Eric Wang's avatar

Eric Wang

22 points

The Game of Life

At first glance, Daniel Zack seems like a pretty ordinary guy. With a lanky build, slight text neck, and his headphones always by his side, he definitely gives off a bit of a nerdier vibe. Without actually getting to know him, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that he has over $3 million dollars in tournament winnings. You wouldn’t have known that he lost half a million dollars in a single day playing cards. You wouldn’t have known all the crazy stories and experiences that have led up to him becoming the man he is today. After conversing with him over lunch, I realized that there is much much more than what originally meets the eye.

Daniel’s story always fascinated me.

Not only because he defied all odds and became a high-stakes titan at an incredibly young age (I love a good success story as much as anyone else). But additionally, how remarkably similar his experiences were to my very own.

Initially grinding up free-rolls and busting multiple accounts when he was still in high school, then proceeding to drop out of college (not once, but twice), and going near broke playing in big LA home games with famed NBA players, Dan’s journey was anything but ordinary.

Like many young poker players, Dan initially struggled with believing that the end goal as a poker player was to maximize his expected value or hourly as much as he could. During college, he would head to the casino each Friday afternoon and stay up each weekend all the way until his Monday morning class began at 10. The days following those 72-hour bender sessions, he would be in hibernation, unable to be seen or heard from for days. Sitting across from me, he chuckles as he recalls those days as a zestful and exuberant young gun, willing to do whatever it took to make his dream come true.

I, myself, have had plenty of those similar sessions. The ones where I would walk home in the early morning while everyone else was just waking up and beginning their day. Upon arriving home, I would often pass out within minutes. Once I awoke from my slumber, I would feel like an empty shell of a human being, groggy with an incessant ringing in my ears. It quite literally felt like I was dying, probably because I was.

Despite being disgusted with myself, I didn’t change my habits for a while. As you may have guessed now, this lifestyle was quite unsustainable.

So, why did I and many other players fall into this trap?
When I asked Dan this question, a fervent spark lit up in his eyes.

“For me it was quite simple. I was simply just passionate.”

I pressed on further.

“Passion aside, have you ever struggled with fulfillment over the years after deciding to go down this career path?”

Without hesitation, he firmly responded, “Not at all. I look forward to each day and love what I do. I decided that playing competitive games is how I wanted to spend my time.”

And his story checks out. It’s an impressive feat to thrive in such a game with such cutthroat competition for over a decade. Dan was possibly the last player to come up during the Moneymaker boom, able to successfully transition from the pre-solver days to a post-solver era, and despite playing a substantial amount of volume each year, he still has the same love for the game that he had when he first started.

I was therefore not at all surprised when Dan told me that despite receiving countless offers from various Hedge Fund companies, he has turned down each offer. As our conversation carried on, his love for the game was almost palpable. I sensed it when we chatted about the countless fascinating hands that were played over the years or spoke about all the interesting characters that we have both met on this journey. Dan, like myself, could talk about poker indefinitely. After spending a good portion of our lives eating, sleeping, and breathing poker, it was heartwarming to have the chance and talk with someone who fully understood me.

After conversing with Dan, I had an epiphany that achieving fulfillment may be much more simpler than what I originally thought.

Ful"¢fill"¢ment /fo*ol'filment/
A feeling of happiness because you are doing what you intended to do in your life
A feeling of pleasure and satisfaction because you are happy with your life.

It’s important to note that both definitions of fulfillment relate to how we feel. For so long, I got it all mixed up. I believed that how I thought should be indicative of how I felt.

In the book, The Happiness Hypothesis, NYU psychologist Jonathan Haldt uses the analogy of a rider and the Elephant as an emblematic image of how our mind operates. Halt argues that the mechanisms in our brain are based, on one hand, the rational, reflective side which analyzes, deliberates, looks to the future (the rider), and, on the other hand, our emotional side which feels pain, pleasure, compassion, etc (the Elephant). Sitting atop the Elephant, the rider holds the reins and appears to be in charge. However, the rider’s control is precarious and if the rider and Elephant are in disagreement, it is expected that the rider will have to submit to the Elephant.

We all have this inner Elephant in us that we choose to ignore. We tell ourselves that we’ll be happy once we achieve a particular goal or status: buying a home, getting a promotion, or starting a family. The problem is that people seldom find the happiness that they believed they would on the other side of the achievement. The secret to happiness, I believe, is to align the Elephant and the rider on the same path. Instead of looking outside, we should examine and be true to our feelings from within.

To put this into a more practical perspective, let’s consider a hypothetical situation of two ambitious young men: Charlie and Tyler.

Charlie, at a young age, decided that he believed acquiring money would make him fulfilled. No matter what it would take, he would do whatever it took to reach his arbitrary goal of having an 8-figure net worth.

Tyler had a different life approach. Money was still important to him, but he didn’t set any financial goals for himself. He found fulfillment and purpose in making small but continuous improvements each day in his personal and professional life. Money, he believed, would naturally come as he progressed further along his journey.

After many years go by, there is a stark difference in how Charlie and Tyler feel about themselves.

Charlie chose a career path that he was less passionate about, but since it paid better than other career options, he begrudgingly stuck with it. When he was worth 6-figures, he told himself that once he made 7-figures he would start prioritizing other areas of his life, such as starting a relationship and having a family. However, once he reached 7-figures, it wasn’t enough for him anymore. He now had to make 8-figures before he would be content. Charlie would sacrifice his sleep and social obligations just to reach his goals. Although Charlie didn’t seem particularly odd on the outside, internally he could never get away from the feeling of not being enough.

Tyler, conversely, stayed true to his feelings. He found enjoyment in sticking to a strict schedule and being purposeful about his work. He wouldn’t prioritize making an extra dollar over commitments to his friends, family or his significant other. Tyler didn’t end up making as much money as Charlie over the course of his career, but found himself with a much higher degree of life satisfaction.

The reality is, we live in a world with a lot of bad actors. People feel the need to pretend to be someone they’re not, often as a response to an overwhelming feeling of insecurity with letting people see who we really are. It’s our attempt at overcoming our thoughts that we, just as our true selves, are not worthy enough. No matter how hard we try and put on a show for others, however, we cannot fool ourselves.

As humans have evolved over the years, we have become an ultrasocial species. Halt elaborates that gossiping is one way of how we as humans became ultrasocial. Gossip tends to be critical and is used to police the moral and social violations of others, e.g. don’t talk with that guy because he is a womanizer. Gossiping, along with reputation makes sure that what goes around, comes around. It’s a way for us to connect with others and have a better sense of our moral compass. Without gossip, people would get away from disrespectful, selfish, or antisocial acts.

So, how do you win at the game of life? I have found that ones who are winning in life are those who are able to be their true authentic selves. People can sense inauthenticity and will let others know the minute they see it. Social animals are smart animals.

I would urge those struggling with fulfillment or happiness to be introspective and be in-tune with your inner feelings. Don’t let the outside world cloud your judgment or determine your happiness. And above all, be a good human.

“So let us reflect on what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren't born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities-warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful-happier.”
-Dalai Lama

March 19, 2023 | 7:23 p.m.

God's Complex

Today, one year ago, I was getting annihilated in high rake home games, had consecutive losing months, and was forced to drop down in stakes. If you told me then that I could make 6-figures that year, I would be pretty content. If you told me I could make 6-figures in a month? I wouldn’t have believed you. I barely believed in myself. This past January is the best month I’ve ever had–winning 6-figures, well sort-of. Full transparency–I did sell some pieces of myself in certain games, so I did not bring home the full amount. Regardless, personally pulling in 6-figures profit in a single month is still a milestone for me and something I can always look back at with pride.

This month started off with a bang, finishing second in a large field MTT for $21k just three days into the month. A few days after the win, I made an impromptu trip to Atlantic City where Borgata was hosting a $5k buy-in event with first place being well over a million dollars.

Although I did not play the event, seeing a bunch of top poker pros all huddled in one area was amazing to me. I am a fan of the game first.

While the tournament pros were battling it out in the conference room, I found myself sitting in the biggest cash game running, $25/$50 with the occasional $100 straddle, playing short-handed with Dan Zack, who is the 2022 World Series of Poker Player of the Year, and Chris Brewer, who regularly travels and plays nosebleed Triton Poker events. Coming up, I used to watch both players play on the old Live at The Bike streamed games–regularly battling with some of LA’s best. With both player’s combined lifetime tournament winnings exceeding $9 million dollars and who are used to playing these stakes (and much higher), my resume was clearly unmatched. Despite the tough table, I was fortunate enough to run well and had a great time listening to their journey and experiences on rising to the top.

