With a player who's won even before we get to the money
I got a message on Facebook smack in the middle of the WSOP — June 23rd — from someone I had been buddies with since grade school, but had lost touch with since moving away from Michigan almost 10 years ago. The message started off with him, Dave, saying congrats on my poker career and that he liked reading this blog, which was cool to hear because I usually have no idea who reads this thing, mom and dad excluded. (Hi Mom and Dad!) Dave went on to say sorry for emailing out of the blue but he was really hoping for a bit of advice.
His father had really taken to poker over the past decade, he explained, often playing with friends and family as well as in charity card rooms around their home in Michigan. He wrote that his dad “has long since dreamed” of making the trek cross country and playing in a WSOP event, and that with a rare vacation timed perfectly at the end of the month, he was wondering whether it would be a good idea or silly pursuit. He phrased it in a way that might make you think of a lot of fans of the game dreaming of taking their shot in Vegas, only better, because he made sure to say that win or lose, he thought it would make for a great experience for his dad, who was last in Las Vegas 40 years ago.
The decision, as I saw it, was blatantly obvious. I let Dave know that as long as his dad wouldn’t get too down on himself by any kind of a bad run at the tables, he should definitely come see the spectacle that is the World Series of Poker. I offered to meet up with him and go check out the scene at the Rio together if he decided to go through with his plans. I got a text message from Dave a few days later saying the trip was booked.
I met up with Dave’s dad, Norman, at his hotel on the following Saturday and we got caught up over lunch (breakfast for me obv). I recognized him from when he coached Dave and my soccer team when we were little kids. Both father and son were always athletic with Dave being an amazing soccer player. Norm told me about his own younger years of competitive kickboxing, which had brought him to Las Vegas and the west coast decades ago. He told me about how his interests in poker had developed over the years, especially when he realized that the game could still make the same competitive juices flow that fighting used to. He didn’t have a ton of time to play back home, what with a career as a psychologist that provided little down time, and a family that he loved being with. But he loved the game, too. It was really cool to hear; most of my conversations about poker with my fellow grinders revolve around things like maximizing our hourly rates, markup, how many k’s of hands played this week, etc. Norm was just happy to play.
We drove into the Rio driveway and made our way to the back of the property where the Convention Center hosts all things WSOP. Norm was immediately astounded by the huge lot filled with poker players’ cars as we tried unsuccessfully to valet on a Saturday, instead having to park ten rows away. While walking up to the building I pointed out Todd Brunson, who happened to be walking toward the trailer parking section. “No way… Hey Todd!” Norm yelled to him with a wave. Todd looked back briefly before realizing we were nobody and carried on. I laughed.
We walked inside and into the Pavilion Room, where you’re immediately greeted by throngs of cash game and satellite players, and hundreds of poker tables.
“This is unbelievable,” Norm said.
We went through the Brasilia room and into the Amazon Room, seeing Greg Raymer along the way. Norm was on a quick phone call telling someone back home about everything so far and said, “Hey Greg, say hi to my buddy.” Greg took the phone saying, “Hi, this is Chris Moneymaker.”
We took a look at the Thunderdome, which they were preparing for the upcoming OneDrop event, and I tried to point out some other TV pros playing in the $5k NL and $1500 Doubles events. My friend Stacey was deep in the ladies event at the time so we hung out and railed her for a while. Then we got signed up for the next day’s $1k WSOP bracelet event.
I tried to give Norm some really general tournament strat before we started on Sunday morning. I told him to play tight early and let the game come to him, but otherwise just play his own game and the best game suited to his own personality. I left him at his table in the Pavilion Room as I headed for mine in Brasilia. 30 minutes later he texted me saying he had already more than doubled and was table chip leader. My coaching was brilliant!
Actually, he had the good fortune of flopping a set and having a Swede on his table, which he was able to play perfectly and get the max. I on the other hand was hovering at or just below starting stack. I finally won a good size pot after the first break, which was quickly nullified and then some by flopping a set vs. a flopped straight. It was a short tournament for me but Norm was only just picking up steam.
By dinner break he had built his chip stack to about 20k which I believe at the time had to have been around 50 big blinds. He was stoked to be cruising and I was stoked for him. He called a couple poker buddies at dinner who were surprised to hear he was STILL in the tournament after two thirds of the field had been dispatched. After some more general strategy discussion over dinner he headed back to it.
Unfortunately, as fickle as the poker gods can be, it was Norm’s turn to get coolered, turning top two against an opponent’s set. And just like that, with the money bubble just over the horizon, his shot at WSOP glory was over. He said that it was extremely reminiscent of his kickboxing days and felt like the wind had been completely knocked out of him. Though I’ve never received an actual foot to the solarplexus before, I told him I thought I could relate.
We had a consolatory beer at one of my favorite spots in town, the Mandarin Bar overlooking the Strip. Norm said that he was more than happy with his performance and that as time went on in the tournament, even though he was trying his hardest, he was ok with going out because tournament poker is so damn exhausting. He said he got exactly what he was hoping for and more: he not only saw the World Series of Poker but was a part of it.
He looked at that $1k investment through completely different eyes than I’ve (somewhat sadly) become accustomed to. It might not have been profitable financially but that was never the point. It was an extremely +lifeEV trip for him and it’s incredibly refreshing to be able to share that kind of experience in a poker setting first hand.
So much of my time at the poker table is spent analyzing my opponents’ motivation behind their actions, from sitting at the table in the first place to what their each individual check and bet might mean. I often think about whether I’m moving quickly enough toward my poker goals, how much better my life could be if I could move up in stakes, and about what I could be doing instead of grinding away in a casino. Seeing Norm enjoying this environment, my new chosen home, to the fullest and soaking it all in was a true lesson on living in the present to be stored away for the future.
I tried to give him general strategy advice for the tournament and he gave me general strategy advice for life.