Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
SoltiBichon
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Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby SoltiBichon » Mon Oct 31, 2011 2:01 pm

Hah! That was a bluff! 169/3.74 applying for t14s. Any help is greatly appreciated, especially from those completely unfamiliar with poker, as I figure that's going to be my main audience. Thanks!
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Three years ago, I moved to Chicago to reside with 21 vegetarians in an intentional housing cooperative designed to share resources, reduce waste, and build a sense of community. While my housemates were an interesting bunch, ranging from a genius string theory mathematician, Teach for America instructors, a handful of students, a trombonist, a dominatrix/sex-positive educator, a CPA at one of Chicago’s biggest firms, and a 67-year old retiree just to name a few, visitors to the house always wanted to meet the poker player.

When people learn that I play poker for a living, they usually find it a fascinating topic. “Are you able to make a living at that?” (Yes). “How much do you lose?” (I have had one small losing month in over five years of supporting myself). And when I explain what exactly it is that I do, the next question is usually, “Can you teach me how to play?”
While most individuals who are uninitiated to poker view it as no more than degenerate gambling, those who have invested any amount of time into learning the game know that it is much more akin to chess than bingo, and the masters have honed their technique more in the fashion of a Johann Sebastian Bach than a Justin Bieber.

At the heart of being a successful poker player is the ability to process information quickly in high-pressure situations in order to form optimal decisions. For example, if I am dealt two aces as my starting hand, I know that I am an 85% favorite against a random hand to win, and accordingly I should place a bet with confidence that I will be victorious.

Understanding game theory and mathematics is only a small portion of being a successful poker player, though. After all, Bill Gates is well-renowned around poker circles for being passionate about the game; yet he cannot beat the smallest stakes and lowest skill levels available in a card room. More important than understanding the math behind poker is to demonstrate characteristics of patience, discipline, and above all, passionate determination to succeed in the face of extreme hardship.

I have maintained success as a poker player not only because of my understanding of the game, but due to my ability to maintain my focus in the presence of extreme pressures and most importantly, from my resolve in difficult situations. While I am proud of my successes in poker and it is undoubtedly how others view me, it is far from how I define myself.

When I was 22, I decided to quit playing poker full-time. As a result, I turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential poker earnings. My decision stemmed from the fact that it bothered me that I was not bringing any value to society as a poker player. At that point, I swore to myself that I would play poker for only as long as I had to in order to provide myself living expenses and dedicate the rest of my time to nonprofit work. Subsequently, I have used poker as a means to an end, volunteering for over 4500 hours throughout the past four years.

Poker has not only allowed me to donate my time to these ventures, but it has given me the skills necessary to succeed in them as well. Through my two terms in AmeriCorps and other independent volunteering ventures, I have taken pleasure in leading a variety of extremely challenging volunteer tasks that borrow directly from my poker skill set. For example, on my first AmeriCorps project, I was given 15 untrained volunteers and told to build a house, having had no formal training myself in carpentry. This was just one of many seemingly impossible tasks that I succeeded in, thanks to the calm thinking process I developed through poker. My mastery of poker has contributed to success in diverse fields such as wildland firefighting, residential electrical work, carpentry, and long distance running/fundraising. In the future I am confident that these skills will also transfer over to the study of law.

I want to make a difference in the lives of the thousands of underserved that I have seen in my volunteer work. I know that as a lawyer focusing in public interest, I can make a positive impact. Others may see my resume and define me as a poker player, but to me I have taken the hand that life has dealt me and decided to place my bets as a philanthropist instead.
Last edited by SoltiBichon on Tue Nov 01, 2011 10:04 am, edited 3 times in total.

kaiser
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby kaiser » Mon Oct 31, 2011 2:23 pm

A few quick reactions:

-Playing what essentially amounts to professional poker is pretty unique, and should certainly make you stand out among the various bland PS topics they get, so that definitely seems like something you can roll with

-You have some very substantial community service involvement, and it is good that you mentioned some specific examples of what you did

-The Obama reference is pretty pointless. I thought somehow this story would end up with you and him playing poker together when you mentioned that he was an enthusiast down the block. The fact that you ended up with a letter from him for your community service is completely unrelated to your first reference to him, so I don't see how it fits. Getting a letter from the President is pretty cool, and that reference is certainly more pertinent than the first, but I'm still confused about it. Tons of people send stuff to the White House and get back stock letters with a stamped signature. This letter is different?

