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HomeNewsWhy Poker Players Quit Poker

Why Poker Players Quit Poker

Everyone stops playing poker sooner or later. Some quit at a young age, like Fedor Holz. Others stop playing because they die, like Doyle Brunson. But what drives poker players to give up their beloved game? And why do they often return, even after a long break?

This information is based on Phil Galfond’s article “The Final Cashout” and articles on PokerOff that describe different players’ experiences with quitting poker.

Why Poker Players Say Goodbye to Poker While Alive: Phil Galfond’s Opinion

Phil Galfond, a poker coach and professional poker player, has accumulated experience from his students and colleagues and identified four main reasons for quitting professional poker.

Anticipation of the Game’s “Death”

Players see that technology is becoming stronger, and governments around the world are making it more difficult to access poker. As a result, they start to fear being left with nothing in another round of bans or the development of tools for studying the game. This fear makes them hesitant to connect their lives with professional poker.

Downswings Become Harder to Handle Over Time

When you’re 24, your financial situation isn’t usually as stressful as it becomes at age 55. Losing money at work is always unpleasant, but if you can’t predict when the period of losses will end, it becomes increasingly difficult to move forward in your chosen field.

Inconstancy Brings More Stress with Age

The older we get, the more we want to settle down and live a peaceful life. We don’t want to worry about money, we want stable conditions, and we don’t want to fear poverty in retirement.

Poker offers far less security in this regard than a “regular” job. You never have any assurance that in 5, 10, or 15 years you’ll be earning enough for your needs. Or that you won’t fall into a “slump” from which you can’t escape for years.

This inconstancy seems acceptable until age 30, but between 30 and 40, fears become much stronger because the approach of old age, declining work capacity, and competitiveness is already noticeable.

For example, Vanessa Selbst quit poker after a 12-year career when she became a mother. To spend more time with her spouse and children, have a clear schedule, and a stable income, one of the top poker players in the world traded poker for a job in the investment sector.

Poker Fulfills Its Purpose

Although it’s rare, some poker players enter professional poker for a short time. Usually, it’s to earn money to fulfill a dream. One striking example of this is the story of the Dang brothers, who played poker to save money to open their own restaurant. Once they achieved their goal, they completely transitioned to the restaurant business.

What Drives People to Quit Poker “Overnight?”

In Galfond’s experience, players rarely plan to say goodbye to the game quickly. More often, they see it as a potential solution in a few years.

However, there are situations where poker players treat poker like smokers treat cigarettes. They suddenly quit the game and move to other fields.

The main reasons for this spontaneous farewell to the game include:

  • Experiencing a massive downswing or losing your entire bankroll, leaving you unable to support yourself. This happened to Lithuanian streamer-record holder Alexander “FatSushiPoker” Yanushkevich, who quit poker and streaming after losing funding from the Natural8 room. However, he later found a backer and returned to the game.
  • Receiving a job offer or the opportunity to start a business with significantly higher income and conditions than what poker offers. In 2016, Galfond himself quit professional poker when he saw in a report that the business he had created was generating more money than playing.
  • Making significant profits from crypto or other investments, which are less painful and easier to achieve than in poker.
  • Burnout or deterioration of health. Depression, the discovery of a serious illness, the need for treatment incompatible with the stress of poker or the lifestyle associated with the game, and so on. Matt Marafioti quit poker because of a worsening of paranoia, which ultimately led to his death.

However, there are other reasons why players unexpectedly make the decision to say goodbye to poker.

For example, famous poker prodigy Mike McDonald left the game in 2010 because he lost interest and decided to find himself in something else. Ultimately, he became very successful in the cryptocurrency field, where he remains active as of December 2023.

Another regular, Tony Dunst, quit poker in 2022 because he simply realized it wasn’t for him and went on to develop a semi-professional tennis career.

New Zealand streamer Mike “imyourbluffpoker” Harb quit streaming and poker in November 2022 because a deal with a room fell through, and the growth of his Twitch channel was too slow. In the end, he found a job in app development within a couple of weeks, and as of December 2023, he plays poker and streams only on major holidays.

English regular and 2011 WSOP Main Event finalist Sam Holden, who won over $1M in live tournaments between 2010 and 2013, wanted to devote more time to studying and a career outside of poker.

Another example: on October 14, 2017, Dani “Ansky” Stern quit poker because he realized he couldn’t keep up with the competition. As of December 2023, he works as a discretionary (intuitive) trader for the international company Geneva Trading.

A more tragic story happened with Mazzi Dumato. After being scammed by his own wife, losing all his money and property, he decided to detach himself from everything material, including playing poker.

Why Do Poker Players Hesitate to Quit the Game?

Despite the fact that poker involves significant psychological, physical, emotional, and financial pressure, it can be very difficult to make the decision to end your relationship with it.

In Galfond’s experience, there are usually two reasons for this:

  • Money. If poker brings in income that they cannot currently get through other means, professionals stay in the game, even if they are experiencing significant psychological discomfort.
  • Lack of preparedness. When you’ve invested many years, effort, and soul into poker, it’s very difficult to gather yourself and break up with it. And if you don’t have a plan for the future, it’s practically impossible. Poker players often rely on naive optimism or perfectionism: they believe that if they play for a couple more years and save up some money, the transition to another field will be easier. In reality, a couple of years stretches out to 5-15 years. They keep preparing the ground instead of starting to use it.

In far fewer cases than some top regs portray on social media, players don’t quit poker because they truly and deeply love the game. These enthusiasts are few in reality, and they fall into the 1% of survivor bias, where a passion for poker without ludomania is combined with high income from it.

However, there’s another rare situation: when poker players want to leave their mark on history before quitting the game. For this reason, Antonio Esfandiari remained in professional poker for a long time, although he was ready to quit. Once he made enough to go down in history, Antonio chose a new career: that of an exemplary father.

Why Do Poker Players Return to Poker After Retirement?

Galfond believes that poker is not a real job, but you can build a career in it, just like in a game. The closest example is professional hockey or other sports. Players and athletes don’t work in the classic sense, although they invest a lot of effort, time, and other resources in developing their poker skills.

This is the first reason for returning to poker after a long break. If a person loved the game, worked hard to develop in it, and achieved success, sooner or later they will want to feel the full range of emotions associated with participating in it.

For example, PokerCode coach Manuel “Phemo” quit poker in 2016 because he didn’t consider it a good career choice for the future, but he returned in 2019 because he couldn’t handle the “itch to play.”

The most unsuccessful player of 2022, Chris Brewer, took a six-month break from poker to join the company What If Media Group because he developed a fear of failure in tournaments. But he then returned with renewed energy and started winning.

The second reason is freedom of time management. One of the undeniable advantages of poker over a 5/2 job from 9 to 5 is that you’re not tied to your employer’s schedule. Over time, this becomes a significant factor for some players, as poker allows them to spend more time at home with their families and organize their lives more flexibly outside of “work.”

The third reason is money. Periodic surges in poker’s popularity bring back its financial appeal, as weaker fields make it easier to earn money in the game.

Finally, the fourth reason is an unfinished gestalt. Just as Antonio Esfandiari couldn’t quit poker until he made history, some players can’t help but return to it until they achieve a certain poker goal. For example, Cypriot Menikos Panagiotu earned enough money in poker in the first half of the 2010s to quit the game and open a Mexican restaurant. However, he really wanted to win a bracelet. So, in 2022, he returned to poker and fulfilled his dream.