Finding yourself seated next to Andy Black at a poker tournament is a dichotomy.
On one hand, you know he's going to bring the table alive. On the other hand, you know he can bury you alive.
He was seated to my left in the €220 888Live Local event in Dublin. His eyes were wide; filled with life.
There was a purposeful spring in the words that were ejected from his mouth. The tournament ended for two players within an hour of his arrival.
He had a big stack. He was giving us all a lesson.
Life as Andy Black
The last time I spent time in his company was outside a cafe in San Remo. He didn’t remember me.
I remembered him. I was squeezed between him and Roberto Romanello. The pair knew each other from their Full Tilt days. It was a great night.
Why wouldn’t it have been? I mean it’s Andy f**ing Black.
"A renewed sense of enthusiasm has come over me."
LD: So what have you been up to?
AB: I haven’t played for four or five years. I’ve played the Irish Open and maybe a few tournaments at the World Series, but that’s about it.
A renewed sense of enthusiasm has come over me during the past few months. Like a lot of things in life, you only realize how much you miss something after you begin to experience it again.
On reflection I know I was picking a couple of tournaments that I wanted to play but I wasn’t enthusiastic about playing them.
There is a whole range of reasons why things have changed: I’ve started to put a lot of work into both my game, and myself, and some of my responsibilities have diminished freeing up some more space.
I’ve done this before; it’s not unusual for me. I had a five-year span when I didn’t play at all - between 1998 and 2003-04.
I have form for this. Back then it only took me a short while to get going once I returned. I feel like that’s happening again.
In some ways the game has moved on, but as Omar said in The Wire: “The game is out there. There is always the game.”
LD: I guess you will learn more about yourself when you play higher?
AB: That’s right. So far I have only played in low- and medium-skill level games. I have booked my World Series tickets.
I’m going for the whole thing. I haven’t done that for years.
The improved chip stacks and the changes to blind structures are important. The additional chips mean the game starts a bit sooner.
"I’ve always loved poker."
I think that’s going to make a big difference to the skill level of those events.
It also creates a more pleasant experience and not a frustrating one. You can play five or six of those events and be out long before dinner break really easily, and without doing a lot wrong.
I think this gives you a good 1-2 hours more play. That’s why I’m getting excited about this year.
LD: Did you love poker or did you get successful one day and thought you would stick around?
AB: I’ve always loved poker, especially in the first 10 years. I was a well-known £5 tournament player for the first 10 years.
That’s all there was in this town. Unless you were good at cash games - and I wasn’t - it was really difficult to move up.
I remember playing in these clubs in Ireland and when a stranger walked in all the heads would turn around and stare.
The whole game would be based on where that person lost the money. If that person won there would be a bunch of pros going home done.
LD: What did you do when you took a break from the game?
AB: I did quite a bit of family stuff, and I did a lot of meditation. I have also spent the past year and a half getting fit.
I haven’t done that before. I think it’s a combination of a mid-life crisis and the fact that my girlfriend is pretty fit.
LD: What forms of meditation do you practice?
AB: I’ve been a Buddhist for the past 17-18 years. I have explored different forms of meditation for years.
The sort of stuff I do now is the most simple in a way. I just sit there - non-conceptual meditation.
I was on a retreat last weekend and I was sitting for maybe 5-6 hours a day in silence. As with all of these developmental things, how you bring them into your every day life is so important.
Meditation, like everything else, can be a trap.
"It will be interesting to see if I still have it."
LD: A trap?
AB: Intrinsic to, I would imagine, more profound developmental ideas, there is a distinction between a lot of growth and developmental work that becomes popular, like mindfulness for instance.
But the tendency is, anytime you find something that helps you, you can get attached to the particular thing rather than seeing it as something that leads you in the right direction.
It’s what comes from whatever you are doing. I see people getting trapped in their lives. One day it’s poker, the next a girlfriend.
They don’t realize these things are always changing. You can go deeper and deeper into a particular thing, as long as you recognize and accept that you are changing, and the thing is changing.
It’s all about the bigger picture and how that thing changes your life as a whole.
LD: Are you ready for the challenge?
AB: With poker if you want to try and play creatively when you are my age - I am 50 now - you have to have that present beginners mind.
That’s why it’s difficult for the older players to play as creatively as the younger players.
It will be interesting to see if I still have it; if I can get back to that competitive level.