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Poker: A dad's perspective

1/25/2007

The editors of Bluff magazine have asked me to share my thoughts, as a father, on my son's decision to put his college education on hold in order to pursue a professional poker career. After many hours of thoughtful contemplation, here are my feelings and my perspective on my son's current career path.

I guess it would be helpful to provide a short background on my son, Shannon Shorr. Growing up, Shannon was a very determined, competitive, hardworking young boy. He would set his mind to something and work to become the best he could possibly be. He was like that as a student, as an athlete, and now … as a poker player.

He earned an academic scholarship to the University of Alabama in Civil Engineering. His curriculum included working for a prominent engineering firm during alternate semesters. He was able to earn an income and gain practical experience while going to college. He worked hard and maintained good grades. This story unfolds about two and a half years into his attendance at the University of Alabama.

I knew Shannon was playing some online poker and in small cash games with his friends, as were many college students at that time. I never gave it too much thought and really had no reason to be overly concerned. He was just having fun and that was all I knew. It wasn't until a recent interview that I learned that it took eight months for Shannon to show a pattern of consistent, positive earnings. He hadn't really mentioned it and certainly never asked me for a dime to support his poker playing.

I gave Shannon a call one afternoon and asked him to meet me for a round of golf. As I remember, it was on the first hole at the golf course when Shannon broke the news to me. He told me that he had won a 10K seat into the Aussie Millions Poker Tournament in Melbourne, Australia. The good news was that all of his expenses, including his $10,000 buy-in, his hotel stay, his airfare, and his food were all going to be covered. He said it would give him a chance to travel to a place that he had only dreamed about visiting. He would also get to play against some of the world's greatest poker players. The bad news was that the trip was to last almost two weeks. He explained how difficult it would be to make up the work that he would be missing while he was away, especially in a difficult engineering curriculum. I saw the next question coming. It was as obvious to me as I presume it is to you. Shannon said he would like to take a semester off from college and wanted to know what I thought about the idea. I do remember swallowing a bit harder than usual prior to giving him my opinion, but I responded by first congratulating him on his accomplishment. I told him that I thought it would be an opportunity of a lifetime. I told him that the decision was his and that I would be 100 percent supportive. He had always put a lot of thought into important decisions and I truly believed that he was capable of making this one on his own.

Needless to say, Shannon made up his mind. He ventured to the land Down Under that January at the ripe age of 20 years, crossing the globe on his own, taking on the world, and living a dream. He played in his first live tournament, met some wonderful friends, and returned home with a sense of determination and a pocket full of cash. Shannon was still too young to place his first bet on U.S. soil.

He spent the next several months playing in tournaments around the world, traveling to Barcelona, Spain, Vienna, Austria and the Caribbean. Shannon turned 21 on June 7. I traveled to Lake Tahoe to be with him on his birthday and to see him play in his first WSOP circuit event. As I watched Shannon play for the first time, everything concerning his decision to pursue a poker career became clear. I watched him at the final table and saw a young man engaging this newfound love with respect, passion and an intensity that made me very proud.

Shortly after that, Shannon moved out to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker and ended up winning a huge tournament at the Bellagio. He returned from Vegas like he returned from Melbourne, with even more determination and more pockets full of cash. After the big win, Shannon indicated that, now more than ever, the prospect of playing full-time on the WPT and leaving school was becoming more of a reality than a consideration. He told me that he wanted to give himself three days to think long and hard about his options. He returned home that weekend to attend his sister's graduation from the University of Alabama; I watched him as he beamed with pride when Heather received her diploma, but knew deep inside that his personal decision to forego school for the time being had already been made. That weekend he made his intentions known and told me that he wanted to pursue his poker career. He would be leaving school.

Shannon became a millionaire at the age of 21, but that is not really what this story is about. It's about making tough decisions. It's about supporting the people you love. It's about seizing opportunities. It's about following your heart, taking a chance, and literally letting the cards fall as they may.

Shannon's financial success has certainly been a positive influence for my support. However, the support was there long before the money and the fame. The fact that he is doing what he loves to do is enough for me. How many of us ever get that chance? Life is a gamble. It guarantees us very little.

Responsible support from the people you love is important. I have been fortunate to have it my whole life and I am thankful for that. Support makes us strong, confident, and encourages us to excel. As a father, I believe that Shannon's future career decisions will be thoughtful and responsible, based on his achievements down the road.

I am just one of many people, including his mom, grandmother, sisters, other family members, and friends, who will continue to support him. Shannon sincerely appreciates our support and we can't thank him enough for taking all of us on this ride of a lifetime. Fasten your seat belt, and if you get the opportunity, show your support for someone you love.

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