Haseeb Qureshi

Cascais, Portugal and the end of the Portuguese Poker Prodigy

I wasn’t sure that I was going to come here. I had toyed with the idea my mind many times, but I was never sure what to do. It wasn’t until working on the farm in France that I finally made the decision. But I think all along somewhere in my journey, there was some invisible string that tied me to Portugal. And though I swung around in my arc through Europe, and though at times when the string went slack I would suspect myself free, and even at times declare it true — at some random moment I would think about my story, about the impetus of my journey, and Portugal would tug at me again like an impatient master, and I would remember.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

The Prayer of St. Francis

I decided to go to Portugal. I did not have to, but I wanted to know. I wanted to know who Jose was. Why he did what he did. I wanted to know what his story was behind all of this. I wanted to know what my lesson was.

Somewhere along my travels, someone asked me at some point about why I was debating whether or not to see Jose.  I thought about this for some time, and gave them this for an answer: I don’t think about Jose anymore, in truth.  He doesn’t arrest me anymore when I walk to and fro and ponder my life. My focus is only on myself, on who I am, and where I am going from here. So why do I think about seeing Jose? Well. I think it’s because it all just feels so meaningless. From all the shit that happened, how am I supposed to grow from this experience? How do I become stronger? What am I supposed to learn? What’s the great lesson that he came into my life to teach me? “Don’t trust people”? That’s so disgusting. I don’t want that lesson, I don’t want to learn that. There’s something I need to understand about who Jose is, why he did what he did, and what it is about me that brought him into my life. And until I do that, my story is empty.

So I came to Portugal.

It’s strange. I went to Guincho beach where I told him I would meet him. Guincho beach is near the west most point in all of Europe, cupped against the Atlantic. It was cold, and I walked along the beach back and forth, waiting for him to arrive. Evening turned to night, and the sea which at first seemed so sorry and melancholy became a colossal darkness. There was only one light along the entire beach. I walked back and forth, waiting. The photos that I took of the beach I took only an hour before Jose arrived, before it became dark.

The first moment I saw him, I was climbing the steps to the embankment above the beach. He had arrived on his motorcycle. I had been thinking for a long time what I would do the first moment I saw him. I imagined sometimes that perhaps I would punch him in the gut, or perhaps that I would give him a measured and pregnant look in his eyes to communicate my anger and disappointment in him. And sometimes I imagined I just wouldn’t know what to say, shake his hand, and say “hey.”

He took off his motorcycle helmet. I knew that he was 6 feet tall — a young and powerful rugby player. For some reason I thought he would be really tall. I always imagined I would look slightly up at him. I’m actually 5’11, but somehow it didn’t occur to me that we were really close to the same height. And in that first moment that I faced him, I was almost surprised. He was the same person as in the pictures, but when I inspected him — his clothes, his face, the way he stood — it was so apparent. He was just a boy. He had an uncertain half-smile on his face. Under his chin was a small patch of acne. It hadn’t appeared in the photos. He was 18 year old. It occurred to me that at 18, even the terrain of one’s face is inconstant.

In that moment, I did not want to hate him, to curse him, or to show him he was unworthy. I wanted to forgive him, and to understand him. He put out his hand to shake mine. I pulled him in to hug him. And though I had my arm around him, he did not hug me back. He seemed uncertain of himself around me. He would later tell me that I made him nervous, and that meeting me felt surreal — that he didn’t know how to act around me. He could sense my heaviness. He felt guilty for it. He felt sad. He didn’t know what to do, or what to say. I could see it in him. And I forgave him for that too.

It is by self-forgetting that one finds,
And it is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

Over the many days I was in Portugal, we spoke many times about many things. And I came to understand Jose. What his story really is, what made him into the person he is, and what led him to do what he did. What drives him. His fears, his insecurities, his particular brand of madness. I spoke to his mother and learned from her all that I could about Jose, and tried to communicate to her what I had learned as well. For five days I stayed in Cascais in a cheap little hotel by the marina. And every night I would go out to a little stretch of beach facing the sea, and I would pace back and forth along its meager coast. I would think, and think, and think. I sought to understand. To weave his story together. And in those moments when I would reach the end of the beach (I look down at my feet when I pace), I would turn around and face the long of the beach again, and — sometimes, looking over the path my footprints had traced again and again — I would feel such a tremendous sadness and loneliness that my impoverished words fall short to describe it.