The next day I got a text from my friend saying he final-tabled the Borgata Championship event and would have a chance to play for the over million dollar first place prize. Although he didn’t end up winning and admitted to  torching hundreds of thousands of dollars in expected value at the final table, a 6-figure score for his first live tournament ever played is no joke. He is finally googlable as he says, congrats Chris!

Just ten days into the month, I’m up about $50k and one of my close friends had a sick cash. Nothing could be going better, I thought to myself. However, life has a funny way of humbling us.

The day right after I arrived home from Borgata, I received my first ever hate comment on the blog. Something along the lines of I’m a giant privileged asshole and a waste of oxygen and that I should go kill myself. As typical of a hate message as hate messages can get. Although I do consider myself to have pretty thick skin, this comment still got to me. 

My mentor calls it a rite of passage for all people who decide to share their work or thoughts online. We see hate comments everyday on YouTube videos or Twitter threads. It’s much easier for people these days to project negative emotions and attack someone behind a screen. It’s much easier to tear others down to feel better about yourself rather than to build yourself up. However, all I can say to the person behind the screen is that I empathize with you. I can’t say I haven’t been there myself. 

I guess the biggest reason the hate comment affected me wasn’t the derogatory terms thrown at me, but rather the concept of being privileged. The idea of being privileged has crossed my mind from time to time and it’s pretty clear I’m quite privileged. I’ve been fortunate to receive an education most kids wouldn’t receive in their lifetime and even though my parents never really gave me any pocket money or supported me financially, I knew deep down that if things went awry I would still have a place back home. 

So, yes, I am quite privileged. But at this point in my life, I decided to own it. Life is neither equal nor fair. Life is really just about you. 

What do I mean when I say that?

You and your own circumstances are unique to you and only you. Spending time wishing you were like someone else is both a waste of time and a waste of opportunity to live life to your fullest potential. 

The truth is, we are largely a byproduct of our environment. I’ll quote an excerpt from my friend’s blog, where he explains how we become “programmed” at a young age: 

“We’re expected to pick one field to major in and do a job related to it before you’re 20. We’re expected to work at just one company for a long time to ‘climb the ladder’. We’re expected to learn an instrument and stick with it for many years. We’re expected to solve math equations in one specific way or else we get a bad grade. We’re expected to pick one sport in the beginning. We’re expected to learn about school subjects in a really specific, arbitrary way that is uninspiring. We’re expected to go through middle and high school in a one-size-fits-all manner.”

Growing up in Michigan, there was a high proportion of undergraduate students on the pre-medicine track. After moving to New York, I found that rarely anyone wanted to become a doctor. When you grow up in such a big hustle culture and all you see are people who work on Wall Street, that’s who you decide you want to become. 

Throughout highschool and college, I was always an above average student. I would consistently perform good, but not great. No matter how hard I tried (and believe me, I tried hard), I would never get the top mark on an AP biology exam. That achievement was reserved to the same student, who effortlessly yet consistently got the highest grade everytime.

So, what was I good at? 

I was fortunate enough to come across poker. A game that rewards both hard work and execution. It doesn’t really matter how theoretically sound you talk about poker, if you aren’t able to execute at the tables there is little room for success. Additionally, being able to consistently handle losses is something I’ve noticed a great deal of poker players struggle with. Losing money for weeks or even months on end can fry someone’s brain like nothing else and having the discipline not to engage in self-destructive habits while consistently performing at a high level is far from easy. Poker has allowed me to change the rules of the game of life where the odds are now in my favor. The game rewarded my talent and skill-sets, which is why I believe I progressed so quickly. 

Yet, I always wonder why I chose poker. With so many other careers available in the world, why did I choose to play this card game?

Again, I believe it was largely a byproduct of my upbringing. Growing up in an Asian household where words of love were rarely expressed and instead the utmost priority was getting good grades and going to a good school, my duty as an offspring to Asian parents was to be the perfect kid who goes to a reputable college and to have a lucrative job afterwards. 

However, being born without unconditional love (as parenting is quite hard) usually causes the offspring to develop into one of two ways: being anxious (seeking out love/validation from others) or becoming avoidant (you don’t need love since you’ve never had it in the first place). 

For me, it was becoming avoidant. I’ve always had the tendency to distance myself from others and had no problem spending hours playing poker alone in my room. For me, it was always easier to push someone away as I was afraid at the thought of not receiving the love/attention I was seeking for. I felt suffocated and used poker as an escape. 

Furthermore, in recent months, I’ve found poker itself to be less meaningful in what I believe I can provide to the world. Sure, there is an argument that poker players are providing entertainment value for the recreational players, but we’re not doing anything grandiose. There’s a lot of money to be made in poker, but at the end of the day we are all just gamblers. I find a lot more meaning in being able to share my experiences and struggles as an initial lone-wolf in the poker world.

Anyways, cycling back to the amazing month of January.

After coming home from Borgata, I played New York’s first-ever streamed game, shout out to ComboCity Poker! I then went on to play some high-stakes cash sessions where I ran quite well in both games and finished my last session of the month up 3 buy-ins at $50/$100, bringing my gross profits for the month just over 6-figures. A very jubilating outcome.

However, I believe it’s important to take some time and reflect to ensure I don’t develop a god complex after these big winning streaks. Although it may come as a surprise, this winning month doesn’t make me any happier of an individual than I was in previous months. I’ve seen too many people ruined by greed and lose their souls in the pursuit of money. 

In fact, the wealthiest people I know seem to consistently be the unhappiest. Living your life chasing bigger scores and bigger purchases is a pretty unhealthy and unhappy way to go about life. It means you’ll never be content with who you are. It doesn’t matter how many zeros you have in the bank account, taking a shit will always still feel like taking a shit. 

For me, the money made this month is just a receipt of the work that I’ve put in. There have been months that I’ve lost money or was breakeven and in those months I wasn’t sure what the future was going to entail. The thought of the unknown, the times of tribulation, and both of the highs and lows are where I personally derive meaning from. If you are born knowing exactly how your life is going to play out, living out a script someone else wrote for you, where’s the meaning in that?

As my twenty-third birthday is coming up, I want to remind myself to keep perspective. Be cognizant that there is a sea of grinders out there all trying to achieve similar financial freedom. Don’t forget that there is so much more to this world than just a card game. Remember to keep the real ones around you close and like always, enjoy the ride.

Feb. 4, 2023 | 10:27 p.m.


There is no direct translation in English for the Japanese concept ikigai. “Iki” refers to life and “gai” refers to your value or worth. Ikigai is your life purpose or bliss, it’s the reason why you get up in the morning or more poetically, “waking up to joy”. The Westernized version of ikigai can be visualized by a Venn diagram illustrating four qualities: what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. So, why is it important? The Japanese have had the longest lifespans out of any race and attribute their happiness and longevity to a firm belief and adherence to the concept of ikigai. The opposite, the act of giving up and relinquishing the will to live can cause an earlier death, a phenomenon coined psychogenic death.

I began religiously playing in High Society, the name of the home game filled with international Chinese kids. I would play the game most nights, engaging in playful banter with the other players using a mixture of English and broken Mandarin. Although we were similar in age, these kids were a lot different from me. There were clear cultural differences that shaped the way we grew up.

There are a lot of positives to be said about Chinese culture. Chinese culture places a big emphasis on the group as opposed to the individual - everything that was done was done as a family. A meal out, a night out drinking, or even traveling would be done in large groups. The apartment was always packed: some guys would be playing poker with their girlfriends sitting behind them watching, others would be playing Mahjong or other card games in different rooms. High Society wasn’t just a game of poker, in many ways the game was a second home to these kids.

However, there are some less notable aspects of Chinese culture. Money can mean everything to the Chinese and many are known to have a full blown obsession towards it. There is a great emphasis on social status and many believe that having money and buying signature items will make them look impressive to those who don’t have them. Surveys have shown that the Chinese may be the most materialistic culture in the world as overall success is often equated by the things they own. Chinese shoppers are the world’s biggest purchasers of luxury items and often, the better marriage candidate is the one who has more money. Loving money has been institutionalized by the Chinese as kids are indoctrinated into a money-oriented society at a young age.

