In my dream I am at the final table. There are eight of us left. A short stack goes all in. Another guy with a monster stack goes all in behind him. A third short stack also pushes. I look down at K-J suited. I’m kind of desperate. I only have enough left for one or two more rotations, so what the hell… Everybody laughs because it is kind of ridiculous. The flop comes jack high, two hearts, the turn, an ace, the river, a third heart. I think I’m screwed, but the first guy has K-Q, the big stack pocket tens, and the third guy 7-8 of clubs. I have quadrupled up.

An avalanche of chips are headed my way, two guys are felted, we are down to six players, and I am the new chip leader. Suddenly I feel an overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom. Actually, I don’t have to go yet, but I think I might need to in the next half hour, and I don’t want anxiety to mar my game. My sister Becky is watching the game. “Where are you going?” she says, alarmed, as I get up to leave. “You’re the button!” “I know,” I say, “But I really have to go. I’ll be right back.”

And leaving my chips in a big, untidy pile, I wander off. Turns out I don’t really know where the bathroom is in the casino, I am walking forever until I find one, and because it’s in the spa which is enormous, it’s hard to locate the stalls. Then I fall in a fountain and have to go to the room and change. Phil is in the room, and I get sidetracked talking to him.

By the time I return to the casino half a day has elapsed. “I couldn’t find the bathroom!” I explain to the guard who is letting me back into the television room. He smiles and points right behind me. There is a ladies room ten feet away. I am perturbed by this… how did I miss it? Is this another example of self sabotage?

Under the hot lights the game is still going on. I am horrified to see a mountain of cash sitting on the table with a trophy on top. Andy Bloch and someone else appear to be playing heads up. “I’m back,” I say weakly. Do I even have chips left? Maybe I got blinded off like Vinnie Vinh. And if I do have chips, what is the protocol for putting somebody back into a televised game already at the heads-up stage?

As I approach I am relieved to see they are not heads up after all. A third player who had been obscured by the pile of cash is still in the game. I look at seat four where I left my huge stack, and there is barely a dribble left… less than five times the big blind. Andy Bloch looks up to see me returning to my seat, and rolls his eyes at the other players.

As I sit down the guy under the gun raises my big blind. The blind is 600, and for some reason he makes it 680. A bizarre and slightly insulting raise. Does he have a monster or is he fucking with me? I look down at A-5 off-suit. I only have enough chips for one move. As I sadly play with my pathetic pile I wonder how I got to this humiliating position. Everyone is looking at me to see how I am going to react.

And mercifully, at this juncture, I wake up from this horrible nightmare. The sound of traffic purrs under my window. I am alone in New York where I am rehearsing a play. I lie there in the dark room, and one thought goes obsessively through my head: “Fear of Losing Momentum.”

You see, I have decided to go back to my day job. I was at the supermarket the other day and a little gay guy came scurrying up to me. “Thank you for Bullets over Broadway!” he whispered, genuflecting. As I watched him receding in the distance I realized nobody ever says to me, “Thank you for taking a pot off of Phil Ivey!”

I love poker but greatness in poker is an elusive dream. There are too many variants. Trying to find validation in poker is like trying to find a virgin in a whorehouse. I’m not giving up poker entirely — gambling is an addiction after all. I’m just going to treat it more like a hobby and less like a career.

I’m going back to my real career of attending premieres and playing the third lead in B-movies. The door to Hollywood is still cracked open a sliver. I want to see if I can squeeze my way back in. I remember one of the things I liked about acting was getting paid every week. Poker is one of the few professions where after days of grueling work you end up with nothing — actually, less than nothing because you lose your buy-in.

So anyway, because I am putting poker on the back burner, this is going to be my last article. I want to thank the great people at BLUFF for giving me the opportunity to let my voice be heard, and I especially want to thank you, the readers, for all your support.

I will still be playing poker but not as much. I have a new agent and manager. I’m filming a movie this month and opening a play in the spring. When I’m not working I’m going to exercise and look at trees and paint and rearrange furniture… in short, do all the things I used to do before the grand obsession enveloped my life. Actors always want to die on stage during their final curtain call. I have to say, I can’t think of anything worse than dying in a casino. Will the last one to leave Las Vegas please turn out the lights?

December 2008