My “outing” as a professional player
Everything I am about to tell you, I am actually telling you out of injured vanity. Because: The qualification required to become a professional player is in no way inferior to that required for other professions. And I ask myself (but as you know me by now, not without knowing an answer) why other people deserve recognition and respect when they only say they are employees, civil servants or even concrete nurses, doctor’s assistants, librarians or bus drivers, not to mention the admired professions such as university lecturer, doctor, lawyer or even professor, and I reap incomprehension as the best possible reaction?
Apart from the alternative reactions like at least scepticism or incredulity and all the other unspoken ones that automatically relegate one to the category of petty criminals like pickpockets or fraudsters. And the only consolation you have all this time is supposed to be, “Let them talk, that’s what I have money for.” Other people have managed to make money in completely different ways. In order to encourage your scepticism, I’ll give you a popular example of a response I like to use when I have one of those exhausting conversations about my profession. I always say: “Yes, you’re right, you can’t live on it. I’m currently gambling away my fourth inheritance.”
But that’s just the (less) humorous attempt to deal with the whole issue. I haven’t inherited anything. Nor did I win the lottery….
Until the age of 27 I successively played chess, let’s call it semi-professionally, and then backgammon professionally. The income was fluctuating, that comes with the job, and up to a certain age I could still count on the support of my parents, even if it was only partly that they provided me with a place to live. But I was officially enrolled at the time, so it was still possible to dismiss the whole thing as a “youthful sin” and hope for “recovery”, or so my parents thought.
Then I retrained at the same time to become an IT specialist (1986-1987), because programming not only gave me particular pleasure, but I also had a certain talent for it. Of course, I only imagined it. Then I applied properly and got a job as a software developer. That was great fun and I seemed to be on a “good path”. I was a system planning engineer at SEL, a subsidiary of Alcatel. Well, if that’s nothing. And every month 3000 DM came into my account, who can say?
On the side, I still played a backgammon tournament from time to time and continued to develop my software at home, my football programme. I even found time to play chess, which still gives me great pleasure from time to time, and played a tournament here and there. I could even play Black Jack occasionally in the evenings at the casino, with an advantage, but without being dependent on the money. Even better: I was able to approach it with a little more capital. And that had a positive effect.
What was the problem with this life? Everyone pats you on the back, you get encouragement everywhere for this positive development: “I knew you’d get your act together one day and become solid.” That’s the tenor.
So what was the problem?
Time is one problem, self-realisation another. And an empowerment was there. I even won backgammon tournaments on the side. And you could even win a lot of money there. That hadn’t changed. And then I “sacrificed” a week, two weeks of holiday to play one or two tournaments. I was surrounded by the flair and the people again. And I even won money. And then again, the next day, instead of relaxing, out early in the morning and into the office? So it wasn’t the ultimate solution yet. So developing my own software on the side wasn’t completely free either. But I did it. And sacrificed what for it again? That’s right, sleep. By the time of the 1990 World Cup, I was 31 years old and had been working as a salaried employee for 3 years. It made forecasts for the outcome of matches. However, forecasts are only to be understood in the sense of calculated probabilities of occurrence for, let’s say, victory, draw, defeat.
The first time it was used was at the World Cup. And there was only one bad outcome, one thing that was not allowed to happen at all: That Germany would become world champion. And I remember too well when, in the semi-final, Chris Waddle hit the post for England in extra time. I was in the Belmont café, standing on the table, not just for that scene and not just symbolically. Then the penalty shoot-out, Bodo Illgner in goal, he wouldn’t stop one, people claimed (remember: all Germany fans, logical). But then he was shot, he was already in the corner but this f… Stuart Pearce shot at his foot, Illgner had no chance to dodge, then Chris Waddle into the clouds and then I also had to endure the cheering around me … what a start … that was a difference of 6000 DM … and not only at that time and under the circumstances that was a lot of money.
And who was the opponent in the final? Yes, a very weak Argentina. And these Argentines simply hadn’t read the script. Because we were in Italy and Italy just had to get into the final. So the semi-final was Italy versus Argentina. But even there, Italy led for a long time through Toto Schillaci and then a long-haired blond, you remember? Right, very good, Canniggia. 1-1, extra time, penalty shootout, Argentina won. And Germany certainly wouldn’t have had it quite so easy against Italy…. But who cares about the script?