It’s also no secret that the Chinese are among the biggest gamblers in the world - it’s in our blood. There is a strong belief in luck, fate, or fortune which drives this force. Many casinos in Las Vegas will aggressively cater to Asian gamblers, offering Asian entertainers, ethnic food, and even dealers who speak Asian languages. Macau, known as the gambling capital of the world, attracts some of Asia’s biggest high-rollers.

Playing a game of poker with international Chinese kids was a totally different experience than any other poker game I played. Gambling was an acceptable form of socialization and as most of them were born into money, gambling for large amounts of dollars was perfectly normal and acceptable.

However, there were troubling behaviors that emerged from kids who seemingly had it all.

Ordinary activities didn’t interest these wealthy kids. Experiences had to be unique and potent to account for their lower dopamine levels.

A meal out had to be a new fine dining restaurant that was never tried before. Big purchases were to be spent on the latest designer trends.

Some developed a sense of entitlement from being born into wealth.

One guy didn’t attend a single class of college and instead paid someone to attend and complete his college courses for him. Another was paralyzed for life after resorting to drugs to enhance his human experiences. A third purchased a girlfriend for a month.

Initially, playing at High Society was exhilarating. Many of the kids were undaunted by the thought of losing large sums of money as oftentimes, a reload was just a phone call away.

There was one kid that I became acquainted with - Jay. Jay seemed to have an infinite bankroll and would dump large amounts of money each night. Whether he was down a couple thousand or tens of thousands of dollars, Jay’s style was that he would show up the next day with bricks of cash stuffed in his hoodie pockets to pay his losses.

One night after the game broke, Jay was stuck over 5-figures. He asked me if I wanted to give him blackjack action to give him a chance to become unstuck. Despite knowing that many poker players have lost their bankroll playing table games, I still decided to give him action. We were playing for a small amount and I knew as the bank I would have a slight edge. Poker players love to take edges when we can get them.

I lost $500 banking Jay that night, nothing too damaging. Or atleast, that’s what I thought.

Days continued on as usual. After playing at High Society for some time, I realized how little the correlation between wealth and emotional control was. Despite having infinite dollars at their disposal, bad beats and unlucky runouts still caused bursts of anger and profanity. But still, it was a fresh experience. I finally found a group of kids who were just like me, fearless and unafraid of risking it all on the line.

One day, a new character emerged, Freddy. Freddy just arrived in New York for his freshman year of college and similar to Jay, he seemed to have endless pockets. But Freddy didn’t come to the game to play poker, he was looking for blackjack action.

Jay and I decided to team up and bank Freddy together. We were happy to split Freddy’s action as he seemed totally reckless. At the time, I thought banking blackjack was just a way I could make quick money.

Freddy lost $10k that night. After the loss, he casually handed Jay his bank account asking Jay to transfer the money for him. His bank account showed the number one followed by six zeros, not a penny more or less. He had just received a million dollar wire from family after moving to the states and wasn’t sure how to operate English applications, so he let Jay transfer the money for him.

It was pretty astonishing noticing how careless Freddy was in casually giving Jay a bank account that contained a million dollars in it. But it made sense. Freddy never understood the importance of a dollar and had everything handed to him at a young age. To him, the money was just a number on a screen, and one that he had plenty of.

It didn’t feel right making money off someone in blackjack, but at that time all I cared about was making money, believing that the act of acquiring money would make me feel fulfilled and liberated.

Over the next couple of weeks, I stopped playing poker and instead went to the home game each night looking for blackjack action. In blackjack, the swings were bigger and quicker, and all I had to do was deal cards while collecting money. An easy life.

On my twenty-second birthday, instead of going out for a nice dinner or getting together with friends, I decided that a better use of my time was to deal blackjack to international students. I won $10k banking blackjack on my birthday, which I thought was a birthday well spent.

But nothing was that easy in life and I quickly paid the price. One night, Freddy wanted to play as big as possible, $500 a hand with a maximum of 6 bets. Swings for a game like this would be very large, so Jay and I got together with six other people to bank Freddy together, with Jay and I taking the biggest percent of Freddy’s action.

Freddy went on a crazy blackjack heater that I’d never seen before. Doubling down on fourteens and standing on twelves, all the while inhaling canisters of nitrous oxide and giggling. It was all fun and games for him, but ended up being costly for us.

The bank lost $50k that day, with Jay and I taking the biggest blow. After the loss, Jay didn’t want to call it a night. As a gambler, you never want to finish the night in the red.

Jay proposed that we go to Parx, the closest casino to New York, to get unstuck. In my previous interactions with Jay he mentioned that he was on a heater playing baccarat, the only form of gambling he took seriously.

Baccarat is the table game of choice amongst the Chinese due to its simplicity, fast style and only a slight edge in favor of the house. It’s easy to play and strictly a game of chance, there’s no strategy involved.
I told Jay that I would accompany him, but wouldn’t play. I never met any crazy gambler like Jay before and watching him play was pure entertainment, it was mind-blowing how much money was being traded back and forth.

Jay and I booked a ZipCar and left New York that night at around 1 in the morning. However, we only had a few hours of play for Jay to have a chance at becoming unstuck. Parx was a 4-hour round trip and Jay had to be back home before his girlfriend woke up.

Once we arrived at Parx, Jay, in his entire element, walked up to the casino floor with bricks of cash in his hoodie pockets. There were a multitude of baccarat tables to choose from, but Jay chose one of the few empty tables and began his baccarat session.

The bets started off small—initially. A few hundred on banker, a few hundred on player, with Jay slowly peeling each card, making sure to check how many sides the cards had before flipping them over. The Chinese are very superstitious, sometimes Jay would blow on the cards or knock on the table depending on what card he was hoping for.

Jay never got unstuck. Within half an hour, he had lost $10k and started increasing his bet sizes. It was a crazy gambling spree with Jay repeatedly betting thousands of dollars a hand.

Within the next few hours, a large group of people crowded around our baccarat table just to watch Jay gamble. As he was betting the largest by far, he would always get the priority in peeling cards. Jay would shout, blow, and knock on the table to try and twist the fortunes in his favor, but eventually to no avail. He put his last $10k on banker, but the dealer dealt a natural 9 to the player, ending Jay’s spree.

I drove Jay back to New York in silence. We were both in the red and felt completely defeated.

When we got back to New York, Jay asked if I wanted to go back to Parx and run it back. It was 10 in the morning and neither of us had slept that night. I’ll never forget the look on Jay’s face, convoluted with rage and heavy creases that made him look like he endured years of hardships despite his youth. My initial reaction was: this guy is nuts, he just lost a teacher’s salary overnight and wants to go back for more?

But, in a twisted way, I empathized with how Jay was feeling. He was experiencing extreme gambling tilt and it gave me flashbacks of when I lost significant amounts of money playing poker. When you’re stuck piles, all you see is red.

I told Jay that I was out, we were both stuck a bunch and I couldn’t stomach the thought of losing more. Jay soon after booked another ZipCar and headed back to Parx. That morning was the last I ever saw of Jay.

In the next few months, hosts from nearby states would send limousine services to pick up Jay from New York and drive him to their casinos. It was also within those next few months that Jay, like many compulsive gamblers, went busto. The kid who laughed when he was stuck five-figures assuring me it was a small amount for him, the kid who seemed to have endless pockets was gone. Gambling had totally ruined him.

After grinding the home game scene for a few months, it was impossible not to notice how miserable the average poker player is. Some poker players didn’t have a personality outside of poker as most weekend nights were spent playing a game of poker. For many players, choosing to play a game of poker was an easy out from handling other responsibilities.

Due to the zero-sum nature of the game, for every winner in poker there has to be a loser. The percentage of poker players who win money over the course of their lifetime is estimated to be only 10%, meaning that nine out of ten players lose money long-term. Additionally, factoring in the rake, the percentage of winners diminishes even more.

One model medical student confided to me that he deeply regretted his decision to go to medical school and instead of focusing on classes, he would be up all night grinding home games.

Another guy with a job at a top consulting firm, told me he wished he never found out about poker as weekend nights would be spent playing poker instead of socializing. He became distant to close friends, blew through his paychecks, and was secretly taking loans out behind his parents back.

