πŸ– "I turned Β£2, into Β£82, – then blew the lot in 10 minutes" | Sport | The Guardian

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Now, if all poker β€” all gambling games, in fact β€” are potentially addictive and obsessional, Texas Holdem is both of those things to the power of Being endowed with just the right, catastrophic psychic make-up, I was pretty soon hooked. I even managed to convince myself that I was earning a living from the game. Or, to put it another way, a greedy klutz wanting something for nothing. What harm could it do, now that I was cured? Though, in this case, in return for the money you feed in, you mostly get nothing back. I went back to my laptop, put another 5k on and hit blackjack. There are likely to be nice people there, artistic, talented; and the hostess is a wizard cook. He chortled and gave me the name of a "reputable" site. In the space of two minutes I had not merely quadrupled my 5k overdraft, but could now pay off my mortgage and be, once more, to some degree at least, a free man. I collapsed on the sofa, numb with joy, sandbagged by bliss. But the demons were of the opinion that I shouldn't stop there. I spent the day debating with myself whether or not I should try my luck and see what I could do with that 5k. And among the charms of the betting shop, blackjack has the greatest appeal. I do sometimes wonder quietly why walking down any major street in London has to be, for me and my fellow gambling addicts, rather like negotiating Scylla and Charybdis β€” Paddy Power or Betfred here, William Hill or Ladbrokes there. But, yes, the highs. I announced arrogantly at dinner parties that I had discovered a new string to my bow, a sure-fire revenue stream. And I am once again remortgaged, for 30k this time. I've gambled online, and in live casinos, but neither has the same, uniquely sordid appeal as the betting shop. The pull on me as I headed back toward the bus stop, and home, was astonishingly powerful. Well, clearly because I'm a schmuck, but that's not what I mean; I mean biographically speaking …. But that's pretty obviously not the whole story. For many years an old friend of mine and I have been devotees of poker. I do not complain about any of this β€” not the debt, the near-death experience, not even the huge and horribly dark spells of despair and self-loathing. That convinced me of the true nature of my predicament, though sadly it didn't do anything to curtail it. There is nothing worse in this world than a sore loser, and nowhere is that more true than in gambling. Whereas with blackjack, few things can match the adrenaline rush you get when that third card takes you to 20 or, incredibly, to If you're not familiar with gaming machines, they are, in appearance and construction, not unlike the automatic ticket vendors at railway stations. I started in a restrained way β€” five or six hours a day β€” maybe a bit more if I had no work on. If it didn't, who on earth would take it up in the first place? So, why am I here? This is something, I tell myself. I found myself walking, like a zombie, towards the nearest of the outlets. There is one other punter in the place β€” a nicotine-stained old guy in a raincoat who is operating a strange roulette system consisting of a plethora of tiny stakes that more or less cancel each another out. I called my GP, fixed an emergency appointment and got myself straight down there. It's a truism to say that no very disastrous experience is without its compensatory positives β€” its winnings, in other words.{/INSERTKEYS}{/PARAGRAPH} At the time of writing I haven't gambled, in any shape or form, for several months. Regaining a recent loss brings a special pleasure of its own, as any gambler will tell you: a weird, warped sense of redemption. Unfortunately, I drifted off in the middle of a hand, without having taken the pill, and when I woke up a couple of hours later I was dying Well, perhaps not quite. Then, around lunchtime, I was in the loo, when I looked down and saw that there was a playing card lying in the bottom of the bowl. The soulless strip lighting of the shop creates a curiously appealing, dismal ambience β€” a kind of physical equivalent to my own spiritual landscape. The gambler in me is still looking to recoup, needless to say. It wasn't even my money, but the bank's. Nor is my dress remotely smart, consisting as it does of a fisherman's sweater, more holes than wool, and a pair of frayed tracksuit pants smelling faintly of urine. Like all addictive activities, it offers astonishing highs β€” highs as high as the lows are low. I was an addict by now, of course, and that kind of self-delusion is standard addict practice. All this makes gambling seem a dark and destructive business, and, of course, it can be. Nor am I especially plagued when I remember that, but for gambling, I would now be living on a comfortable income from royalties scrimped and saved over 15 years of hard showbiz slog. This has something to do, I assume, with the structure of the game: the ability to stand or take another card creates an irresistible illusion of control. It took many weeks of steady, daily losses before a nagging suspicion was born that something might be amiss. The feeling of triumph as I boarded a bus and headed for Hampstead