Giving up University for Poker

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Should you ditch university to play poker for a living?


The idea to write this blog came to me this morning when I saw the following article shared on my FB feed: 25 Of The Most Beautiful College Campuses In The World

I've been privileged enough to have studied at #10 and #11 on the list.

This blog is not written to tell people what they should or should not do. Instead, I hope to share my experience both with poker and academia with the hope of providing some useful information which others can perhaps get a new perspective from. Ultimately, you should do what feels right to you, not what others tell you. That way you can hopefully be happy with the choice you make, or at the very least can take full ownership of it (not blaming others for poor decisions you made in life).


Lets start with poker. I got interested in poker from around the age of 16/17, with two main influences: 1) I watched televised tournaments, and without really knowing much about the game, I felt like they seemed to do stupid stuff and that I could get a handle of the game (at that age I probably felt that way about most things); 2) I was friends with junior players at the very highest level in chess, who were 2-3 years older than me. They had started playing some poker on the side with good results. I was shocked when they would tell me how they final tabled a $3R on PokerStars to win $3k, or that they would frequently win a few hundred $s grinding 45-Man SNGs etc...

So around that time I decided I would want to seriously give poker a shot, but I had no inclination to begin this pursuit until I turned 18 (it had never occurred to me to play underage, which apparently made me the exception rather than the norm!) The plan was to take a gap year after finishing school to "play international chess tournaments and see new countries", which I also did, but trying to win at poker was the overriding objective. I was 17 when I finished school, after which I finished my part-time job at a supermarket and got a full-time job at a call centre. The 12-hour shifts I did there, whittling the time away with a colleague in my team who had fought in Iraq was definitely a valuable, unintended training ground for the Supernova Elite chases I would later undertake. I did this job for around 3 months, at which point Christmas was approaching, I would be turning 18 early the following year (poker), and I felt that working any more 12-hour call centre shifts would lead to genuine mental trauma. I left the job with maybe a few $k, enough for 2-3 international chess tournaments abroad, nothing more. I would try to split the BR with poker and grind it up (starting on micro/low stakes would not cost much anyway). I had immediate success, and it was clear that I could earn at least a part-time income playing poker, at the very least.

Lets now look at university. Growing up it was never a question of whether I would be going to university, rather what would I study, and where? My father was a university lecturer, and I had always been 'gifted' academically. In all honesty, this was a gift only to a point, picking things up quickly makes you extremely unmotivated to study. I had that mentality right through school until the end of my undergraduate degree. That's why in school I needed to boost my grades in the final year to meet the entry requirements for my target universities, and at university I graduated with a 2:1 (which is generally considered a good classification [think B grade], but anything other than a First [A grade] I considered a failure for myself).

What's the point to this anecdote? Well, growing up through school and my first university degree, I generally didn't give a shit about most of the stuff I learned (I studied International Business at uni). I had more pressing matters to worry about, namely girls, poker, working out (in that order, occasionally 2) replacing 1)). Not only did I not care much about most of the things I studied, I also had the curse of knowing that I basically couldn't fail no matter what, which further disincentivised me from engaging in studying. Add to that the early success I had in poker, and suddenly there wasn't any urgent need to get a degree for a job upon graduation, since poker looked like it may have potential, at least for a very reasonable side income. In the end, my going to university first time round had no genuine goal, no purpose.

That's not exactly true. Whilst getting a piece of paper at the end of the four years wasn't such a big deal to me, there were a number of huge things I still got from going to uni. Academically, I did learn about some things which genuinely interested and engaged me. They tended to be optional subject choices outside the core course components, philosophy in particular. There's something very special about going for tutorials in the David Hume Tower at the university where the great philosopher himself studied, and occasionally finishing those tutorials in an old fashioned Edinburgh pub, like true philosophers! I also got a lot from the Climate Change course I studied, as the subject area seems to matter a lot more than Porter's Five Forces, which many scholars dismiss as bullshit (one scholar who came to give us a guest lecture being one of them, which was definitely awkward, listening on the back of what we'd been indoctrinated). To be clear, it was my bad subject choice and lack of genuine aspiration which made the academic side somewhat irrelevant, not the institution itself (although some of the teaching I later realised was a bit too steeped in tradition, comparing it to more progressive teaching I benefited from during my postgraduate degree).

More than the academic experience, it was the EXPERIENCE of going to uni which I got the most from. House parties, student nights at clubs most nights of the week, societies, sports unions, meeting people from all over the world, what an experience. It's hard to get an experience quite like that anywhere else I think, backpacking across Europe/Asia or something similar maybe?

Fast forward some, I decided to do a postgraduate degree on the opposite side of the globe, specifically at the University of Queensland, Australia. I'd already lived down under for a year, when I did one year of my undergraduate degree as an exchange student at the University of Melbourne. The amazing climate and outdoor lifestyle which went with it was really appealing. By this point I had already enjoyed quite a bit of success in poker (Supernova Elite once etc.), which was useful as the degree cost $30K AUD for 1.5 years, without being eligible for any scholarships. This time round, again with no pressure to get a specific qualification at the end, I decided to pick the degree I would find the most interesting. Psychology and Sports Science were both of interest, but having no entrance qualifications for those I went with Master of International Studies (International Relations). This would intertwine my interests in politics, philosophy and global affairs, so it seemed like a good option...

It turned out to be a great option! I thoroughly enjoyed the entire learning experience, being taught by younger, more progressive academics who were genuinely cool people interested in the same kinds of issues as all of us on the course. The people I met on the course I found I got on with better than on my undergraduate, having a lot more uni stuff to talk about together, and being interested in similar world issues which seemed irrelevant to many of the people I met on my undergrad, who were more business-minded. There's also something pretty awesome about being the international student, rather than the local student. For one thing there's the international students' societies which host some of the most fun and crazy parties/trips. Many international students are on exchange, and intend on making the most of their months/year overseas. Local students, more in Australia than the UK, may live at home while at uni, which I feel reduces the experience quite a lot. I also happened to get the highest possible grade classification upon graduation, acing the entire final year for every subject and the thesis.


My decision to go to university was based mostly on the university experience, not the qualification I would get at the end of it. But most people are not fortunate enough to not have to worry about getting a qualification after investing years of their life with no fallback option. Therefore, for most of you it IS IMPORTANT to decide firstly what you would want to study, and secondly the options that gives you in the world of work. It's probably not a good idea choosing an interesting course without prospects for graduate employment, unless you have a fallback option. At the same time I think it is an even bigger mistake to choose a course based solely on the job you can get, without considering whether you will enjoy studying for it/the job itself. THE JOURNEY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DESTINATION (destination usually important in this case too).

I haven't discussed options not go to university, not to play poker for a living, and to do something different (work in the trades e.g. carpenter, electrician, plumbing etc. or to set up your own business). That wasn't the purpose of this blog, instead I was targeting those who are weighing up poker vs uni, especially those who are considering dropping out of uni in year one because they are now making money from poker. Generally I would recommend against this, unless you have no desire to study what you chose to study, and no interest in the graduate jobs it may offer you (note: when I refer to 'graduate jobs', I just mean jobs for graduates. Something like 2/3 graduates get jobs which have nothing to do with the subject they studied at university!)

In life the drivers for our happiness and fulfilment cannot simply be the destinations/outcomes. Rarely are they, in fact. A poker player who plays literally only to make money is unlikely to feel happy and fulfilled while she is grinding downswings. A student at university is unlikely to feel happy and fulfiled if they are studying only for the piece of paper at the end, to get job 'x' to earn $s 'y'. What will that type of person use $s 'y' for, in the end, anyway?

The End #TL;DR

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