Poker is an ever-changing landscape and in recent years, making money in poker is becoming less and less about how good of a player you are. High-stakes games are quickly becoming privatized and closed off to the public. Furthermore, there is a little incentive for the guys at the top to share their secrets; knowledge is money.

Many poker players have shifted from trying to play the game professionally to instead try and cultivate rake professionally. Private games allow for game-runners to pick and choose who they let into their games, either so they can create a soft environment for themselves or so they can generate as much rake as possible. Whenever there’s a way to gain an edge over someone, there will be someone who takes it.

However, game-runners, who come from all walks of life, don’t have it easy. The private game scene is a rat-race, with game-runners trampling on each other to try and gain an edge over the small player pool. Game-runners will obsess over how to cultivate the perfect lineups to rake the most efficiently and generate as much money as possible. Many were blinded with greed and had lost perspective on what was truly important.

For every honest home game, there will be ten dishonest games. Over-raking, trading action, hidden staking/backing deals, and even using RFID tech to cheat players plague the private game ecosystem.

During the months I would grind home games, each day there would be multiple different game-runners hitting me up to go play at their game. Some games wouldn’t invite me back after it became clear that I knew what I was doing.

Poker is unique as it's a game which combines luck and strategy and can be played for staggering sums of money. The game attracts some of the most brilliant minds in the world, but will also attract the biggest cynical scumbags who will do anything to perpetuate their own self-interest, and everyone in-between. Financial disputes were recurrent and almost every poker player I know has been cheated or stiffed out of money, the question soon becomes how big is your number? One character in the home game scene was even associated with a murder for hire, which was used to solve a financial dispute.

What have I got myself into?

I came to New York as an eager kid with endless ambition to make it in the card game I loved. However, in the year I spent in New York, I had seen more negativity and pain than I had in the past two decades of being alive on this Earth. Stories of players busting 7-figure rolls and others who accumulated 6-figures in debt and swindled friends and family emerged. Between expenses, being cheated, and losses in table games, I had blown through a significant portion of my roll. I wasn’t broke, but I was crippled and a shell of my former self.

When I first told people around me that I wanted to try and take poker seriously, many of them were in disapproval, telling me it was impossible. My own brother thought I went crazy and made a reddit post asking strangers on the internet to convince me otherwise.

The weeks after my appearance on the Hustler Casino Live Stream, the conversation towards me shifted drastically. Strangers would come up to me at the home game with small praises, letting me know how cool it was that they saw me playing on T.V. Some guys who I hadn’t talked to in years messaged me with positive affirmations. One guy even messaged me saying I inspired him to quit his day-time job and that he wanted to try and make it as a poker player and dealer.

Yet, I didn’t feel all that great. For the majority of my time in poker, I wasn’t proud of telling people I played poker. Having a large part of my identity being tied to a card game was something I was pretty embarrassed about, no matter how lucrative it became.

Although I was finally getting praised and recognized for my skills at the game I worked so hard at, I was no role model. I felt an internal dichotomy. Humans can be simple minded at times. We believe what we want to see. Those who praised me only saw one highlight, but they didn’t see me lose a large percentage of my roll in table game degeneracy weeks prior to the show. They didn’t see the endless sleepless nights I endured and the weeks I would spend in hibernation unable to fathom the amount of money I lost in a poker session.

During my time in New York, it was easy to lose perspective. I was surrounded by über rich kids with endless pockets and often compared myself to them.

Why didn’t I grow up with fancy sports cars or hundred thousand dollar watches?

In this digital age, it’s almost second nature to compare ourselves with others. Guys will flex their latest big purchases on social media and girls will spend hours photoshopping their photos. People want to showcase that they are living a better existence than others. It’s human nature. We crave and feel validated by attention. Yet, I believe that the only person you should compare yourself to is the different realities that you could have taken. The only person living your life is you.

My decision to move to New York was impetuous. I didn’t have all the answers and didn’t have a Plan B if things went sour. All I had was an unwavering self-commitment and belief in myself to make things work out. I was either going to figure out the answers to my questions or die trying.

For me, it was never just about poker itself. It was about being deeply unhappy with who I was as a person and getting my life in order. Poker is a game that rewards consistent performance - lucidity and overall well-being are essential for long-term success. Through poker, I was slowly able to get my life in order and realize what truly mattered to me.

So, my response to those who want to make it in poker or any other venture is to stop listening to the noise. Live each day with conviction.

Figure out what makes you wake up each day with a riveting sense of purpose and a reason for being. Find your ikigai. If you are truly committed and hell-bent on finding a way, you will make it happen. Who’s to tell you otherwise?

A link to my substack:

Dec. 12, 2022 | 12:28 a.m.

Thank you! I still feel like I'm not the smoothest when story telling but practice makes perfect. Hope you enjoyed the read :)

Nov. 20, 2022 | 9:22 p.m.

Squid Game

My heater at the home game was short-lived. Playing high-stakes live poker was a completely foreign environment for me and I lacked the soft skills needed to succeed.

High-stakes live poker was unique to me in that instead of playing multiple tables of buy-ins ranging between $200 to $1k online, I was one-tabling a buy-in that could be ten times more than the one that I had online. Deep stack poker is a very sophisticated and nuanced game and sharp decision making is a necessity if you want to beat the competition.

It became apparent that I didn’t have what it took. I was unstudied at this format of poker and despite having a few initial big scores, I quickly shipped it back.

My first big loss at the home game came to none other than Jamie Gold, the winner of the 2006 World Series of Poker main event. I didn’t know much about Jamie, only that he was well-known in the poker world and involved in an infamous high-stakes pot which racked up hundreds of thousands of views online.

When I arrived at the home-game, there just so happened to be an empty seat to the left of Jamie Gold. This was the first time I’ve ever seen him at the home game and I was awestruck. It was surreal that I was playing with a poker celebrity.

The game that day was $5/$10/$25. I had 8♥️8♣️ under the gun. I opened to $100 and both the big blind and straddle, Jamie, called. The flop came:


The action checked to me and I bet $200, about half the size of the pot. The big blind folded and Jamie quickly raised to $600. As I still had an overpair and Jamie could be on numerous sorts of draws, I had to continue my hand through a call. The pot was now $1500.

The turn came the 8♦️, bringing in the obvious front door flush draw but also giving me top set. Jamie continued betting $700. I continued through a call. I couldn’t fold this strong of a hand, but raising would be an overplay.

The river came an K♥️, a total brick. Jamie led out again, however this time very small, only $500 into a pot of $3k.

I took one chip out and contemplated calling. Theoretically, calling would never be a mistake here, I had a very strong hand and was only facing a less than quarter pot-sized bet.

However, after replaying the action in my head, it made no sense to me that Jamie would bet a flush like this. A flush was usually the nuts on this board and most villains would size much larger to try and get value.

I concluded that Jamie wouldn’t have bet this small with a flush and my hand was likely best. With this in mind, I tossed two yellow chips into the middle, making a thin-value raise to $2k and leaving myself with $2k behind.

As I initially only took one chip out to contemplate a call, Jamie didn’t realize that I decided to raise. He almost flipped his cards over before he realized that there was still action.

“Oh! You decided to raise.” He exclaimed.

Then, Jamie went into a long tank. After what seemed like eternity, he muttered:

“It’s not possible for me to lose. It might be flush over flush but my hand is too strong not to jam. Sorry kid.”

Jamie then 3-bet shoved all-in on the river against me.

I was flustered. 3-bet shoving the river is a very rare occurrence and it is almost always the nuts. However, I only had to put in another $2k to win a pot of $10k. Getting this great of a price, I had to be sure that Jamie was almost never bluffing here to make the fold. I was confident in my read and showed Jamie top set and excruciatingly folded.

While Jamie was dragging in the pot, he slid his cards to me and said:

“If you want to see it, you can see it.”

I turned his cards over and revealed 8♠️6♠️ for two pair, an unorthodox bluff. The whole table erupted in chatter. I was stunned, slowly comprehending that I had just gotten totally owned.

Jamie’s play in that hand was a defining moment for me. I realized that not all of poker is about sizings and range construction, there is a very real human element to the game.

I later learned that Jamie was infamous for his table talk and was able to talk his way into winning the 2006 main event for $12 million dollars. He also told me that his table talk saved himself 6-figures on the river in the nose-bleed pot he played against Sammy Farha.

