Like most things in my furiously pathetic existence, my interest in poker is a result of watching compilations on YouTube. Usually TV poker is the preserve of insomniacs or lonely post-pub men eating cold curry on the sofa, but for hours on end I will sit and consume video after video of "sick" hands, angry players "tilting" and something called a "slow roll", which is apparently the worst thing you can do in poker other than shoot Wild Bill Hickok himself in the back of the head.
Last night, after watching the fifth clip of "poker brat" Phil Hellmuth calling some poor man speaking in broken English an "idiot", I thought to myself: 'How hard can this actually be? If I follow the mantras of my TV poker heroes, like snaggle-toothed former drug case pariah Justin Schwartz, could I too win big? Could I be the next bracelet winner on the World Series of Poker?'
I downloaded poker app Full Tilt, stuck £40 of my own money in and prepared to get down to some serious Hold 'Em. But first I had to get in the right mindset, and for poker that means:
DOWNING ENERGY DRINKS
Anyone with a brain and a vitamin D deficiency knows that the only route to success in any kind of online competition is a dedication to playing all night. And if you're too poor to maintain a cocaine regimen, then energy drinks will have to suffice. Setting up for this long old game of cards, I necked my first ever can of Monster, which – I don't mind telling you, readers – was gross as fuck. I had three sips and my teeth felt like they had gained sentience.
It seems that all the at-least mediocre players buss out the sunnies for the full poker face effect. I know I was playing online, but you still need some bottle when it comes to facing people digitally, as anyone who's had a protracted Twitter argument with a D-list celebrity will tell you. You're playing with poker nerds here. They'll be able to feel the scroll wheel tremble and rattle inside your mouse while you hold a pair of twos. You need to retain composure. I needed to retain composure. The glasses went on and the Monster went in. I was ready.
All I needed to do now, I'd learnt from the masters, was:
BE A DICK
I'd never gambled before, aside from the stupid mates-bets you make on the bus, where money is just a useful punch line in pointing out how a football team are shite and can't win anything (here's looking at you, Arsenal). But now I was playing with real money it was time to get mean. With "Taurine" and "L-Carnitine" pulsing through my bloodstream, I thought it prudent to start jacking my fellow matrix men with some jibes. If I managed to lower their confidence to startling levels, they would be less inclined to fight back against my extortionate bets. Granted, I'd only gone in with $20 (and the blinds were less than a dollar each), but shit, you've got to start being a high roller somewhere, right? Rome wasn't built in a day.
ANNOY PLAYERS BY CONSTANTLY GUESSING THEIR HANDS
Canadian poker player Daniel Negreanu has won six World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets in the past decade. He is also a motormouth who babbles incessantly during the play and continually tries (usually successfully) to read the hands of the other players, effectively psyching them out. I realised that, without my booming baritone voice and menacing cadence, this wouldn't have as much of an effect on the Full Tilt poker app for Mac – but if I didn't try I'd be kicking myself forever.
I could feel the ninja and the pirate getting wary, and the dog was seconds from folding from this high stakes $1.67 pot.
But it doesn't work if you just do it once; you have to keep hammering the point home. You're a poker guru. You're the Nostradamus of online Vegas, and your competitors would do well not to test your superpowers, lest they lose all the cash in their pot (the amount of money it takes to buy a glass bottle of Coca Cola).
For all my blustering, I wasn't doing too well. After being dealt a full house of queens and kings, like the world's most handsome diplomat, I ended up royally fucked by the chip leader, who somehow had a better hand and made me feel like the word's most handsome diplomat's human toilet.
My already meagre buy in of $20 was now down to a pitiful $4.48. I had disappointed my heroes. I'm sorry, Daniel Negreanu, Wild Bill, "Action" Dan Harrington. I'm just a loser like the rest of these loser-ass losers.
My power hour was up. I managed to claw my way back up to $16 or thereabouts, but my view on poker – having dipped my caffeinated fingers into its murky pools – was changed forever. I loved the thrill of winning money, but unsurprisingly wasn't keen on the horror show of losing it.
I thought being a poker ace was just a lot of smoke and mirrors, a lot of drinking green goo and being a prick, and I don't doubt it mostly is that. But I learned a more valuable lesson about it: that's it's a skill, and that it's about confidence in yourself and your fellow players that matters the most.
I left the table at the right time, before I sunk into the abyss of gambling that has consumed so many before me.
Jk, everything's gone.
More from VICE: