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Haseeb Qureshi: "I Will Never Become a Poker Pro Again"
Former high-stakes pro Haseeb Qureshi says he's giving away all his money and he told PokerListings.com that he won't be returning to the poker tables to rebuild.
"I haven't played a hand of poker since I quit over two years ago," said Qureshi.
"Playing poker is no longer a part of my life. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't come back to the game, like high-stakes players so often end up doing. I've stuck to that promise."
When Qureshi left poker in 2011 it was due in large part to his involvement in the so-called “Girah Scandal” that centered around young Portuguese poker player Jose Macedo.
Qureshi was dropped as an instructor at Cardrunners.com as a result of the scandal.
Mid-2011 Qureshi announced he was walking away from poker to travel Europe and “find himself”. More than two years later he's back with a book breaking down the philosophy, psychology and strategy he learned from poker.
To help the launch the book and to point his life in a new direction Qureshi wrote on his blog that he will be giving away the vast majority of his savings, roughly half a million dollars. He wrote that he's donating to charities and to his parents' retirement.
PokerListings.com spoke to Qureshi from his home in Austin, Texas about what he's doing and where he's going.
Maybe we can start by talking a bit about your recent book/news of giving away most of your money.
The nuts and bolts are pretty clear on your blog so I'd like to ask more specifically about what you're hoping to accomplish with this new direction, and why it's important to you.
I wanted a fresh start, to move forward and feel like I'm beginning from a place that I feel good about.
There's a lot of baggage attached to the money for me. After leaving poker behind, it eventually felt to me like I should leave behind all of it, even my winnings.
I wanted to leave myself with nothing but the lessons that I've learned from my experiences. It just felt right to me.
At the same time, I wanted to give back to others, because poker had been so generous to me. I want to give it to my parents, and to others who've been less fortunate. I wanted to pay it forward, you know?
But that being said, me giving away my money doesn't mean I'm disowning poker. Poker is a part of me; I've been playing poker professionally since I was 16. It was my education, in a way. But in the end I feel like I got more than I gave, so this is my way of giving back and wiping the slate clean.
You talk about leaving poker behind but like you mentioned, you're still involved in the poker world. Will you return to playing poker at some point?
I haven't played a hand of poker since I quit over two years ago.
Playing poker is no longer a part of my life. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't come back to the game, like high-stakes players so often end up doing. I've stuck to that promise.
For now, I've devoted my time to helping poker players as best I can through writing and working with them.
To tell you the truth, when I was a poker player, I was pretty miserable. I made a lot of money and was very successful, but I didn't enjoy my life. My identity became completely ensconced in being a poker player. My relationship with poker became fundamentally unhealthy.
Do you coach players for money? Does that coaching extend to actual poker strategy?
I used to be a high-stakes poker strategy coach for NL and PLO back when I was playing poker. But once I quit the game, I decided that I no longer wanted to do that.
I personally don't believe someone who's not playing in current games should be teaching strategy at all, so that's not what I do.
As a mental coach, I work on poker players to better manage their mindset, control their tilt, improve their learning, become more consistent and sharper poker minds.
So I don't watch people play and tinker with their individual moves or bets, but rather I look at their minds, both at the table and away, and help them improve their capacity as poker players.
Do you have training in that sort of coaching beyond your experience as a poker player?
Everything I know comes from my coaching of professional poker players, which always included some element of mental coaching, and from my own personal study of performance psychology.
I've never gotten any formalized training; I just learned basically what works from coaching and observing other great players, and having achieved certain similar goals myself.
Will you ever play poker again yourself?
I don't know. Ever is a strong word! Will I play a hand of poker again before I die? Probably. But I will never become a poker pro again.
In fact, I made a bet before I quit the game with some guy, some random poster on a forum, that if I ever became a professional poker player again, I'd pay him $50,000.
Was quitting partly because you don't like the effect pro poker has on your life/mind/self?
Not just that but yes. I think it was in large part because, I mean, I was a professional poker player for five years, 16-21.
I became really successful at a young age but I lost my passion for poker ... I dunno. Around the time I was 19 or 20 I just didn't love it anymore. I didn't look forward to playing. The excitement and the drive to improve and get better was just gone.
But I felt stuck. I wanted to quit many times, but my rational poker-player mind told me – when will you ever be able to make this kind of money again?
As a poker player, it's impossible to turn off that part of your brain. I couldn't. But when I finally quit, I knew it was the right thing to do. I never wanted to be a poker player forever. Poker already taught me everything I had to learn from it. After that, it was just making money.
Did you ever struggle with problem-gambling?
No, not at all. In fact, I was the complete opposite. I don't think I was meant to be a gambler. I never did anything but play poker. I've spent a total of $10 in my entire life on casino games.
