This was the third time in two days that Philipp Kiefel, my poker coach, had asked me to sign up to play in a specific online tournament. It had a whopping first prize of $10,000 (£7,000/€8,250), and he thought it would be good practice. I'm a science writer, not a professional player, and had taken up the game initially as a hobby, but then started to study it in earnest to help me research a non-fiction book about how poker can enhance your critical thinking.
Walking home was no longer an option, so Ava and I jumped in a cab and got home with just a few minutes to spare. She went to her room to play with her Lego and I sat down at the kitchen table to play with some strangers online – totally unaware of the impact it was about to have on my life.
My unexpected victory was just the beginning. Over the course of the following months, I would be pitted against a controversial player I had never met, notorious for his bombastic Instagram lifestyle and negative comments about women. I would be thrust into 15 minutes of fame in the poker media, drawn into the wider issue of sexism in the game. And I would be offered training by some of the world’s best poker coaches – idols of mine who have won millions of dollars through their skills, and who would go on to become friends. Along the way, the experience taught me how to think differently about the game – and the wider world, too. It elevated my mindset in a way that I started to see everything differently. And it all began at my kitchen table that December afternoon.