-Way too many commas that interrupt your sentences and don't allow the essay to "read" well. Too many "lists" and broken up sentences made me stumble over the various clauses, and forced me to re-read a number of sentences in order to know what you were saying

-You are unnecessarily wordy at times. Though my guess is that you have yet to edit this for grammar, wording, etc. But I would cut down on some of the fluff words and phrases that don't actually add to the statement. This will make the whole thing more concise, and allow the important words to shine through more clearly. The grammar and phrasing certainly needs work, but that can all be fixed without much trouble

-"When I was 22, I made an optimal life decision, turning down hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential poker earnings" - When I read this sentence, I had no clue what you were talking about. You never want to create confusion, even if you clear it up later, because I stopped at that point to question whether I had missed something

-I'm not sure how the details about the housing arrangement are in any way pertinent to the story about your experiences playing poker. Like the Obama down the block reference, I don't see the relevance. And honestly, it makes you sound like some kind of hippie, and thats not always a good impression to leave. if it were relevant, I would leave it, but I don't understand why it is there

-I would try to improve the transition from playing poker to community service. It was very abrupt and a bit disjointed (as I mentioned, your first reference to it left me confused, as you had yet to put it in context or properly introduce it)

SoltiBichon
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby SoltiBichon » Mon Oct 31, 2011 2:37 pm

Thanks! These are all great points of criticism! I actually feel that poker is a HUGE detriment to getting into law school, but I'm trying to do the best I can with it. I think the majority of America thinks that poker is part of some subversive counterculture, and I tried to mention people like Obama and Bill Gates to give credibility to the idea that poker players come from all professions and are generally good people. I think I need to make that connection smoother and more obvious if I'm going to use it though.

All your points were spot-on, and yeah you nailed it. It is a first draft.

Palavra
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby Palavra » Mon Oct 31, 2011 3:37 pm

One of the better PS I've read in a long time. Good job!

SoltiBichon
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby SoltiBichon » Mon Oct 31, 2011 3:39 pm

Palavra wrote:One of the better PS I've read in a long time. Good job!


Thanks! And thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

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TommyK
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby TommyK » Mon Oct 31, 2011 4:09 pm

SoltiBichon wrote:For example, if I am dealt two aces as my starting hand, I know that I am a 91% favorite against a random hand to win


My math is a bit rusty, but wouldn't you be closer to 80% to win? 91% would be closer if one of the two cards your opponent had was an ace.

SoltiBichon
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby SoltiBichon » Mon Oct 31, 2011 4:21 pm

It's around 85% equity against a random hand, I'll have to fix that. Thanks for pointing it out.

desertlaw
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby desertlaw » Mon Oct 31, 2011 4:27 pm

There was a fellow student in my t14 who played poker for a living. Made enough to get himself through law school apparently.

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danielhay11
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby danielhay11 » Mon Oct 31, 2011 5:22 pm

kaiser wrote:-The Obama reference is pretty pointless. I thought somehow this story would end up with you and him playing poker together when you mentioned that he was an enthusiast down the block. The fact that you ended up with a letter from him for your community service is completely unrelated to your first reference to him, so I don't see how it fits. Getting a letter from the President is pretty cool, and that reference is certainly more pertinent than the first, but I'm still confused about it. Tons of people send stuff to the White House and get back stock letters with a stamped signature. This letter is different?


Agreed. At the very least, it seems like pointless namedropping. But I think most people are likely to call bs: three years ago, when you said you moved into the house, BO was crisscrossing the country running for president, and since has only returned to Chicago on a few occasions for fundraisers and family time. I would doubt he used that time to play poker with a bunch of vegitarians and sex enthusiasts. (If it's true, though, you gotta sell that story to the Times. How awesome!) I would cut the letter reference, too, unless it was personalized. If the letter was about playing poker together, then it's great. But it sounds like an Americorps form letter, which isn't PS-worthy.