I lost $10k that day, the first big losing session I had at the home game. I didn’t sleep well that night, constantly replaying the hand I played against Jamie in my head and being upset and irritated at myself for making the wrong fold.

The next few sessions at the home game didn’t go well for me either. There was a new side game that was becoming popular, Squid Game, inspired by the famous South Korean survival drama television series. The rules of the game were simple.

All players start without a squid game chip.
Once you win a pot, you obtain a squid game chip and you are safe.
The last player without a chip owes everyone a predetermined amount.

The first squid game we played there was a bounty of $100 per player, which means at a 9-handed table the loser would owe a total of $800. The nature of the game is that it encourages a lot more action. You need to fight for each pot until you obtain a chip and are safe from paying out the bounty.

As I played a pretty tight strategy, I didn’t adjust well to the new game. It seemed like every hand I opened someone would intentionally 3-bet me until I was the last person without a chip and had to pay everyone the bounty. After the first squid game, I was stuck a bit, but I shrugged it off. Somedays are just not your day.

Once the game was about to break, a player suggested we play one more round of squid game, this time upping the bounty to $300 a head.

High-stakes squid game.

I was determined not to lose this one. However, there is only so much you can do when card distribution isn’t on your side. I couldn’t seem to pick up any opening hands and before I knew it I was heads up with the lawyer, battling for the last squid game chip.

I was under the gun and picked up 4♥️5♠️, a garbage hand. In most instances, this hand would be a trivial fold. However, I couldn’t give the lawyer a chance to secure the last chip and opened up the action to $75 at blinds of $10/$25. It folded to the lawyer on the button and he 3-bet me to $300.

After playing many hours against this specific player, it was clear he played very tight. He had a family back home to take care of and would only put his whole stack in with the nuts. He would never risk his stack on a gamble.

As the squid game was on, it was unlikely that he would have a premium holding here. Since we were both the last players fighting for the chip, he could very well 3-bet a wide variety of holdings here to try and steal the pot from me.

I decided that the best option to save myself from losing another round of squid game would be to shove all-in, maximizing fold equity. I shoved another $5k on top of his 3-bet and he thought for a few seconds before calling.

I gulped. It never feels good when you ship it in with the five-high and get called. I knew I had ran into it.

“Do you have aces?” he asked before flipping over kings. I rolled my eyes knowing I was way behind.

We ran the boards out twice and he held on both. Not only had I just lost my whole stack, but I didn’t even have any more chips to pay the bounty out to the other players.

My face was bright red and there was literal steam piping out my ears. I had lost another $10k and was on complete monkey tilt.

One of the other players that day, noticing me whale off my stack, invited me to a new home game that he co-hosted.

It was clear why he invited me. Game-runners are always on the look-out for players who are action and who wouldn’t want a young asian kid to dump thousands of dollars at their game?

The new game was located in one of the many luxurious apartments in Long Island City (LIC), located in the western tip of the Queens borough. LIC is a recently gentrified neighborhood and is known for its gleaming high-rises which rival the ones in Manhattan.

If you ever walk around the streets of LIC, you will notice a dense population of international students. It makes logical sense, LIC is among one of the most expensive neighborhoods to live in New York and only the wealthiest of families can afford to send their kids abroad.

Walking into the game, I was welcomed by a younger crowd. However, this wasn’t the same crowd as those Brooklyn games. The game was almost exclusively filled with international Chinese students who all had what I wanted so desperately - money. Poker was just a game they played to pass time.

There was a guy who drove around in a custom McLaren and flaunted a Richard Mille watch. A girl whose family put away $30 million to spend for her wedding alone. Luxury brands and designer clothes were the norm.

Life must be so easy for these kids, I thought to myself.

But was it?

A link to my substack:

Nov. 18, 2022 | 12:25 a.m.

Two Lives

There I was, sitting across Olivier Busquet, a veteran and legend in the poker world. Olivier broke poker records, being the first player to win $2 million dollars in sit and go games before any other player had even earned $1 million. We had met through Twitter, as Olivier was looking for potential hitting partners. After a friendly match of tennis, he invited me back to his home, where we conversed about our experiences in poker. Sitting at his office desk, he recalls to me the time when he first worked on Wall Street, working for a large hedge fund company. In an attempt to move from the back office to the front, he gave poker a shot to prove his skills as a trader. However, poker quickly became an obsession. Instead of working his desk job, Olivier would play poker until the late evening, after everyone had gone home. He soon got fired from the hedge fund company due to playing poker during work hours, but then went on to break records in the poker world. Despite his success in the game, he cautioned me against viewing poker as a sustainable long-term career path, emphasizing the compound effect. Life is not linear. Every action you take in the next hour, day, week, or month will be compounded over time, for good or for bad.

I never felt like I belonged in Michigan. Quite frankly, Michigan seemed remote, unsophisticated, and dull. In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to leave, I just didn’t know how.

After sun running and building a 6-figure roll, not only did I have a reason for wanting to leave, but now I had a way.

My parents didn’t know that I was occupying the past year of my life playing poker, and I was scared to tell them.

My dad grew up in rural poverty in northern China. Through hard work and tenacity, he was able to achieve a high score on the national college entrance examination, and went on to attend Tsinghua, the number one ranked university in China.

Higher education is what my dad attributed to his success and he instilled the importance of it to me at a young age.

“Your mind is your greatest asset”, he would often repeat to me.

My parents were shocked when I told them I wanted to take a leave from school. They had spent the past two decades nurturing me in hopes that one day I would get an admirable job. Instead, I told them I wanted to play poker for a living.

After many hours and nights of explaining, they decided to let me go. At that point, my mind was made up, and convincing me otherwise was futile. They did however, warn me that if things went sour, to come back home immediately.

Looking back, they were right to react how they did. I was obstinate and rash, not considering the million ways my decision to go to New York could go awry.

But I did it anyway. During the winter break of 2021, I made the move out to New York.

It comes as no surprise that New York is one of the least popular destinations to make it as a poker pro. New York is considered to have the highest cost of living in America, and the second highest in the world. The more expenses you take on as a poker pro, the higher the percent chance your risk of ruin becomes.

But I was determined. I was going to play both a mixture of home games and online poker. My delusional self wanted to make another 6-figures during the next few months.

Those first few months living in New York, all I could think about was making money and I was determined to do anything possible to get my hands on it.

I remember the first week after moving to New York I had my first high stakes downswing online, losing $30k in one week, running 25 buy-ins below expected value and wiping out most of my profits at 1k NL. It was the perfect excuse for me to take a break online, and focus my attention on high-stakes home games.

And I ran hot.

The first month of playing home games I couldn’t lose. I would play the home game most nights and stay until the early morning.

During my second visit to the home game, I bought in for $5k. I had won a few thousand and had been playing tight the whole night when I picked up Q♦Q♣. The blinds were $5/$10/$25 and there was an early position raise to a $100 by a Jewish man wearing a kippah. A fun player, who also worked as a dealer, called the $100 in the cutoff and the action was on me in the small blind. I squeezed to $800. The original raiser smooth called and the dealer thought about it for a while and back-raised all-in, easily covering me. I tanked for a long time, thinking that he could easily have aces or kings here. After some deliberation, I decided that I shouldn’t risk my whole stack in this spot, and painfully folded. The Jewish man decided to call it off for his $3k stack, and the board came out:


The dealer showed 4♠2♠ and the Jewish man showed 3♣3♦, both playing the board to chop the pot. I’ll never forget that hand because not only did I kick myself for making the wrong fold and missing out on an almost $20k pot that would’ve been shipped my way, but I realized that those two players did not think about poker the way I thought about poker - there was no strategy, they were in the game purely for the gamble.

Coming from an online background, I didn’t consider that live poker was a game of people. Each bet a player makes has an intention behind it. It later surfaced that the Jewish guy was broke and ran away from his debts, and the dealer was purposefully put in the game by the host to attract more players to her game. He played on credit and was forced to deal to pay off his debts at the game.

That first month playing home games was a bliss. The action was beyond insane and I had no care in the world for anything else besides playing poker. I would rotate between eating omakase sushi or perfect medium-rare filet mignon each night. Each time I was up a good amount in a session, I would also ask for an oil massage by one of the girls working that night.

I was eating like a king, making money and getting massages while doing so. What more could I want in life?

