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Dan Colman: A Poker Man’s Search For Meaning

If you were to ask me what my Death Row meal would have been two years ago, I would have answered: medium rare fillet steak, fried eggs, fried onions, chips and lashings of English mustard.

The most important component of that meal would have been the mustard. There is only one mustard: Colman’s English Mustard. Anything else is a poor substitute. It’s a Coca Cola v Pepsi thing.

But I didn’t always love English mustard. Well, not according to the following tale my mother likes to pull out of her memory when the steak knives are brought out of the cutlery tray.

Apparently, I used to be the kind of kid who wanted to eat everything that everyone else had. I also had a dummy tied around my neck until I was about four years old. One day, my father was eating steak coated in English Mustard and I started crying because he wouldn’t give me any. In the end he decided he would teach me a lesson and dipped my dummy into the yellow goodness.

Cries turned into screams.

My mum left my dad.

Colman’s Mustard is an acquired taste. You either love it, or you hate it – and even if you love it, there are times when it makes your toes curl, water involuntary leaks from your eyes, and you think: “What the fuck was that?”

Today, I love the stuff. The eye-watering and breath-stealing moments can be reduced by ensuring you balance doses. Don’t overload on it and you will be just fine, take too much of it, and your head feels like it will explode.

Things grow on you as you age. You learn forgiveness, you see the world through other people’s lenses and start to understand empathy. I forgave my Dad; understood the lesson he was trying to teach me, and learned to love Colman’s English Mustard, which brings me quite nicely onto another love him or hate him phenomenon carrying the name of Colman – Dan Colman.

History only seems to excite when you are looking back at it. You never really seem to grasp it at the time of its conception. The poker community spent 2014 in the midst of it, and I don’t believe we will truly grasp the grandiosity of it until many years down the line.

As Maggie Thatcher and Nelson Mandela were checking into the great hotel in the sky, Warren Lush was in a bit of a pickle. Former World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Champion Greg Merson had withdrawn from the $125,000 partypoker Premier League VII, and the job of finding a replacement had fallen into Lush’s lap.

It’s not easy to find a poker player with $125,000 sitting in a ceramic piggy bank, but Dan Colman was one of those people. Playing under the pseudonym ‘mrGR33N13,’ Colman was a highly respected high-stakes Hyper Turbo Sit n Go (SNG) wizard who was quickly racking up an impressive set of zeroes in the online realm.

Lush once told me of an ensuing conversation that he held with Vanessa Selbst after she asked for the name of Merson’s replacement. I can’t remember the exact structure of the sentence, but it went a little something like this: ‘Lovely, just lovely, just fucking lovely.’ High respect from one of the most feared players on the planet.

Colman found himself covered in make up and melting under the heat of the TV cameras for the first time in his life. Half of the poker community (the ones who do not venture into cyber space) didn’t even know who he was. By the end of the contest they were getting a greater understanding. He finished third and started to develop a taste for live tournament poker, like I had developed a taste for strong tasting English herbs.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Dan Colman rode into 2014 on the back of that impressive showing, and by the end of it, he was so far ahead of the competition, it was simply astounding.

¥ Jan 2014 – $25k NLHE High Roller at the PCA – 27th for $59,300

¥ Apr 2014 – €100,000 EPT Grand Final SHR – 1st for $2,127,398

¥ May 2014 – €10,000 EPT Grand Final Turbo 6-Max – 5th for $68,526

¥ Jun 2014 – $10,000 NLHE Heads Up WSOP – 3rd for $111,942

¥ Jun 2014 – $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop WSOP – $15,306,668

¥ Jul 2014 – $100,000 Aria SHR – 3rd for $796,821

¥ Aug 2014 – €50,000 EPT Barcelona SHR – 2nd for $1,118,479

¥ Aug 2014 – $5,300 Seminole Hard Rock Main Event – 1st for $1,446,710

¥ Oct 2014 – £60,000 WPT Alpha8 – 1st for $957,396

¥ Nov 2014 – HK$500,000 SHR Macau – 7th for $373,932

He won four major titles and earned $22,389,481 in live tournament dollars – an amount that had never been won by anyone else, alive or dead, in the history of poker. Even if you deduct the One Drop result he still ended the year with over $8m in live tournament earnings.

