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I was just seven years old when I first discovered poker. I’ve loved it ever since.
My first introduction to the game began rather innocently, at a family reunion hosted by my grandparents. In total we gathered six cousins, three brothers, four sons, four wives, and 15 grandchildren. Excuse the obvious “full house” pun, but needless to say it was a large gathering for a tiny home.
In the afternoon we all shared a lunch together, heaps of mashed potatoes and baked casseroles of varying levels of edibleness coupled with ham and iced tea for days. It wasn’t a special event, just a yearly tradition that had been pulling together the family for as long as anyone could remember. While the clean-up of the kitchen table began, the kids were all shuffled off to the side room to play games; Yahtzee, Checkers, Uno, the normal childhood favorites. While the children’s games were set up the adults pulled out cards and jars of coins.
Every reunion the adults played penny poker, literally pulling out their collection of coins from the past few months and using them for chips. Walking away the big winner at the end of the night was probably a $20 endeavor, nothing that could make you rich. It was solely for the pleasure of the game and the enjoyment of each other’s company over a bottomless coffee pot.
I snuck away from my brothers and cousins and managed to pull up a seat directly behind my dad, watching him play, while he explained the rules of the game. There were normal games such as Stud and Limit Hold’em, but also wild card games like Baseball and an occasional massive hand or two of Guts. He talked, I listened. There was no strategy, just a simple how the games were played, and what beats what.
It was those bottomless cups of coffee that were responsible for my first hand of poker, because after enough mugs my Dad excused himself from the table. The second he did I perked up and asked if I could play while he was gone. With only a few coins at risk he didn’t see why not; I’d probably fold the couple hands I was dealt anyway.
I’ll spare you the boring mechanics of how we reached fifth street, but the game was Stud and my older cousin had a board of A J 8 and I had 6 7 K with a buried 6 4. She checked over to me and I checked behind – remember, I just knew what hands beat what, not any strategy.
When she bet into me on sixth after catching an open pair of eights, I called on the 5 figuring I had a straight draw and could win if luck was on my side. She checked and called my bet on seventh. I had failed to improve and couldn’t show anything worthwhile, and that’s when she said the words that forever changed my view of poker.
“If you had bet on fifth or raised on sixth street I would have believed you and laid it down.”
Right then, at seven years old, something clicked. I realized that poker wasn’t just a game of waiting around and winning money with the best hand, it was about strategy and manipulating your opponents. It was so much more complex than I had first thought and I knew I wanted to learn more. I had to learn more.
My name is Nathan Gamble, in 2017 I won my first World Series of Poker bracelet in the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better event. The next year, I recorded three cashes; an eighth in the $1,500 mixed Omaha eight-or-better event, 10th in the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better event, and 18th in the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha eight-or-bette event. In 2019 my single cash came in the $10,000 event in, you guessed it, pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better. It was another oh-so-close 17th-place finish.
This year, at the 2020 online WSOP series, I won my second bracelet in the $600 pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better event!
I have been playing poker since I was 12 years old in my dad’s small home game. At 14 I was playing online poker for pennies and turning it into childhood fortunes overnight. A year later I was dominating the 50-100 person tournaments my dad put together at a friend’s house, and in fact the trophies still sit on his mantel in the study. At 16 I was diving into the underground poker room with my dad and heading from one shady apartment setup to the next; getting stares from the other players wondering who was this kid and why was he here?
At 17 I was illegally downloading poker sites on to my high school computer instead of rehearsing for the school play. Before college I had booked a trip to Hawaii, missed the flight and, while I waited around for a second plane, scored over $20,000 online while sitting at an airport terminal. By the time I made it to college, I was dead broke. A few years later I managed to make a comeback just long enough to score a tournament win and book a flight to Costa Rica for Spring Break. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until I landed that San Juan wasn’t in Costa Rica, but rather Puerto Rico.
I was recently asked to write for Card Player and, if you’ve read up until this point, you can see beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have a passion for it – and that’s what I want to show with this column. I’ll take you along the journey of some of my wild rides, share how I am fortunate enough to still be in the industry and also give back some of the knowledge I’ve learned along the way.
Throughout the course of this journey we’ll dive into the occasional strategy talk, but I’m not here to bore you with the mechanics of poker. I’m more interested in the why – why do we play, why do we lose, why do we win, and ultimately why should we give back.
Poker, in my humble opinion, is played for three main reasons:
In future columns I’ll delve into why these three factors are important to poker, why they are important to me, and hopefully why they are important to you. Some of you already know, some of you struggle with the game day in and day out and think of quitting every other losing session.
I hope to reignite a passion for poker within all of the old players and ignite a new flame for anyone who is just coming across poker for their very first time. I was that kid with a dream and that dream has become a reality; join me on a journey where I’ll share that dream with you and try to make it your reality. ♠
Nathan Gamble is a native of Texas where he learned to play the game of hold’em from his father. He is a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, the first coming in the 2017 WSOP $1,500 PLO8/b Event, the second in the 2020 Online WSOP $600 PLO8/b event. A fixture of the mid-stakes mixed game community since moving to Las Vegas in 2019, he can often be found playing $80-$160 games at the Wynn. He is active on Twitter under the username Surfbum4life and streams mixed game content weekly on twitch under the same moniker.