As Good as I Once Was

In 2005, country music star Toby Keith released As Good as I Once Was, a wonderfully self-deprecating song about a guy reaching middle age and not being as good as he was in his prime. In a clever twist of words, Keith sings that he’s not as good as he once was, but he’s as good once as he ever was.

If you haven’t seen the video, check it out on YouTube. It’s cute.

When the song came out, I was 58 years old. While I was still in my prime intellectually, video-poker-wise (I started playing the game in 1994 and it took a while to get my bearings), the golden years of video poker were over for me. I had been removed from all MGM Mirage properties, the Venetian, and Wynn in 2001 — largely because of financial success playing the game. I don’t remember exactly when the Golden Nugget stopped inviting me to events, but it was sometime around then. There were still more good opportunities for others than there are today, but I was excluded from that.

I shifted my play to other casinos, lowered the stakes I played for, kept teaching classes and writing books, and was as sharp of a player as I was ever going to be.

I’m now 76, about 30 years older than the singer of that song and 18 years after the song first came out. For me, my prime as a video poker player came and went a while ago. Many casino managers still don’t want me to play at their places, based on a decades-long reputation, but I’m not nearly the threat I used to be. 

The song deals with physical things (a sex threesome and a bar fight), but mostly video poker is more mental than physical. Still, physical endurance is a part of it and playing 15-hour marathon sessions is a thing of the past for me, 

With respect to the mental side of the game, learning and remembering strategies is a much tougher endeavor than it used to be. Twenty years ago, I had maybe ten strategies 99.9%+ memorized at all times. Now I have two or three. I’m going out of town in a few days where I’ll be playing another game, so I temporarily have an extra game memorized; but if my next visit to this casino is two or three months away, I’ll have to relearn this game all over again.

It’s not terribly difficult to get up to speed on a game I used to know well. I have the tools, a bunch of experience, and a whole lot comes back to me as I get into it, but it still consumes time and energy to do something that used to be a lot easier than it is now. And once I get up to speed on a new game, my retention ability isn’t what I’d like.

One area where I’m possibly better than I was 20 or more years ago comes from analyzing promotions. Am I going to play at Casino A, with this promotion and set of benefits, or Casino B, with another promotion and different set of benefits? The reason I’m better at this now is I’ve been around the block numerous times. I know what games are available at a number of different casinos, know the ins and outs of their slot clubs, and am generally familiar with all sorts of promotions. This experience and knowledge didn’t come quickly or easily, but having this is a huge advantage over somebody starting from scratch.

Even though the opportunities I find aren’t nearly as plentiful or lucrative as they were a few decades ago, I enjoy playing the game and will continue to do so as long as I can find some profitable games. I doubt I’ll continue to play when I can’t find any profitable opportunities. We’ll see.

The part of Toby Keith’s song that I’m having trouble applying to my life playing video poker is the claim, “But I’m as good once as I ever was.” While it is easy to apply that line to the sexual threesome suggested in the video for the song, sex was never part of my video poker career (other than in two novels which were definitely not autobiographical.) 

In video poker, you don’t typically do something once. It’s a game where you sit down and play numerous hands over a period of time. Still, “I’m as good once as I ever was” is a cute line and I still smile when I hear the song or see the video.