A New Jerseyan Black Friday: A Journey Back to Milk and Honey Part 1
In the Garden State, Juan wakes up at the crack of 2pm, grabs himself a cup of coffee, and gets ready for his evening of work on the newly regulated poker sites in New Jersey. It’s a pattern that plays out every day, and is the culmination of a long journey of more than three years that started during Black Friday and saw Juan reach some of the lowest points in his life so far. This is the story of a New Jerseyan Black Friday, and the journey back to a land of milk and honey.
In this three part series, I interview Juan and his wife, Regina, using Skype. We discussed how their life was prior to 15 April 2011, commonly known in the poker world as Black Friday, and how it changed following the actions of the US Department of Justice.
In early 2011, Juan was having the best time of his poker career. 2010 had been his best year ever, and 2011 was looking like it was going to be even better. He was making more money that he ever had, and was taking advantage of the ridiculous promotions like triple guarantees and multi entry tournaments on Full Tilt.
FlushDraw (FD): ” You were the main bread winner in the family, how did that work, paying the bills through playing poker?”
Juan:” Stressful! (laugh). It was stressful as I have a family. I was in a situation where I was the source of income, the backbone of the family if you will. With a career like poker, especially playing MTTs (Multi Table Tournaments) because I have to do everything the hard way, it’s volatile as it can be. Add that to how volatile raising a family can be, and it can get messy. Sometimes you need those expenses, they don’t warn you when you have a wife, a kid and a dog, sometimes you just need to visit the vet or the Doctor. Sometimes we had the money, sometimes we didn’t. It went from us going out a lot, ordering in a lot, having a good time, and sometimes we were eating ramen noodles and frozen french fries!
Just like every other MTT player who experiences variance, you’re making a lot of money, and sometimes it’s not going so well. It had it’s ups and downs, but for the most part I was pretty consistent and good with the money I made.
“We were living in the Suburbs in a nice apartment. We were in a dead end street behind a school, it was the American Dream so to speak. Living in the ‘burbs, in a nice little place, paying twice as much as I’m paying now. It was good. When it was going good, it was going really good. We both came from humble beginnings, we busted our ass to get where we did.”
FD:” So, to give the readers an idea, what sort of games were you playing?”
Juan: “Just before Black Friday, I was playing everything. I was skipping $26 freeze outs on Full Tilt because I couldn’t justify giving them room on my screen because I was playing so much else. $50 was my lowest buy in just before Black Friday. I played in the FTOPS just before, and I played the $1k and $2k events, I was in all the $216s,and everything else about that level.
“My bread and butter was the $69+6 events along with $20 and $50 rebuys. I find it amazing looking back that a $18,000 guaranteed, $26 freeze out was beneath me (laughs). I couldn’t justify making room for it! It’s insane to me that I could say that! I usually 12 tabled, but I would 16 table when I was in the zone. 12 was perfect, and that just didn’t leave room for those $26 events, which is crazy. Given what I’m playing now, looking back like that is just crazy. It’s crazy man.
“My life was so different before Black Friday. The whole thing humbled me a lot. I look at those numbers right now, and I go and look at my tracked stats. It’s ridiculous. No way I believe I was in the top so many percent of the world, but by those ranking systems, I was. At the time I probably would have told you, “Yeah, I’m the shit man!” Since Black Friday, it’s been humbling. I feel like if I was able to play at that level back then, I can continue to crush these New Jersey sites now. We’ll see, that game has changed a lot in the last three years. I would love to get back to that level I was playing, and I think I’m getting pretty close right now, but it’s taken a lot of time to get here.”
FD: “So, Black Friday itself. How did that day play out for you? How did you find out?”
Juan: “The day started just like any other day. I got up around 1:30pm, cracked open an energy drink and sat down at the computer. I checked my mail opened up Full Tilt just after two to late register some of the two o’clock events, and saw that Fed sign that everyone remembers. It just came up on the screen, and at first I just looked at it, and said “What the F**K?” I closed everything, restarted the computer, and tried again.”
Regina: “I think you were logging on to cash out to pay for something. I can’t remember what it was, but I know we’d talked about it the night before.”
Juan: Yeah, sounds about right. So, I get back on and try again, and it was still there. That’s when I started to have my internal panic attack. Regina, my wife, came over and had a look at it. We had no idea what was going on. my first reaction was to cash out everything I could.
Regina: “We’d been taking money out after the month before, as Juan had a fantastic March, so we weren’t in the worst place. If Black Friday had come a couple of weeks earlier, we’d have been in a much worse situation.”
FD: A lot of people’s first reaction on Black Friday itself was to try and get the money out as quick as they could.
Juan: “Yeah. I couldn’t do it from New Jersey. I’d missed the initial blow up of when this happened because I woke up late, being the degenerate MTT player I was. I woke up around my tournament schedule. So, I missed the whole blow up, I even registered automatically for a $75 tournament, as you could still play. When it finally registered in my head that this was real, I was going all in every hand. I was typing in the chat box “What are you guys doing?” “This Sh*t isn’t even real!” stuff like that. My internal panic attack was coming out through my fingers as I didn’t want to freak out the rest of the household. I was thinking to myself “Dude, this money is gone.”
“So I tried to cash out, and I couldn’t do it from New Jersey because of the blocks on certain actions around the country. I had a friend in Wisconsin who could still bring up the cashier menu and do things. I had him on Skype, and I asked him to do me this massive favour. I trusted him to withdraw 3 max cash out to clear my account. They went through, and I was over the moon. I thought I’d beaten the system, and promised the guy $1,000. It was only a few hours later that I found out the transaction hadn’t gone through, and it had been bounced back into my account. When that happened, that’s when it really hit me. Roy, a friend who also played, called me and was going on about all this overlay on Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet. When he called me I wanted to throw up, I was just sick to my stomach.
“I was sure it was over. I wanted to throw up for him, he just didn’t get it. He ended up losing his UB money, I just don’t ever see that coming back to him. He came over, and brought me some Xanex. I’d never taken anything like that before, I’d always just handled it. After I took the Xanex, I felt a bit better. Well, at least I was able to talk again! I was in shock, and I honestly don’t remember that much more. All I remember was reading internet forums for the first time in my life, trying to wade through all the bullsh*t from people who knew even less than me to find the little gems of information.
“This happened in the middle of the month, and while I had some money left over from the really good month before, I just didn’t know how I was going to make it work. I didn’t have six months worth of rent and living expenses saved, I had like two months if I maxed out my credit card. I was going to be OK for April, may and maybe June, but I didn’t know what I was going to do after that.
“People talk about Black Friday like it’s already resolved, but for a lot of us it’s not. I’ve still got money I haven’t seen for 3 years. I’m really glad that everyone else got their money already, but there are still plenty of us still waiting. It’s not over for all of us, and I find it really hard to talk about.”
With his career left in tatters, and only enough money to survive for a few months at most, Black Friday had chopped the legs out from under Juan and Regina’s American Dream. From earning enough to provide the family with a good home, all the basics, and a few luxuries Juan and Regiuna were reduced to living on their meagre savings and lines of credit. Without warning, Juan had effectively been made redundant, with no severance package to tide him over until he could get set up again, Worse in fact as his bankroll had been tied up, leaving him without the tools he needed to earn money in his profession.
Next time we talk about the direct aftermath of the weeks and months following Black Friday, how Juan managed to make ends meet, keep a roof over his family’s head and food in their bellies.
Names in this article have been changed to protect anonymity, but everything mentioned here has been independantly confirmed to have really happened.