Not Since Erik Seidel

The poker world had not seen a surge of energy this powerful since Erik Seidel beat the crap out of everyone back in 2011, and even with the increase in high stakes buy-in events, it might still be a long time before we ever witness anything like it ever again.

When Seidel took poker to town in 2011, the focus was on his skill. The man is a legend of the game, forever immortalized in the annals of time. He wasn’t a flash in the pan. His heater of 2011 came nearly a quarter of a century after he had switched the backgammon board for a pack of cards. He deserved all of the plaudits that he quite rightly received.

There are similarities between Seidel and Colman. They both have this concentrated moodiness when they are on their game, they are both technically brilliant, and they both prefer it if the cameras were shone in someone else’s face.

Seidel has done interviews. I myself spent an hour interviewing him at the end of that magnificent run, and Jason Saltzman recently cornered him for an interview in The Entrepreneur – but the interviews are rare. It’s just not his thing. Had Seidel won the Big One for One Drop, you would have received the customary winner’s interview, but I don’t think we would have squeezed anymore out of that particular stone.

Colman doesn’t like interviews either. Suddenly, it’s a huge problem. Why is that? Does Seidel’s God-like status in the game buy him some leeway? Does Colman’s youth work against him? Is it stereotypical of us to sew the ‘young rich kid who couldn’t give a fuck’ into his hoodie?

Fabian Quoss is one of the most interesting, and talented, high rollers in the game. Have you ever read a Quoss interview? If you have, it will be a rarity. Quoss doesn’t like speaking in front of the camera. It’s not his thing. Neither did one of the greatest British footballers of all time: Paul Scholes. Some people just want to play.

The Plan Didn’t Work

If Dan Colman would have been fortunate to have a pre One Drop team talk by Eckhart Tolle, I am sure his advice would have been to be in the now. To forget about the past, to remember that the future doesn’t exist, and to focus on each hand as it was thrust beneath his stubby fingertips.

By the time he had defeated the enigmatic Daniel Negreanu. By the time he had become the hottest superstar in the world of poker. One doubts he had a plan. He was probably in a little bit of shock.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”

How many times have we heard that sentence slip out of the mouths of the new millionaires?

In that very moment he decided to say absolutely nothing. He would later give his explanation on 2+2, and as a gambling addict, I got it. But it backfired. His intention of using silence to remove the spotlight from the game was so cleverly manipulated by the sorcerers at ESPN that it quickly became one of the biggest mainstream sporting news stories of the year. Spoilt young millionaire stories ripped across the press sheets quicker than the teenage girls of the Valley chuck out little kids.

If at First You Don’t Succeed

When you don’t come forward to answer questions, then the general public will come up with a few of their own answers. Colman’s transformation from hidden online super grinder to one of the most powerful men in poker was as swift as it was exciting.

Just like the jar of mustard that carried his name, you either loved him or hated him. His name was trendier than an MTV video showing black booty. He headlined more articles than any other poker player in the business, and he divided opinion amongst the community like never before.

Whilst the argument surrounding Colman’s stance continued, so did his silence. Like a stubborn child who refuses to leave his room, how could he now give an interview after snubbing the big one?

Then came EPT Barcelona.

Once again the world was watching and Colman had the chance to make an impression. What did he do? He wore a t-shirt that said ‘Free Palestine,’ and even persuaded his heads-up opponent in that final, his good friend and mentor Olivier Busquet, to wear one emblazoned with the message ‘Save Gaza.’

Colman was once again news, but it wasn’t his poker skills that were being discussed, it was his decision to bring religion and politics into poker. If you wear a t-shirt with such a provocative statement on the front then you aren’t pigeonholed in the shy and retiring bracket. The same question arose for me. If you have such strong opinions, on such interesting and controversial topics, then why not sing?

Hellmuth Under Attack

Poker players understand Dan Colman a damn site better than us folk in the media. They sit next to him, they hear him talk, they understand his beliefs and values. We aren’t privy to that information. Our names are not on that list and we are not coming in.

But we can formulate a viewpoint based on his actions, and the next time he acted it was to take on the biggest name in the game. Dan Colman went onto 2+2 and called Hellmuth ‘spineless,’ ‘a whore,’ and a ‘cancer to this world.’

Ouch.

I love it. Not the personal attack, but the fact that he had the nerve to say what was on his mind. I felt like I knew him a little better. The world needs opinionated people. I am fed up to the teeth of the falseness that invaded our lives when we were children and has refused to fall to the ground ever since.