No blackjack, craps, roulette, or any crap like that.
You've definitely shown you're willing to gamble for big money, though. That whole Ashton Griffin running bet was pretty intense.
I know! Part of what made that story so insane was the fact that the biggest prop bet I'd made before that was for $100. No joke.
Is there anything you regret about making that bet with Ashton?
Is there anything I regret... man, it's so long ago and I heard so many different things from people afterwards, poker players, people I respect.
The bet with Ashton, I think was a huge, huge lesson for me. In a way, I wish it had never happened and I'll never make that mistake again, of betting against a friend like that.
It was a lesson I didn't know. As poker players, as high-stakes players, we're used to divorcing money from emotions. That's just what we do.
At the time, neither Ashton nor I felt any animosity toward each other whatsoever, when we were actually making the bet.
We were both just playing a game of poker, which we'd done many times before against one another but the bet was a big, big lesson that I think I had to learn about the importance of separating money and the people you care about.
It's a mistake I haven't since made again.
Speaking frankly, did you worry that announcing giving away all your money would come off as promotional with the release of your book?
I mean, I wrote about it on my own personal blog. It's a big life change. And I've been writing this book for over a year and a half. Everyone who actually follows my blog knows about it. That's the sort of thing you write about on your own blog!
Was there some measure of calculation on your part, in announcing that and releasing the book at the same time?
Oh, of course. When I decided to do this, I wanted to choose the best time to announce it, because I wanted my book to do well. I'd been writing it for so long, and it's the encapsulation of so much time and effort.
For the last month until then, I'd basically been working non-stop to edit, design it, and get it ready, and also get all the groundwork in place to start making these donations before the year's end.
For now, leaving myself very little money to live off, I've gotta support myself. Not that books make much money, but it's something.
As someone who's experienced winning big sums of money and the feelings that come with that, how does it compare to the feeling of giving away a big sum of money, especially to do something like help set up your parents' retirement?
It's very different. I mean, this is all happening so fast and suddenly, it's hard to fully process.
When you win a huge amount in poker at least for me what I would feel was... relief. Like, yes, things are going to be okay. I'm going to be successful.
I've always been a simple person when it comes to money. Even when I was making a million dollars a year, I just didn't spend that much. I had an okay car, okay stuff. It didn't occur to me what else to spend that kind of money on, so I mostly invested it.
But now, giving money away to actually help people and make a real difference to people, into charitable causes it's like the feeling of taking in a huge breath. Like, this money really fucking matters It makes a difference, more than in just securing me.
Like with the Simama Project, the charity I just donated $20k to. That money will sponsor seven Kenyan kids through their entire high school, giving them food, medical checkups, textbooks, etc. That's crazy.
And when I was a poker player, I knew some people who'd run up $6k tabs on bottle service at night clubs. The disparity you suddenly realize between what actually makes a difference to people, what actually creates positive changes for people's lives who really need, and the transient crap that we end up placing all our value on.
After gaining that perspective, is it hard for you to not judge poker players now for doing that kind of stuff?
It's not about judgment. I mean, it's hard not to judge someone who spends $6k on bottle service at a night club. Granted, I judge guys like that. Fair.
But the idea that human beings care more about their immediate environment than about distant hypothetical suffering, that's just part of human nature. It's pointless to vilify people for that. It's missing the point.
I think the point is not so much let's point fingers at people who have more money than they need and make them feel guilty about it. That's stupid. It doesn't solve any problems, either for the people we're shaming, or the people who need help.
Rather I think the point should be to simply make people more aware of what good there is in providing value and service to others. It's as simple as that, to my mind.
Now that you're not going to be making a living from poker, is there any anxiety about earning a living/being able to do what you want to do with your life?
Yep. But isn't that normal for a 24-year-old? Isn't that what I'm supposed to feel at this time in my life?
The whole human world is driven by anxiety about the future. You have to care about money, have to hustle to get by. Why shouldn't I?
Did you feel the same when you were playing poker?
Not at all. In poker, all I was trying to do was allay my anxiety, to make myself more comfortable.
I think really, ultimately, that's what many poker players are playing for is comfort. They want to find comfort. Comfort comes in having big money, in having the respect of others, in buying and having nice things, not having to worry.
I'm not looking for comfort anymore. I'm looking for growth. And I guess, for me, this is what that looks like.
Where will you go and what will you do in your new life?
Where will I go, what will I do ... Well, I'm going to live here in Austin, Texas for a while. But who knows?
I'm open to what the future has in store for me. for now I'm just going to work hard and do the best I can with the skills I have. If things end up not doing well, if my book doesn't do well, or my coaching business, I'll just get a job like every other 24-year-old. I'm fine with that too. :)