where any betting shop manager worth his salt will, at my own request, eject me from the premises on sight was one that, to anybody who hasn't been there, might seem pathetic. Then one day I found myself in a Ladbrokes shop on a Saturday afternoon with every station occupied. One day in February I asked the old pal in question if there was anywhere you could play Holdem online. One time, after playing non-stop for three days, so that the index finger of my right hand had started to tingle from repeatedly clicking the mouse to bet on or fold a hand, I woke to find that somebody had broken into my flat during the night and festooned it with playing cards. I hit 20 with that hand, won, 20 with the next, won again, won again with the third bet. This was no vague optical effect, either, but a perfectly formed, shiny new king of hearts. Go home, switch off your computer, or better still, chuck it in the bin and take this pill and get some sleep. I was in there all the next day, my pulse returning to normal just 20 minutes before I was scheduled to be medically "rebooted". Here, at last, was the steady, reliable source of income I'd been dreaming of ever since giving up a well-paid job in the City to concentrate on, of all things, translating 17th-century French verse comedies. I waited a quarter of an hour for a seat to come vacant. So I would find myself, at 9. The other day, for instance, as I approached Finchley Road, near where I live β€” a thoroughfare positively festooned with betting shops β€” I conceived a strong urge to have a flutter on the betting machines. Equally true, on the other hand, is an observation by Casanova, who had a sideline in gambling and noted that inside every serious gambler lurks a miser. Suddenly, like young Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , as he walks down Lott's Lane in search of stimulus, then suddenly spins round and heads for home, I turned. But the resentment doesn't last. The fact that I went on to blow the lot in 10 minutes and was suicidal for a fortnight thereafter is another matter. Feeling a whole lot better, I reckoned I would just get a couple more hours' play in, take the tablet and turn in. During a lucky streak, for instance, I get a sense of quite astonishing and implausibly sustained wellbeing. She placed a large white tablet in my hand. But now he does it in different ways. After wishing my confrere an unacknowledged "Good luck", I make my way to a terminal and park my backside on the sticky black leather seat. Soon I was convinced I'd struck gold. No less pitiful, you might say, than an alcoholic outside the off licence at 9. It's the tackiness of the betting shop that, for me, puts it without peer as a means of wrecking your life. In the ambulance they informed me that I was having a massive atrial fibrillation, brought on by four days and nights without sleep, sprayed something on the roof of my mouth, and asked for my next of kin. It was seven for seven thirty, dress smart but "not too smart" I am not at the party however. It began with evenings of spontaneous, anarchic, life-enhancing mayhem at his flat, escalating from there, by insidious steps, into a serious fortnightly home game complete with league table and annual trophy. What had I got to lose? I have lost, at a conservative estimate, a quarter of a million pounds over the past seven years. Hard to retain much self-respect after that. You should not be doing this. They were all over the walls, they were dangling from the curtains. I remember sitting in the dark for half an hour with such joy and relief washing over me. As usual, the inner demons the shrinks, the addiction experts, call it this "permission thought" won the argument, and at midnight, came the start of a new hour period, which meant that I was allowed to deposit fresh funds. I couldn't keep this goldmine I'd hit on to myself. I have swallowed my pride, sought professional help, attended GA meetings. The "fish" poker speak for bad players out there had to be seen to be believed. The tax revenues from the big gaming companies help build schools and hospitals, pay for teachers, doctors and nurses. I used to watch small-scale punters like this with contempt. Worse still, because of the peculiar nature of gambling addiction β€” many experts reckon it's the hardest of all addictions to cure β€” once it dawned on me that I was in fact losing, I figured the only way to recoup the money was to play more and then yet more. This is my usual garb β€” my uniform, if you will β€” when I visit my betting shop of choice in north London. {PARAGRAPH}{INSERTKEYS}I t is nine o'clock on a Saturday night and I should be at an old friend's party. Wherever I went β€” bathroom to wash, kitchen to make breakfast β€” they kept popping up. It was then that I realised that the size of the bet didn't count for anything: I was just as desperate and sleazy as the rest of them. I dismissed this despite having once suffered from a bout of manic depression that included delusions as some sort of short-term optical glitch that was only to be expected in the circumstances, and soon hurried back to my laptop to resume playing. That night I opened an account and began to play. With roulette, you spin the wheel, and that's it; horses: once they're off, ditto.