It was the second week after moving to New York when I had my biggest win to date. I was sitting on about a $15k stack when the action folded to an aggressive asian man, covering me. He had an extremely high VPIP, playing over 90% of hands. So when he raised to $100 in middle position and I looked down at A♣K♥, I had a mandatory re-raise, bumping up the price of poker to $500. The action folded back to him and he thought for some time before 4-betting me to $2k.

With this strong of a hand, I now had a few options, I could either call, re-raise, or shove all-in, folding was out of the question. Knowing his aggressive tendencies and feeling somewhat invincible since I was on a heater, I decided to shove all-in. The asian man debated for a long time as my shove was quite large, another $13k more for him to call. After a long tank, he made the call.

We both turned our hands over and he showed queens, a classic flip. It was déjà vu, running ace king into queens again for a massive pot. For some reason, I knew I was going to win the flip, it’s that feeling you get as a poker player. We had agreed to run it twice, and a king came out on both flops. After winning that pot and having some other significant pots go my way, I cashed out $40k, the largest I’ve ever cashed out.

Home game chip porn

I bring this hand up not to showcase my poker skills. I wasn’t doing anything special, I ran hot when it mattered and won two flips to win the biggest pots I’ve ever played. But that’s the beauty of poker, anyone can win. Sometimes, all you need is luck on your side.

That first month after moving to New York, everything seemed to be easy. I don’t exactly remember how much I made, because there was nothing professional in the way I approached poker. I didn’t keep track of all my sessions, didn’t consider that in the long-run, almost no one but the host wins at such a high-rake home game. I also had totally shifted my sleep schedule to then degen hours, often leaving the home game as late as 4 or 5 in the morning and waking up well past noon.

The days following those big wins, I would often spend comatose in bed, with little motivation to do anything.

Why did I have to do anything? I had just won 5-figures the day prior playing poker, what else was there for me to do?

I would do everything that a reckless 21-year old would do. On weekend nights, I would go out to the club with friends and get wasted. Once the night came to a close and everyone headed home, I would head straight to the home game, playing sessions into the morning. I had no control over myself, drawn to the home game each night like how a moth is entranced by bright lights. Poker was my escape.

Jason Zweig describes the effect that money has on the brain in his book, Your Money and Your Brain. The brain activity of people who expect to make a profitable financial gamble and the brain of cocaine addicts trying to get a fix are virtually the same. This is why humans get overgreedy with investments and why I kept going to the home game each night, because I wanted more and more of the rush.

It was stuck in a limbo, thinking that I had accomplished everything I’d wanted to accomplish. I was playing high-stakes at a young age, had a healthy 6-figure roll, and didn’t have any real obligations.

Once I felt like I had reached financial freedom, I started going on dates. What else was a single guy to do with money?

I would blow through money like crazy. The cost of taking a girl out to an 8-course meal or Michelin star restaurant was the same price as a 3-bet at the home game. I didn’t really think much of it.

During one date, a girl asked me about my future plans. I arbitrarily told her I wanted to make a million dollars. Truth be told, I hadn’t even thought that far. There was no plan, no end goal.

Oftentimes, I questioned what I was doing. The poker lifestyle can in many ways be quite solidarity. I felt like I was going through many of these experiences alone, and didn’t know anyone that I could relate to.

The mornings when I headed back home after a marathon poker session, I would see floods of everyday people heading to work. Most of the kids my age were soon to be graduated from school and would go on to get well-respected corporate jobs.

In the next few months after my move to New York, I spiraled deep into questioning about who I was as a man. It was almost as if I had two lives. Despite thinking I would be happy achieving materialistic goals, I felt completely empty and unfulfilled. I was desperate to grow, but had no direction. I was willing to risk everything for answers.

Why am I here and what is my purpose?

Oct. 26, 2022 | 8:32 p.m.

Molly's Game

In 2014, Molly Bloom wrote a memoir about her life and career titled Molly’s Game. Molly was a competitive skier, with dreams of participating in the Olympics. However, she suffered an injury while attempting to qualify for the Olympics. This turn of events caused her life to change trajectory. She initially worked as a bartender before finding a job working as an assistant in the basement of a famous club, The Viper Room. After working as an assistant for a few years, she became a game-runner herself, making as much as $4 million a year while servicing high rollers and celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Phil Ivey. After a move-in to New York, having a run-in with the mafia, and battling drug addiction, the FBI eventually shut Bloom’s operation down, charging her as part of a $100 million money laundering and illegal sports gambling operation.

The day I arrived in New York, I had planned on grabbing dinner with Steven at a local restaurant. When I first stepped foot on the streets of Manhattan, I was overwhelmed.

Floods of people were walking about, all rushing to get to their destination. Traffic was at a standstill as roads were congested with cars and bikes.

The streets were full of life. Sidewalks teemed with Wall Street workers, dressed up in suits while carrying out important phone calls, tourists who were visiting Times Square with their families, cart-pushing vendors, hustling to make some extra dollars, and the homeless who set up encampments on the corners of the road.

While walking to the restaurant, I saw a bicyclist slapping the windshield of a cab while flipping off the driver, a grown man scampering around in a Giant Rat costume, and a homeless man, likely incapacitated, defecating on the corner of a street.

Not things I typically saw in Michigan.

Once I arrived at the restaurant and met Steven, I mentioned the wild scenes I had seen within the first hour of landing. He laughed to me and said:

“Welcome to New York.”

I was only in the city for the long weekend, so Steven proposed that we go check out a home game that night. Every poker player has that feeling - when you get an itch to play. At that time, I had built most of my roll through playing online home games, so I was excited to try a new environment of playing live poker.

For those not familiar with the poker scene in New York, home games dominate the poker ecosystem. This is because New York abolished all forms of gambling and lotteries in the state’s Second Constitution. As a result, game-runners took the liberty of hosting and organizing their own games, making money by taking a percentage of the pot during each hand, which is known as rake.

That night, Steven and I went to go visit my first home game, ran by a member of Poker After Dark.

Located in the Brooklyn borough, the game was located in the basement of the apartment, which was rented out solely for the purpose of hosting poker games. It wasn’t too fancy, but it got the job done. Snacks and drinks were available and sushi was ordered that night to feed the players.

I was greeted by a younger crowd, primarily college students and kids who had just started work. There were two tables of $1/$3, with the max buy-in being $500. I opted to just buy in for $200, as I was nervous as hell - I hadn’t played live in a long time and this was the first time I’d ever played somewhere underground.

After an hour of play and my nerves settling down, I took a deep breath and analyzed my surroundings.

At a game like this, the rake averaged to be 10% of the pot up to $20, averaging out to be three to five hundred per hour per table. It was the hosts job to find players and provide a space to play. The more action a player was and the deeper pockets they had, allowed for pots to be bigger and the game to last longer, meaning more money raked in for the hosts.

It dawned on me how extreme the hustle culture was in New York. I had noticed it before, watching street vendors set up shop or getting approached constantly on the streets of Manhattan to purchase various commodities.

One of the hosts who ran the game just graduated college and couldn’t find a job. Another decided to drop out of college to focus on hosting and dealing poker games as a primary source of income.

Each night the hosts could make up to a few thousand dollars in rake, which first had to cover living expenses, equipment, food and Uber drive expenses for the players. The rest of the money would then go into their pocket.

The dealers of the game were college students who dealt as a side hustle. They would make roughly $50 an hour, depending on how much tip they received.

Sure, hosting or dealing a $1/$3 game wouldn’t pay doctor money - but it wasn’t a bad gig, especially for those who struggled with finding a job or wanted to make some extra cash.

I had a great time conversing and battling with these New Yorkers. Many of them were just like me, kids who also got a rush of adrenaline from playing cards.

Once my first trip to New York concluded, I couldn’t wait to go back. I loved everything about the city: the energy, the freedom, and the never-ending things to do. On the flight home, I made a promise to myself that one day I would make the move.

Things back in Michigan weren’t exactly superb. I was skipping most of my classes and my grades were tanking. Despite getting straight-A’s my freshman year, the highest grade I got junior year was a B-. Instead of focusing on school, I was occupying any spare time I had to play and study poker.

I immersed myself in the poker world, watching YouTube clips of high stakes streamed games or watching professional poker players stream their sessions on Twitch. At this time a name was buzzing around the poker community - Landon Tice.

Landon Tice was only a year older than me, but was advertised as a poker prodigy when he binked a tournament in Vegas for over $200k. I was in awe. I thought to myself:

How could someone so young have so much success in poker?