I had also announced beforehand: If Germany really becomes world champion, the whole nation will cheer and I’ll be hanging in the window cross. Who doesn’t remember the 81st minute, penalty kick, do you have to give it? It doesn’t matter, Brehme takes it, converts and makes a whole nation happy. And who thinks of me? Deserved or not. So on my way home, I made my way through the cheering crowds in my car, largely convinced of what I was doing, but I didn’t have any rope at the moment. Instead, I took a look at the cash register just to be on the safe side. And what did I find out? I had made a profit of DM 2000 on the entire World Championships despite the SuperGAU!
Then I postponed my original plan and made a new one. Now it was no longer difficult to choose a career, was it?
I went to work the next day, albeit very unhappily, and … quit my job! So now I was a professional player for good. How does that sound? I was soon to find out, unfortunately.
My mother was horrified. And despite all the convincing I did with her, she was convinced for the next 10 years that I must be heavily in debt. It was only when she was in need of money herself that she suddenly turned to me. A conversation with her went something like this: “I won DM 15,000 at the weekend.” Answer: “Yes, but how much did you lose?” So she was convinced that I was telling her about a win but not telling her about the 30000 DM I lost. But after all, I was her son and, as a child, could be used to perform all kinds of tricks, including mathematical ones. But she didn’t trust me with a 15000 – 30000 arithmetic operation.
And my father first: I owe all my abilities and talents to my parents. But I wasn’t allowed to use them? He passed on and taught me the football mind, took me to the stadium from an early age, the mathematical talent, everything. So my father wrote me a letter, an endlessly long one, after my decision. In it, he expressed his utmost concern and tried by all means to dissuade me. And still several years later, no matter what I tried to explain to him, he didn’t want to know. The tenor was something like this: “You’ll stay my son, there’s nothing I can do about it. But how you earn your money I don’t want to know.” The parenthetical remark was this: “Whether you are a pickpocket, a bank robber or a pimp, I don’t care. I won’t report you because you are my son.”
All you can do then is console yourself with knowing better and having money. But I can’t prove anything anyway.
So if you’re a professional player, you have a couple of ways to deal with it here: One way is to deny it completely. You live a halfway normal life (which I had quite intended; with a family and children), and when asked about your profession, you say, “I’m self-employed.” And I had indeed founded a software company, together with a friend. And I also developed software. People then still ask: “What kind of software do you make?” “Database.” All right, so it involves a bit of a lie. Or you just avoid dealing with the “normal ” people, that works too. You only have a small selection of friends and interlocutors, those who understand and know what you do. This also has advantages, but it is not necessarily suitable for starting a family. At some point you have to tell your chosen one something. And there, too, you experience the most diverse reactions. But even if you’ve convinced someone that you’re suitable as a man and as a breadwinner, it’s also hard to deal with your partner on a daily basis. In good times there are no problems. But when you lose? Over a longer period of time? So in plain language: dealing with this job description is not easy. Neither for the practitioner nor for those around him. So at some point I decided to stop hiding with it. To “come out” as a professional player.
And then the same questions always come up, you already know them all inside out. And every answer inevitably leads to the next question. But every questioner’s attitude remains palpable: scepticism. I fight, so to speak, for the recognition of the profession of professional player. With all the consequences. Which could include the state saying at some point that those who earn their money from it also have to pay taxes on this income. Sure, you have to rely on estimates. There is something like that in America, by the way: you can declare it and pay your taxes on the expected profits every year. Anything would be fine with me. But if you remain diligent in acquiring books and you are already shouting “When is the next one coming?” I am also happy to put “writer” on my banner.
The consequences have nevertheless been positive and I continue to work on my image: first radio interviews, television appearances on Nord 3 on Sunday Evening Sport and on Dellings Woche, contribution on rbb “A day in the life of…” with me as the main character, newspaper reports about me in BILD and Tagesspiegel. And now a book, have you had a look?