Throwback Thursday – Poker Sunday in the Glory Days

by Henry Jablonski
on July 27, 2017

It’s amazing that in my early 30s I am considered an old timer in the online poker industry. While I don’t walk with a cane and haven’t joined AARP yet, I’m still considered ancient in the world of clicking buttons online for money.

In online poker’s early days, things were different. Or in my old man speak, “Back in my day…we had to walk 15 miles uphill in the snow to check-raise.” What I’m specifically referring to is what people in the normal world would call “Sunday”.

For most, Sunday is a day to go to church or a day to relax with the family or even a day to get some yard work done. For poker players back in the glory days before Black Friday, it meant so much more.

Poker Sundays Today

To make sure you fully grasp what a Sunday was like back in the day, I want to make sure you understand what it is like today and what caused it to change. That way, you’ll fully be able to appreciate just how amazing and exciting things were.

When I refer to “today” I am talking about poker after Black Friday. Black Friday was the tragic day that the Federal Government in the US shut down most of the major online poker sites. They seized money and turned off the “money-faucet” for so many professional players around the world.

Since then, some of the sites have returned to the market, but it’s never really been the same. A lot of the sites aren’t servicing the US market anymore, and therefore the size of the tournaments and prize pools have dropped. Not only this, but the number of tournaments available has also dropped.

Things are getting a lot better for other parts of the world since then, but here where I am in the US, not so much.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

So let’s talk about what Sunday looked like back in the hay day of online poker. Every day of the week was packed full of big tournaments with a lot of money on the line, but Sundays were in a league of their own. There were multiple tournaments that you could win six-figures in from the comfort of your own home.

Not one big tournament…not two…But five to ten different tournaments with the first prize over six-figures! Now, you might be thinking these tournaments all had $5k or $10k buy-ins. You would be wrong. Most of these tournaments were $100 or $200 buy-ins, and some were even less! You literally had a ton of chances to make hundreds of thousands of dollars on one day every single week without a huge investment.

On top of these tournaments, you usually had chances to win entry into major tournaments around the world or win any host of “smaller” tournaments where first was easy $70k-$80k-$90k. I put smaller in quotes because they were only small comparatively. The point is that there was an absolutely absurd amount of money making opportunities.

A standard weekday of playing had a range of about $3k-$5k worth of buy-ins. A standard Sunday for me was $8k-$12k in buy-ins. As you can imagine, it was a BIG day. When that big day was great, it was great. I remember winning $20k-$30k was pretty common and even winning about $60k on my biggest Sunday. I also won a satellite to a live event on a Sunday that turned into $250k so that probably counts in there as well.

When the big day was bad, though, it was bad. There is no worse feeling than clicking off $12k and then trying to figure out how to calm your mind enough to get to sleep. The most frustrating thing in the world was losing your only deep run and then being left to focus on a tournament that wouldn’t even cover your buy-ins for the day.

For example, I remember one Sunday I was deep in the Sunday Million on Pokerstars, and there were about 50 people left. 1st place was several hundred thousand dollars, and only 49 people stood in my way. I also had a $30 rebuy tournament going on the side that was like $6k to first place. I got it in with I can’t remember what in the Sunday Million and got sucked out on and was out. I think I got like $2k for my efforts.

How on Earth was I supposed to now focus on the #30 rebuy tournament that if I won would only make me negative $4k for the day when I was just playing for several hundred thousand? Safe to say that it was a challenge. Sometimes being a pro was about playing strong to minimize your losses even when there was no chance of profit on the day.

The Rituals

If it was a Tuesday and I was getting up to play, I would roll out of bed, do whatever and then slowly make my way to the computer. If it were a Sunday, though, things were different.  You see, I was in college at the time and had stumbled upon a house full of other professional poker players who lived two doors down. This was back in the day when not everyone and their mother said they played for a living so this was insanely rare.

We set up what we called the Grind House which was a living room filled with about eight different computer setups with multiple monitors on each. It would make any mom or maid lose their mind as it was a cluttered nightmare, but it was our battle station.

Anywhere from 5-8 of us would get together on Sundays and do battle with the rest of the net from the same room. It always made things more exciting as we could root for anyone that was making a deep run. Poker online can become lonely and stressful by yourself. This set up made it fun and bearable when you were losing thousands of dollars.

As you can imagine, the room was dead silent all day long. Ok, maybe that’s not true. It was the exact opposite. We would chant, yell, scream, climb on our chairs, jump over tables…we probably looked like an insane bunch of monkeys to an outsider, but the insanity kept us sane.

The food was always ordered as a crew and delivered to the house. Whoever had the fewest tables going was in charge of racing to the door and paying the delivery man. Of course, this was before we started to get “big time” and hired someone to be our on-site assistant. We had them get us food, run us errands, walk our dogs, and do just about anything that we couldn’t do while glued to the computer.

Now, you might be rolling your eyes and saying that is silly but it was actually a positive expected value move. The more that we could focus on our games, the more money we would make. I would agree that maybe the massage therapist that we hired regularly was a little over the top, but the personal assistant was definitely worth it.

The Rush

The part that’s hard to put into words is the rush that happened when one of our crew was making a deep run. Sure, it’s exciting to go deep in a tournament by yourself, but imagine doing it with all of your closest friends around cheering you on. I can remember being at the final table and winning a big all in and one of my friends jumping up and down on the couch screaming at the top of his lungs.

I can also remember doing the exact same thing when one of my friends was deep in a tournament. In a game that is so individual, it was amazing to be able to have the feeling of team support.

We always played everything individually and for ourselves, but that didn’t mean we weren’t ecstatic when our friends would win.

Usually, whoever the big winner was would take the crew out for dinner or to the club to get some drinks and have a night to celebrate the spoils. This, of course, would be later in the week because the time we finished would be late Sunday night and in our little college town, the rest of the world slept while we jumped on our couches.

The Wrap Up

A big part of me misses those Sunday rushes. It probably wasn’t the best for my stress levels, but that comes with the territory when you play poker for a living. The part I miss the most is not the money or even the potential for the big wins. The part I miss the most was the camaraderie that took place between myself and some of my closest friends.

Maybe one day we’ll get back our Sundays in the US and be able to build up the Grind House again. All of us are older now, though, and some have families so it may just be something that is permanently a memory.

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