• Ebony Kenney

Finding Poker Through Jealousy

"Where are you really going? You can't seriously be playing poker this many hours, this many nights a week." The insecurities and jealousy seeped out of me as I asked my then boyfriend, Michael, what he was actually doing four nights a week for hours without being able to really talk. The year was 2002, I was 20, miserable, and controlling. So when he responded with, "Fine. Come with me and watch me play," I JUMPED at the chance.

Watching as Michael played a $20, winner-take-all tournament with six of his friends, I was hooked. Sitting behind him, asking questions, studying their faces, this was the game for me. When it was over, they were organizing another game, and I forced my way in. "But you don't know how to play..."

"Yes, I do. I just watched and learned. I got this." We had done this dance multiple times before and Michael recognized this was a battle he had lost before it even began.

"Deal her in."

As I dug $20 out of my purse, I was shaking with excitement, fear, and worry as a chip stack was slid in my direction. This money meant a lot to us at the time. The mother of an 18 month baby girl, working full time as an assistant manager for the makeup company MAC, Michael and I had just moved to New Jersey so we could be closer to his family. He was delivering pizzas and a part-time bartender. Funds were TIGHT. Listen, I know it was probably not the best idea for me to be playing, but I was intrigued. The game had me.

We're going to go with the old results oriented decision-making because 90 minutes later, I had my winnings in hand.

I did it. I had won. Somewhere in central New Jersey, in a parent's dusty basement, with $160 up for grabs, my poker obsession was born. And all before anyone in poker had heard the name Chris Moneymaker.

A lot has changed since then. Michael and I didn't work out, but I got some growth, a lot of perspective, and a baby boy out of that deeply troubled relationship.

And I owe a lot to poker. I've gotten so many opportunities, gained one of a kind relationships, and lived through experiences I would've never otherwise had if it weren't for that fateful night.

Looking back, I can't help but smile when I think about my 22 year old self winning her first live tournament by tank-calling a river shove with ace high, turning $40 into $1100.

Like, what the fuck was she thinking?

I know one thing -- the girl I was back then didn't really put too much thought into her actions then. She was feeling more than anything. And poker became a space that let her love and curiosity for games and people join forces to find the perfect shift for her in life.

Poker was, and will continue to be, a source of light and challenges, loves and disappointments, highs and lows, for me.

But, that's what life is, isn't it? We ebb and flow.

And through it all, if you're able to glance over your shoulder every now and then and find pieces that make you smile, I'd say you're doing alright.

© 2019 by the Thirst Lounge.

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