We’re on a plane flying back from Malta and somewhere over the middle of France we hit turbulence. The plane rattles, the seat belt signs flick on, I grab the arm rest and begin my usual in-flight panic routine of talking things through as if I’m flying the plane. I’ve landed more planes like this than most people have had lukewarm airline dinners, at least in my head I have.
“Left a bit. Ease back on the power. Nose up a little, 30 degrees flaps, wheels down, easy now, gently. Touchdown. Thank you for flying with us.”
My colleagues know this, so much so that as they see the look on my face switch to complete concentration, they pause our conversation as I mentally guide us safely into Heathrow or Gatwick, before picking it up again as we taxi to the gate.
But I wasn’t sitting next to colleagues on this trip, and it was during this moment, while I was mentally pulling back gently on the stick (not too much) to find “clean air” over the trouble spot, that I realised I was sitting next to one of those people who lets go of the safety rail on roller coasters, who relish a few bumps at 38,000 feet, and who likes to say whatever’s on his mind.
“Are you scared of flying?” he asked.
This was Charlie Carrel, a fledgling high roller and breakthrough talent. I liked Charlie. His wardrobe choices are perhaps a little to the south of my own, but we’d been talking since take-off and getting along nicely. I’d been honest with him up to that point. We talked about my start in poker, his start in poker, his great results at the EPT Malta festival, and the choices he now had in front of him (starting with which hotel he was going to live in that night). I didn’t want to ruin things now.
“No, not at all,” I said.
So we talked more about his plans for the future, even while I was convincing myself that that future might end at any moment. I don’t remember everything we discussed, but I knew that his was a world that belonged entirely to him. Should he go on a trip to Nepal? Find a place to live? Visit his family? These were his immediate distractions and he could do as he pleased. But unlike a lot of young men his age he was thinking further ahead. The future wasn’t some abstract thing that happened to someone else; he wanted to have control over that too. And that meant poker, and the part it might play in his life.
I’ll be honest, I’ve met a number of players who really only have poker, and who aim for nothing more than to beat it regularly. That’s enough for them, and that’s fine. But I got a different impression from Carrel, who was inquisitive, interested in what others had to say, and was interesting with what he had to say — even his question about my flying fears led into a conversation about some sort of pheromone in sweat that it was discovered is different in people who are afraid of something.
Sure, he was gladly getting stuck into a part of his life that will inevitably be dominated by a game that he in turn is learning to dominate (read our interview with Carrel here), but this would be only the first stop, before he went on to command something else. Maybe not the banking world (which he admitted to narrowly dodging), but maybe, as he mentioned, charity work or business of some kind – built on what he might one day earn, and learn, playing poker. He wasn’t thinking about keeping the plane in the air until it reaches its destination; he was already planning on flying it into space.
This may well be how the new generation of players are thinking — that poker might not after all be the end in itself, but the means to an end, a way to do some good. We heard something similar from Fabian Quoss in the EPT Malta High Roller, and see it everywhere in the game as more and more players; those like Philipp Gruissem (who set up his REG charity) look to branch out a little, seeking personal rewards other than those you can count at a poker table.
If so it can only be good for the game, as well as the players themselves.
None of which occurred to be at the time of course, only later, after I’d got us safely on solid ground and stopped chanting silent prayers with my eyes closed. Carrel and I went our separate ways, and he’s no doubt half way up a mountain right now. But when he comes down it’ll be fun to watch what happens next. And if you’re ever seated next to him on a flight at some point ask him about that sweat thing, and then do everything he does, even if it is with your eyes closed.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.