Danteshek
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby Danteshek » Mon Oct 31, 2011 6:10 pm

Take out the work "optimal." just say that you quit playing full time

HyeMart
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby HyeMart » Mon Oct 31, 2011 7:19 pm

dont diss justin bieber, you come off an ass (NOTE: I'm not a fan)

SoltiBichon
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby SoltiBichon » Mon Oct 31, 2011 11:10 pm

Thanks for all the replies, everyone! Definitely going to use all of the criticisms in my next draft. Also, I never claimed to play poker with Obama, but that would be pretty fun. Think I'm going to cut that whole reference out of the essay anyway.

kublaikahn
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby kublaikahn » Mon Oct 31, 2011 11:23 pm

I think it is incorrect to tie playing poker to higher level math skills. Anybody who plays poker can memorize the odds, but cannot necessarily calculate them. Perhaps an adcom won't see that overreach, though. I would focus on the pressure and thinking quickly. Operating without complete information.

I think you need longer paragraphs. When I stand back and look at this my overall impression is that it lacks depth. You bounce from idea to idea and don't develop them fully. The style adds to that impression.

eltajin
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby eltajin » Mon Oct 31, 2011 11:59 pm

It just seems very, very risky; especially since you have substantial public interest work and there is no gaping holes in the resume to fill. Also, I'm confused in that you say you don't define yourself by Poker, yet it dominates the first half of the essay.

I have similar background, and from my resume and background it was potentially evident that it was there, but I never brought it up during any of my applications or job interviews. During my callbacks this year it was mentioned exactly once, during lunch with two male associates, and even then I was hesitant to discuss it.

I would head over to 2+2, and solicit feedback there (if you haven't already). I know you stated you want feedback from non-poker players, but It has been my experience that lawyering is a risk-averse profession, and there are many players over there who have made the transition.

SoltiBichon
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby SoltiBichon » Tue Nov 01, 2011 9:50 am

eltajin wrote:It just seems very, very risky; especially since you have substantial public interest work and there is no gaping holes in the resume to fill. Also, I'm confused in that you say you don't define yourself by Poker, yet it dominates the first half of the essay.

I have similar background, and from my resume and background it was potentially evident that it was there, but I never brought it up during any of my applications or job interviews. During my callbacks this year it was mentioned exactly once, during lunch with two male associates, and even then I was hesitant to discuss it.

I would head over to 2+2, and solicit feedback there (if you haven't already). I know you stated you want feedback from non-poker players, but It has been my experience that lawyering is a risk-averse profession, and there are many players over there who have made the transition.


Eltajin, that's pretty interesting. My experience has been the exact opposite. Last cycle, I wrote a personal statement in which I did not address poker at all; instead I focused on my numerous volunteer experiences. It was a really strong essay, much stronger than this one, but continually when I spoke to anyone on admissions committees including emails, interviews, and acceptance letters, they invariably would only want to discuss poker. It takes up maybe three lines on my resume that is 80% volunteerism stuff but I feel like I can't just gloss over it and hope nobody sees it again this cycle.

In general, I think it's a horrible thing to discuss, but I think it's always lingering in the back of people's minds when they see your resume so I'm going for the approach of just addressing it head-on this year. I agree it's risky and I'm still deeply conflicted about even bringing it up, but I think the alternative of just letting people run wild with their imaginations is worse.

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TommyK
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Re: Professional Poker Player PS - Interesting Read!

Postby TommyK » Tue Nov 01, 2011 10:23 am

eltajin wrote:It just seems very, very risky;


I disagree. This site has a ton of poker personal statements and my advice has always been "stay away - find another topic". Until now. I really like how you framed it as a means to an end. I think you assuaged most concerns that you are a degenerate gambler. I think it's cool when people have a natural talent that is profitable that they walk away from because they feel drawn to do something else. That's at the essence of why people are drawn to the Pat Tillman story.




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