By far, the most common question I’ve been asked is “What is your motivation for doing this charity project?”
Let’s go back a few months, to the Super High Roller Bowl in Las Vegas. For those who weren’t following; I was in a commanding position with two tables left in the tournament. I was the chip-leader for hours…and with eight players left we merged down to two tables. By then I was second in chips, with the top seven payouts guaranteed $600,000 and first place getting the massive payout of $5,000,000. Eighth place got zero.
Unfortunately, I ended up on the wrong side of a disastrous set over set situation. That left me with a few big blinds, and I busted soon after, short of the money. Rainer Kempe, the player who got my chips, went onto win the tournament. I’ll paraphrase for those unfamiliar with poker lingo: it was an unlucky but unavoidable situation. It was deeply disappointing to go from expecting the biggest result of my career, to getting nothing.
I woke up the next day in a funk. Was it an adrenaline crash? Did I need more caffeine? I wasn’t sure what to do. I forced myself to attend a yin yoga class, and I meditated on it.
While contemplating the result, I asked myself: What is it that actually happened? I played a poker tournament, sold some action to my friends, and invested 2.5% of my bankroll in myself in the tournament. And for a fleeting moment, I was the favorite to win.
So let’s pretend I did win; what exactly would be different? Well, I’d have more money—about 40% more—and then I’d pay taxes on it, so let’s say 25% more. But for now, there’s nothing I badly want that necessitates having more money. What would I even do with my hypothetical winnings? Mostly I’d just use it to gamble bigger. Day to day, nothing would actually change. And that’s a comforting thought; winning the biggest tournament of the year wouldn’t have changed my life. Things were good already.
I’ve had some big results since then, but my conclusion persists. I realized there wasn’t much utility for keeping this money. And for tax reasons, I have to scale back substantially on January 1st anyway. Others have a much higher utility for this money, so contributing to charity felt like the right thing to do.
I’ve had some sleepless nights wondering whether humans should feel required to help others. Assuming those that can help without much sacrifice are obligated—and knowing that poker is a zero sum game—I felt that I should be contributing my time to other activities. I find it encouraging that I can make real, tangible differences with these donations. I’ve heard some cynics argue that donating to charity is like throwing money at a bottomless pit. And while there are some charities that are obviously inefficient, I truly believe that the ones I’ve selected are doing good, important work.
REG charity has stated that $3400 can save a life. That feels like a bargain to me.
I’ve gone through stretches where I’ve lacked the drive to keep grinding out poker; projects like this help keep me motivated.