And yet, I felt my soul accumulating itself. I came to understand. More about myself, about Jose, and about why our stories intertwined with one another the way they did. In the moment I left London almost three months ago, I felt like my soul had been shattered. I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’ve been a professional poker player for 5 years. Poker was my lodestone, it was my meaning, it was how I knew in the end that I was worthy, that I was special, that my mind and my life were worth my struggles to uphold them. When I lost it, I felt like I was empty. And so I realize now that the purpose of my journey was to remember who I was. I am such an amazingly different person now than who I was 5 years ago, before I began my romance with the game of poker. So now I look inward and take stock of what’s left. Who am I now? I pick up little pieces along the way as I travel, one on this day, one in this city, another one from this person. I don’t have everything, and some pieces of my puzzle are still missing, perhaps under a couch or beneath a carpet somewhere, or maybe on the tongue of an insightful stranger. But it feels right. I am moving forward.

Jose offered to let me stay at his place. I declined. It didn’t feel right (though admittedly, I could’ve used the laundry machine, haha). For five days I stayed, met with him, wrote, paced, and slept. And I suppose that now I have my trophy, small that it may be, which is in knowing. The day before yesterday I returned to Lisbon, from which I flew back to London. I am now in Gloucester, and am facing the final chapter of my journey.

I will not write about all I learned about Jose. Not now. I still need to synthesize everything that I understood, and there are things that need to be said between the two of us that are yet unfinished and unsaid. That’s okay, it can all wait. And when I write my book (not the one of which I spoke earlier in this blog, but the larger book that I am writing), I am sure I will write about all of it. But for now, a new episode has been opened in my life, and I stand here on the cusp of the first word.

I am about to go to a Vipassana meditation retreat in the British countryside. If you don’t know what that is, I will explain simply – basically, it’s a free (supported by donations) encampment out in the country. It lasts for ten days. One begins by turning in all of their unnecessary possession (i.e., phones, laptops, etc.), taking only clothes and the bare necessities of life. Then one takes a vow of what’s called “noble silence.” This means that for the entirety of ten days, one will refrain from speaking, gesturing, writing, or any communication of any sort whatever. And over the ten days you are taught the art of Vipassana meditation, and for ten days you meditate.

I first heard about this from someone I met in eastern Europe. He told me that it’s supremely intense. According to him, around day 5 is when everyone starts to go a little crazy — once you reach that fifth day, your mind starts to want to escape, starts to wrack itself with excuses as to why you can’t stay and have to leave. But if you make it to day 10, he said, you will change.

I don’t know why I decided to do this. I’ve never done anything of this sort before in my life. Hell, I’ve probably done yoga less than five times in my life and I’m terrible at meditating — I’ve always found the contents of my mind too noisy and various. There are probably lots of reasons why I’m doing this, some less obvious than others. But as I’ve been answering this question to the various people who’ve asked, there’s one answer I gave of which I’ve grown fond. Which is: I am doing this because I know it will change me. And I want to change.

The truth is, I am afraid. I don’t know what I will experience. But I want to see what happens when I come out of the other end of the fire.

I think of Alex.

In two hours the coach will arrive to take me into the countryside. Tomorrow morning I will begin the vow of silence.

I will write again at the end of ten days.

Link to the album

  • Nice song and wow your post was very captivating, especially as a poker player given I know the background of how you and Jose are sort of intertwined. It’s one of those unfair associations as well. Most of the analogies I think of are where one is overshadowed and under appreciated due to the greatness of the other. Haha, how ironic. I’m looking for something more like when Judas betrayed Jesus, but unless you’re the second coming that doesn’t quite apply either heh.

    I guess the best analogy I can think of is when an actor say Leonardo, the first thing they think about when he’s mentioned is the titanic. And I’m sure it pisses him off because he doesn’t want to be remembered for that, he doesn’t feel it’s an illustration of his best work. I suppose that would be the best outcome though for yourself. Since he’s gone on to do many great movies and I’ve read he also fights for noble causes. Make it so what happened with Jose isn’t a big part of how you perceive your past. So although you may never be able to entirely forget about the Jose chapter in your life,and may even always be remembered for it. Over time do things you are proud of to where that chapter in your life seems small to you.

