My psychotherapist, Bengt, is supposed to stop me being such a degenerate, but he doesn't even know how to play PLO. My parents say I have to see him if I'm to continue living in their house. They see my gambling as an offense against labour and God. They were recommended him by our neighbour, with whose nymphomaniacal daughter, Molly, he apparently did great things.
So every Monday morning I spend an hour sitting in a comfy chair in his consulting room in the centre of Uddevalla. Today's session was difficult because I'd only had four hour's sleep. I'd pour myself another glass of water, pausing as if on the cusp of disclosure, but really I was just thinking of the $900k I had in my poker account. The previous day I'd managed to get money online. I was losing $590k after the first hour, but winning $750k after eleven hours. When I went to bed at 5am I'd won just $68k.
My desperate urge to play again could hardly be lessened by the thought that $68k is surely more than Bengt earns in an entire year of sitting in his drafty room feigning interest in other people's problems.
I find our sessions to be invaluable training for the poker table. In therapy, like poker, you looks for tells, while trying not to reveal too much about yourself. Bengt never speaks of his own life, but from his face, his clothes and his manner I try to guess where he lives and who he goes home to.
He's in his mid-40s and carries his strong frame apologetically. But he's smarter than I first thought. At first I tried to make him laugh or shock him, until I realized he considers jokes to be a nervous evasion of truth. His pauses can be deadly. He never rushes to speak; knowing that if he stays silent, most people will carry on talking and reveal more than they'd intended. I soon learned to withhold my thoughts and let the silence drag.
He asks what I want out of life and what my goals are, and how I might achieve them. He's explained his role as a therapist is to help explore my thought processes, but not to tell me what to do. Our sessions feel circular; the breakthrough never comes; or if it does, it's forgotten the instant I leave the room.
He nods understandingly when I tell him I'd won a lot of money in the previous week then lost it all back. As a Freudian, he thinks gamblers are masochists. I don't tell him it was a million and a half. He asks if it's my parents I'm really trying to hurt. Perhaps I want to get back at them for something. What could it be?
In a flash I remember the powerlessness I felt as a child when my parents told me we were moving to the town from the countryside. I thought of all the friends I left behind. And my first day at high school, when the bullies flushed my head down the toilets just because I said I liked Klaus Nomi.
I swallowed the memory; it was too painful, but also too petty. People get over much worse. Maybe I was never destined to be a happy teenager, whatever school I'd been to, wherever we'd lived.
I realized I was saying all this aloud. In my fatigue I'd told Bengt more than I'd intended. He replied with a rare sincerity "You must learn to listen to your still, small voice within".
"Oh yes, I hear it" I said.
"What do you hear?" he asked. "What does the voice inside you say?"
"Pot, pot, pot!"
I stood up, put on my coat, and hurried out to the bus stop. I'd soon cleared my mind of all thoughts but one: when I was back on Full Tilt Poker, should I start at $60k or $100k PLO?