So I did some digging and found that he was recently interviewed on a poker podcast. In the interview, he elaborated on his rise from playing micro stakes online all the way to high stake, attributing a lot of his early success to signing with Poker Detox, a coaching for profits stable. In exchange for backing and coaching, the horse or student would agree to give a percentage of his/her profits away.

I applied to Detox by sending them a video interview explaining why I wanted to join and my graph - at the time I was a slight winner at 50NL online.

The months immediately after signing with Detox were a blur. I would barely attend class, let alone do homework. Instead, the typical school day was replaced with grinding hands, each month playing over 200 hours. Within a little over three months, I had moved all the way from 100NL all the way up to 1000NL, 10X’ing my stake in 100k hands.

My sunrun at 200, 500 and 1k NL.

I had risen up stakes faster than any student or coach in Detox’s history. Those few months I was on cloud 9. Poker seemed too easy and I was becoming complacent. However, any serious grinder knows that my results were atypical and I was clearly getting hit by the deck.

The fall semester of my junior year was coming to a close. Steven’s birthday just so happened to be coming up. Coincidentally, a fellow poker friend told me about a much larger home game that he was playing in New York, one that he thought might interest me. For these reasons, I decided to make the trip out to New York once again. My roll had grown to just shy of six-figures and I was ready for a challenge.

Landing in New York for the second time felt like coming to a second home. I forgot how much I missed the city. Each time I stepped foot on the streets of New York, it opened my eyes, mind, and heart.

Celebrating Steven’s birthday was a blast. We had a nice steak dinner amongst friends and ended the night downing booze at a nearby club. But I wasn’t there just to celebrate Steven’s birthday, I still had business to take care of.

The next day I got an address from my friend directing me to the home game. I arrived at a luxury apartment complex. I told the door man I was here to see the host, and he buzzed me up, telling me to go to the penthouse floor.

My nerves quickly crept in again. I didn’t know what to expect. As I walked into the apartment I was taken aback by what I saw. This wasn’t a home game run by college students. I was clearly the youngest person in the room and surrounded by a much older crowd.

There were two games running: the main table was a $25/$50 game and the secondary table was $5/$5.

The host, an attractive woman, greeted me and asked me which game I would like to play. I told her I would play the $5/$5 and buy-in for two thousand dollars. She gave me a seat and chips to play with.

Except, I couldn’t play. Not just yet. There was way too much going on, and I couldn’t focus. I was breathing so fast to the point of hyperventilating when I decided to excuse myself to the balcony.

I closed my eyes and took in some deep breaths of the cold air to ease myself. When I opened my eyes and saw the beautiful view of the city at night. The balcony had a direct view of the Empire State building. It all seemed like a dream. Here I was, still not even graduated college, gambling with wealthy businessmen, hedge fund managers, and lawyers.

Was life even real?

As I stepped back into the apartment to take my seat, I took a quick survey of the main table. The straddle was frequently on and the game was playing much bigger than advertised. There must have been almost half a million in chips on that table.

A massage girl greeted me and asked me if I wanted anything to eat or drink. I politely just asked for water. I noticed three massage girls working that day, making their money through tips which businessmen would casually fling their way.

The whole setup was eerily similar to Molly’s game, preying on the desires of men.

If you wanted Omakase sushi or expensive wagyu steak for dinner? The house would have it delivered for you.

If you wanted to drink while you play? The apartment had a full bar service.

If you wanted a massage while you played? You had three attractive women to choose from.

A game like this would rake in much more than those $1/$3 Brooklyn games. On good nights the host could rake in mid 5-figures.

I ran extremely hot that day. After a couple hours of tight solid play, I turned my initial $2k buy-in into a $10k stack before the secondary table broke.

Despite it already being past midnight and me being up a good chunk of money, I couldn’t help but want to sit in the main game. Something about playing a $25/$50 game with constant straddles and stacks sitting as deep as $100k piqued my gambling itch. So instead of calling it a night, I decided to sit down.

Was I rolled for the game? Absolutely not.

But I didn’t care. This was all a dream to me. I was just there to have fun.

So I sat down, with about $10k in front of me, ready to battle.

After sitting down and getting comfortable, I started exchanging friendly banter with the other players at the table.

There was the cordial lawyer, who was always high and went to the game to escape time from his wife and kids. A hedge fund manager, who loved giving action and even bought one of the massage girls into the game. A Russian businessman, who didn’t seem to want to talk to anybody and had his earbuds in the whole night. All very financially successful people who came from various backgrounds.

About an hour passed with no interesting hands until I picked up AK offsuit, a very strong holding. A $100 button straddle was on by the hedge fund manager. I had noticed he loved to raise any two cards, so after three limps in front of me, I decided to call my hand as well and not raise. It folded to him and on cue, he raised it up to $800. The initial three limpers folded and now I had a decision to make. My hand here was nearly the best preflop 99% of the time, but AK was still a vulnerable hand, and I didn’t even have a pair yet. As I didn’t want to make any mistake postflop, I announced two words:

All in.

$10k, shot straight into the middle.

Within a half a second, the hedge-fund put one chip into the middle, signifying a call.

I gulped. A snap-call wasn’t good, and if he had AA or KK I could be drawing nearly dead. Before the cards were dealt, he asked:

“Do you want to do any business?”

“I would prefer to run-it twice, it’s a big pot.”

I was extremely nervous about losing my whole stack, $10k is a lot of money and running the boards twice would allow me to reduce the variance.

“I’m just messing with you. I only run it once.”

Yikes. I was beginning to understand that this was all a game for him, he didn’t care about the money. He was just there to gamble.

The dealer dealt out the board coming out A♣️3♥️5♥️.

The opponent muttered to himself and seemed upset at the ace coming out, which meant my hand was likely best.

The turn came the 9♥️ and the river came the T♥️.

Now it didn’t matter that I had top pair, any holding with a heart would beat my top pair. My opponent quickly turned over his hand Q♥️.Q♦️, for a queen-high flush.

My heart sunk, thinking I had lost this pot. I anxiously turned my hand over to check if I had any heart and breathed a sigh of relief as I was holding A♥️K♣️, allowing me to scoop the pot.

“Nice win, kid”. The hedge fund manager remarked.

I cashed out that night a profit of $20k, my biggest win by a mile. It also marked the first day I made 6-figures from playing poaker.

The host pulled out a stack of cash and ran it through a money machine. I had never touched so much money in my life. Instead of asking the host for an Uber ride or for the personal chauffeur to drive me back to Steven’s, I opted to walk back instead.

I was on a high like no other, running across the streets of Manhattan in the late morning like a madman, with $20k stuffed in my coat pocket.

I decided when I left for Michigan that weekend I would make a plan to move to New York.

But I clearly wasn’t ready yet.

I was impulsive, reckless, and naïve. And things weren’t going to turnout the way I had planned them to be.

Oct. 13, 2022 | 7:15 p.m.

Poker After Dark

It’s 2 A.M. and I just came back from a stroll. These nightly strolls have become a ritual for me, allowing me to take some time out of my day to reflect on whatever it is I may be thinking about. Today I started the stroll off frustrated, full of anger and pain that comes with losing money in poker. This past week I’ve lost approximately 20,000 U.S. dollars playing online poker, and although it isn’t necessarily anything out of the norm, the pain of losing money will never leave. I am human after all. As I kept walking, I felt the cold air brush against my skin, signaling the arrival of fall. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, smiling to myself. It wasn’t that long ago when I was a small stakes grinder with big aspirations, going on the same nightly strolls, wondering what it would be like to play high stakes.

After busting my roll, I was forced to put my attention back on school. I was pursuing a pre-med track after being fed the idea that spending years of my life studying in school would all be worth it once I got my white coat.

Going down the pre-med track felt reminiscent of high school once again. Competition among pre-med students was cutthroat. Students would constantly compare grades and extracurriculars. Many students had mental breakdowns, unable to deal with the stress of it all.

It is unsurprising that over 50% of freshmen who declare themselves as pre-med drop out and that medical students are more likely to be depressed and three times as more likely to die by suicide as their same-age peers according to AAMC. So, why does society push us so hard to become prized-doctors when the journey is long, tedious, and unhealthy?

