you stay along for the ride. It’s gonna be fun.

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