    Or perhaps I’m just spewing bs with incorrect analogies heh. Likely there is a gem of truth to be found in that haphazard pile of words, maybe even not related to the words themselves, but something deeper within your subconscious will be triggered.

    What I mean to say before I distracted myself is that’s a good song, and your blog posts are great I’ll definitely buy your book =]. Keep up your search for truth it may come in unexpected places. BTW your 10 day silence trip sounds awesome, I want to do one of those someday. The best way to understand ourselves is to understand how the mind works.

  • You need to clean your CMOS Chip on your camera, this is why you have the dust speck in all your shots.
    Flip open the mirror and blow air into it or use lens cleaning fabric to wipe it down.

    Aside from that, take more pics with you and people in it. All the landscape pics are great but tell your story more with pictures.

    Right now it is a blog with writing about something different than the images portray. Think Photojournalism…this is exactly what it is.

    Now you should go to Pakistan and try and be a tribal mercenary. You can buy homemade guns and hold them to women and children’s heads so that you can see what real fear looks like.

  • you are scum and this blog affirms just how scum

  • What a crock.

  • “From all the shit that happened, how am I supposed to grow from this experience? How do I become stronger? What am I supposed to learn? What’s the great lesson that he came into my life to teach me? “Don’t trust people”? That’s so disgusting. I don’t want that lesson, I don’t want to learn that.”

    Haseeb, have really enjoyed your blog and your videos on deucescracked were some of the first poker vids i ever watched. Really do admire your skills and your writing for someone so young.

    A few observations about the shitstorm with jose… i think you were incredibly unlucky to get involved with this guy but the way to rationalise it is as a poker player is to accept it as the variance of life. This wasnt just a bad beat however as you know you “misplayed your hand” ie. you were too trusting and open. I know you dont want to hear that but it is the truth.

    I think though there are some positives to take away from this…
    1) you have gained valuable life experience at a young age and although it hurts it will make you stronger and wiser in the long-run.
    2) most importantly it will mean that the experience will allow you to appreciate the value of real friendship and trust and mean that you will forge stronger bonds with real friends going forward. You cant put a price on this!

    Imagine that a great betrayal like this occured to you when you were much older. Remember that people are often betrayed by their families – those they think they are loved by the most. This was a relationship built up primarily over the internet (although obviously you had a strong bond because of your shared passion for poker) but in my opinion this is not a substitute to spending time with someone in the real world and getting to know them.

    Lastly, stop being so introspective. The answers will come with life experience and will take time. Luckily time is on your side….

    If you are in London again drop me a line if you need advice on stuff to do:


  • hey haseeb ur gem of a person, the poker world needs you come back and start grinding :)

  • fff

    stop trying so fucking hard to be good writer and just tell the story
    this self indulgent pretentious drivel might have gotten u an A in Freshman English, but makes you sound like assshole

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Any updates, Hasseeb?

  • Hi Haseeb,
    Can I recommend that you extend your travel plans to destinations beyond the West. I mean this earnestly and as someone who has thoroughly enjoyed your writings on Poker over the past couple of years (not to mention DC videos). Your approach to Poker is one that I admire for it’s intelligence in thinking outside the square. And so my opinion is that to stick to Europe for travel, when there is a much bigger (and less trivial) world out there, would be a failure to apply this approach to the real world. If you ever want advice on destinations that I can recommend or literature that is this way inclined, my user-name is futurefred on 2+2. Shoot me a message and I’ll write an essay.

    And I don’t mean this to sound condescending as no doubt you are already considering more faraway destinations – but I understand the insular nature of a life devoted to poker – and so I feel this is worth my trouble to say.

    I look forward to your book one day, whatever it is about.

  • Tez

    “this self indulgent pretentious drivel might have gotten u an A in Freshman English, but makes you sound like assshole”

    If he cared about measuring up to your ill defined standards of what is and is not good writing, he would act like it. Since he doesn’t, maybe it’s time you found another blog to troll.

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