Here was the most successful poker player of 2014 and he had the balls to call the kingpin a whore. It won’t be long before we see Dan Colman in front of a camera. The stubborn little kid will grow up. He will leave his bedroom. He will be a whole lotta fun.

Colman later apologized to Hellmuth in writing, and I assume when the two clash, a verbal apology will also follow. We learn not just from our mistakes, but also from our successes. Can you imagine the personal transformation that has happened to Dan Colman this year? How much more grown up he has become through his cock-ups and victories?

I see a young man who is crying out for a mentor. Someone who can help him make sense of all the conflicted thoughts that are swimming around in his intelligent mind. He is a man searching for meaning and purpose. A man who has so much talent, and money, at his fingertips, and is not quite sure what to do with it.

The Influencer

He has become a modern name influencer. His silence in front of those ESPN cameras reached into the hearts of certain factions amongst poker. People didn’t run to his side because they like a life filled with controversy. They ran to his side because they too were feeling indifferent about making a living in a game where you run people into ruin.

There are two ways his influence can go, and this is where it would be extremely helpful if Dan Colman made a New Years resolution to talk to the media. He is the unwitting hero. The man who wanted out of the spotlight is now controlling its aim.

In the past six months several young professional poker players have turned down interviews because of the effect Dan Colman has had on their lives. These are young, intelligent stars of the game who have always given me their time and felt that it was important to promote the game of poker; not anymore.

They have watched Colman’s silence and read his ensuing explanation on 2+2 and have decided that it’s wrong to speak out and popularize a game that is nothing without the urge to win other people’s hard-earned cash. I respect their decisions. I really do. But there is a much better way.

Giving Back

People who struggle in their search for meaning eventually stumble upon it. This happens because they are looking. Meaning and purpose becomes clear once you start becoming selfless. Giving to others is the key to meaning and purpose. It’s what happiness is all about. It’s genetic, but it’s under lock and key, and unless you are looking for it, you won’t even recognize the hole.

Colman is looking.

People like Matt Stout at the Charity Series of Poker (CSOP), and Philipp Gruissem, Igor Kurganov, and Liv Boeree at Raising for Effective Giving (REG), offer a different alternative for Colman. One where he can use his skills to make a difference in the world, and most importantly be at peace with it.

If Colman gave just 5% of his winnings to the REG charity, then in 2014 alone he would have contributed $1.1m to people who really needed it. Now doesn’t that make it all worth it? If REG is not your thing then what about the conflict in the Middle East? Why not give $1.1m toward regions most affected by the troubles?

Colman is not at the top of his game because of luck. He sits upon that throne because he is an extraordinary man. Think of any sport and you will find a member of the elite who was troubled in an area of their life. You only have to look at our own, and at Stu Ungar, to see how the greatest minds in our game can fail to make the most of the talents they worked so hard to harness in the first place.

I think it’s important that Colman gets the support he needs from everyone within the poker community. We have to recognize his inner conflict and find empathy. Put yourself in his shoes. If he can understand the bigger picture, he can become one of the most celebrated and coveted poker players of our generation. Taking money away from people living within Western culture, to then hand it to those less fortunate (in Africa say), is a positive thing to do.

It hurts when Dan Colman takes my money, but I live within a community structure that makes it easier for me to recoup those losses. If my money passes to Colman, and then to those who really need it – then that’s fine with me.

I don’t eat steak anymore. I’m a vegetarian. There was a time that I would never have believed that I could change. I loved my steak. Today, I don’t even miss it. But I do miss my Colman’s English Mustard. Without steak there really is no point to Colman’s English Mustard. It serves no purpose, and that’s a pity.

It’s the same with Dan Colman.

Without poker, Dan Colman loses his purpose, and that would be a pity. Poker and Dan Colman were meant to be together. It’s so obvious, everyone can see that. It’s not a question of whether Colman should stop playing poker, it’s a question of what he can do whilst at the top of his game to make a difference to the rest of the world.

When he sorts that out, everyone had better watch out.

There is more to come from this young man.

Much more.

 

 

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Lee Davy

Life can be viewed as the sum of the parts or the parts themselves. I believe in the holistic view of life, or the sum. When dealing with individual parts you develop whack-a-mole syndrome; each time you clobber one problem with your hammer another one just pops up.

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