I can’t comment for others, but I can comment for myself. I was despondent, spending most of my day studying for exams or preparing presentations with little time to do much else. I became distant to many friends, only interacting with fellow premed students. Life continued on like this for a while, until March of 2020.

COVID-19 spread across America like a wildfire, forcing businesses, workplaces, schools and restaurants to shut down.

With nothing else to do, online gambling skyrocketed. Poker games were the softest they were since Black Friday. My gambling itch quickly returned and I couldn’t help but join in on all the action.

A classmate of mine mentioned a soft home game that he was playing in. He added me to a Facebook group chat titled Poker After Dark.

I vividly remember having exactly one thousand dollars in my bank account left to play with. This money was recently given to me by relatives and family friends during Chinese New Year.

Poker After Dark was filled with college students from New York. I didn’t know any of these New Yorkers and they didn’t know me, but we all shared the same young degeneracy and love for playing cards. Every day we would play online home games which started in the afternoon and could last all the way until the early morning. Our days were spent attempting to stack each other while talking trash in the group chat, none of us had anything better to do with our time anyway.

It was an exhilarating few months, and it took my mind off my misery in school. To anyone from Poker After Dark that is reading this, despite our quarrels and toxicity that emerged from young kids gambling with case money, I’m appreciative of all you guys and will miss our nightly chatters and endless Venmo transactions.

I must have been the biggest winner on Poker After Dark. I watched my roll grow from a thousand dollars all the way up to thirty thousand dollars over the course of a few months. I ended up getting close to a lot of the regulars that played and we would often talk about the differences that came with growing up in the suburbs of Michigan compared to a big city like New York. I was intrigued in learning about how they lived their life and the freedom they had in such a big city.

One night after finishing up a game, a player named Steven asked me if I wanted to come visit New York. Steven just graduated college and was working in the city as an Investment Banker. He was your typical finance bro, spending most of his days working, but partying hard when he wasn’t. He was living his best life and we quickly took a liking to each other.

Steven offered to show me around the city and let me crash at his crib. I couldn’t have said yes faster. I was finally going to see what the city life was all about, where Alicia Keys claims dreams are made of.

I was finally headed to none other than New York City.

Sept. 29, 2022 | 9:42 p.m.

Building and Dusting My First Roll

If you were to teach someone how to play poker, you wouldn’t tell them to study weeks between each session. Rather, the best way to learn the game is to try and play yourself, which will inevitably result in making many costly mistakes. However, if you show up each day, you will get better and better, until one day you become a winning player. I’m going to take the same approach with my blog. It has been a while since I put out my first post and the reality is writing has never been my strong suit. Regardless, I will try to write a little each day, until it feels natural, just like how it was for me in poker.

Growing up, I never had any concept of money. Everything was paid for by my parent’s, and any purchase I wanted to make had to be approved by them. Despite our family being well-off, my parents never did anything lavish - everything was in moderation. Family dinners included trips to casual-dining restaurants and birthday celebrations were usually spent at home, putting candles on store-bought cheesecake while singing birthday wishes. They wanted to make sure my brothers and I grew up humble, similar to how they grew up.

It was first during high school when I started realizing the importance of money. Fellow peers would talk about their side hustles, these included reselling Hypebeast clothes, flipping shoes or golf caddying for rich businessmen on the weekend. Every young kid seemed obsessed with the idea of making money, but I couldn’t put a finger on why.

One day after tennis practice, the team decided to go eat out at a nearby restaurant. Despite wanting to join them, I embarrassingly realized I didn’t have the twenty dollars it would cost to eat a meal out. Sheepishly, I made up an excuse on the spot to escape the situation. Similar situations came up throughout my childhood, which caused serious cognitive dissonance. I was surrounded by uber-rich kids, but I didn’t have money to spend like they did. I even refused to pay for my then girlfriend’s prom ticket because I didn’t want to spend the fifty bucks (pathetic, I know). I realized that I desperately wanted to make money, I just couldn’t envision how. At the time, my naivety thought that making money would solve all my problems, and having it would allow me to fit in with the rest of the kids who surrounded me at school.

I finally had the chance to make side income during the summer of my senior year in high school. I used my tennis skills to coach little kids in my neighborhood and applied for a serving job at Olive Garden. Once I started working, each day was a grind. I often worked both jobs, coaching tennis for a few hours in the afternoon and then heading straight to Olive Garden to take on an evening shift. Both jobs paid me twenty dollars per hour. Although it wasn’t much, making my own money was addicting. I started to “splurge”, eating out most days, a luxury that I couldn’t afford up until this time. But I wasn’t totally reckless, eating out cost around twenty dollars and for each five hour work-shift I would make a hundred dollars, the remainder going straight to the bank. Over the course of the summer, I amassed around five-thousand dollars, and I was damn proud of it. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this money would become my first roll, which, unsurprisingly, I quickly dusted off.

The grind stopped when summer ended and I was a freshman at the University of Michigan. Despite being ranked a top 25 university globally by, I never felt special attending the school. The reality was being a Michigan-native gave you an upper hand in getting accepted, not to mention also attending the top college preparatory school in Michigan. There were plenty of mediocre students who were accepted into the University of Michigan over better competition since they had the advantage of growing up in Michigan or they attended a college preparatory school. Besides, what arbitrary statistics are rankings based on anyway and who the hell looks at a site like and thinks “wow, this must be a super authoritative site!”. Regardless, I attended college because it was the “normal path”, but in reality I felt like a sheep, going along with the herd.

While in college, I followed the rituals which all freshmen go through: go to frat parties, drink underage, obtain a fake I.D., etc. I had plenty of fun freshman year, finally getting a taste of the freedom that comes with living away from parent’s. During my freshman year I got introduced to the game of poker, a game which you could play amongst friends and make some cash by doing so. I was hooked instantly. I was jobless and the thought of making some extra money playing a card game was appealing.

One day at a friendly poker game among fellow freshmen, there was talk about a casino in Michigan that lets 18 year-olds enter, Soaring Eagle. The only problem? It was a two-hour drive away. But that wasn’t really a problem, not if you were determined like me. Being the young impressionable 18 year-old that I was, I decided to make a solo-trip to try and make some money. I still held onto most of the money that I saved up from working the past summer, and that night I booked a Zipcar and started driving.

I brought along 500 dollars, a significant chunk of my net worth at the time. Once I got inside, I headed straight to the poker room to play the only game running, 1/3 no-limit Texas hold ‘em poker. The buy in was between 200 to 500 dollars, and I decided to buy in for 200 to start things slow. I don’t really remember how, but I quickly busted the money as I had no clue how to play. My face started turning red and frustration creeped over me as I couldn’t believe that I dumped money that would’ve taken me ten hours of work in less than an hour. Outraged, I headed straight to the pits and decided to play roulette to try and win it back.

I put the rest of the money I had on me on black. The dealer, noticing that I was touching the railing, rolled her eyes and told me to step back. She was used to seeing young adolescents blow money they couldn’t afford to lose. I quickly took a step back and anxiously watched her spin the ball.

Tick, tick, tick.

The ball landed on red. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What I thought would be a way to make quick money ended up in me losing money which would take days of work to make. Defeated, I finally headed home during the wee hours of the night.

I’ll never forget those car rides home. Those who ever had to drive home from a big losing session at the casino can relate. The first hour consisted of me yelling at myself, telling myself how much of a failure I was, while vowing to never come back to the casino again. The second hour consisted of me listening to sappy songs, attempting to cry my sadness away.

Despite promising to myself to quit going to the casino, I was never able to quit. Those long drives and solo-trips to the casinos became a weekly occurrence, until one day I was forced to call it quits when I overdrafted my bank account. I blew money which took me a whole summer to acquire and I was forced to take a step back and reevaluate my life.

Sept. 18, 2022 | 10:07 p.m.

Definitely don't try and get a fish to fold a hand...ever! lol

Sept. 18, 2022 | 10:02 p.m.

Just saw this, thanks for reading!

Sept. 18, 2022 | 10:01 p.m.

Thanks Florin! Will update more regularly!

Sept. 18, 2022 | 10:01 p.m.

Definitely had a tell. I instantly jammed. Was very nervous on stream lol. But your insight about looking away is valuable and never considered that!

Sept. 18, 2022 | 10:01 p.m.

Post | Eric Wang posted in Chatter: 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.

If you guys enjoyed what you read, make sure to subscribe!

Aug. 21, 2022 | 6:08 p.m.

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