I started counting my chips and was getting ready to verify. After you get checked by the staff, they give you a bag and you seal your chips up and get a receipt. I called Brad real quick to let him know the good news; funny it was 3:00AM his time and I never even thought twice about calling him. Poker players. I was walking out of the Rio with Jason and I turned to him and said, “I made it, Bro.” He said something that I will never forget. “Yes you did. You wanted it more than they did there is no defense for that.” It was true, I did want it. I crawled all day on the metaphorical broken glass and now it was all extra. Whatever happened, this could never be taken away from me. Before we got on our separate elevators back at the Bellagio, Jason stepped into his elevator, turned around and said to me, “You do remember that I finished 77th when I cashed in the World Series, right?” The doors closed and he was gone. Yea, that would be sweet, to fight through at least 121 more players and finish deeper than Mr. Smart-Ass.
Nine or ten years ago, when I first started to play poker seriously, I would play until breakfast when I was winning, and I still do. I love the night, when I am rolling I play as long a session as I can and pick up when it is time to eat with Lucy in the morning. I could play longer but it makes it nice to meet her and go sleep for 5 or 6 hours; it has become our thing. Back in the day when I got busted and lost all the money I allocated for poker that day, I would have to go to the room earlier than breakfast. I have always been very strict about the money management associated with poker. Lucy quickly learned that if Big Papa should show up at the room too early, things went bad and I had lost all my money. She was so funny in those days. She would always pretend to be asleep when I came home early. We both knew she wasn’t and I was typically so pissed that I was glad to go along with it, so as not to risk taking it out on her accidentally. I was never pissed about the money; it was taken there to lose if necessary. I was very seldom mad at my table mates; they wanted to win and they had rights to that. I was always mad at me. I was frustrated that it seemed that I didn’t know anything about poker and I wanted to become better, and every time I got busted it seemed like I knew less. I would dominate one game and then move up a level in cash and get punched in face. Every time I got knocked down I had a bunch of time to lie in bed next to my baby girl who was pretending to be asleep and think about what I had done wrong. I would analyze those mistakes and try to figure out ways that I could avoid them in the future, and pretty soon I stopped losing so often, then after a couple of years it was the remote exception, and now I haven’t lost all the money I left the room with in 4 or 5 years. The point I am making is, if I can do it, you can do it. However, you must face your mistakes and correct them, spend time thinking about your failures and they will happen less often. Talk to people whose game you respect about the dumb things you did, not about how you made quad kings. Be honest with them and more importantly with yourself and you will get better, I promise. It worked for me and am definitely not the smartest guy in the game. I just want it more than they do.
I got back to the room around 3:00AM and I crawled in bed, knowing that Lucy would consider this a VERY bad sign. I kissed her on the head and said nothing. Five minutes went by and she said, “I am sure you tried your best, honey.” I said, “I did, and I am going back tomorrow for day two! I am in the money!” She told me how much I sucked and slapped me around a little. Then we laughed and talked like kids until 5:00 when she made me settle down and get some sleep. I had a tournament to play in the morning!
We all got together for breakfast in the morning at the Bellagio Café; we love eating there. That’s when it all started, the prop betting. I said to Jason, “So if I go below 100, what do I get?” He thought for 2 seconds and said, “Remember those lame WSOP shirts with ‘spectator’ printed on the back that we made so much fun of?” We really did make fun of them, I mean really, why not just get a shirt that says “mirage buffet spectator”? I told him that I remembered the shirt, but what of it? He said, “If you go below 100 you get nothing, but if you break my record and go below 77, I will wear that shirt on the rail, stand on a chair and cheer you on to victory for the rest of the tournament.” I said, “Even if I make the final table and you end up on ESPN doing that for 8 hours?” He replied, “Especially if you make the final table!” We had a deal.
I got to the Rio at 11:30 to be early for my noon start and walked into the main event area. My mouth dropped open as I saw a tournament already in full swing with a small number of tables in advanced rounds roped off. Holy crap! Did I get the time wrong? If I had been blinding out since 9:00 I was screwed! I panicked. The “Missed your final exam and you don’t graduate” kind of panic. I asked one of the directors if this was day two of event #31 and he said, “No this is day three of Event #30 – WSOP No Limit Hold’em Short Handed. Event number 31 is over there,” pointing to the other roped off section. “That starts at noon. If you are here to watch that, you have plenty of time.” Ok, that was a little scary. I walked over to the tournament and the security guard said, “This area is for players only, sir.” Music to my ears! I was in the right place and it was the right time and hey, I was a player!
We started the day at $2000/$4000 with a $1000 ante, and on the second hand something wild happened. Ian raised to $10,000, it was folded to me and I looked down and what did I see but American Airlines: AA. I was 17th in chips with $52,000, so I made it $30,000 to go. It was folded around to Ian and he said, “I suppose you have pocket aces again, because I have wired queens,” as he tossed them face up in the muck. I slid the aces face down to the dealer and took my pot. Two hands later, Ian said, “What did you have, mate?” I replied with “pocket fours.” He said, “So aces then, eh?” and I said, “Yea.” Same hand and same players as the night before.
For the next couple of hours I really went card dead. Jennifer Tilly was at the table next to me and was knocked out in 99th place. As she was starting to walk out, this girl was chasing behind her with a clipboard, trying to get her info to pay her, and Jennifer just ignored this girl. “Miss Tilly, Miss Tilly,” the girl chased after her and she just walked out without collecting her prize or even acknowledging the girl trying to do her job. If you don’t need the money, fine, tell the girl to give it to charity; if you are mad and can’t talk now, tell the girl you will come back later. It was obvious to me that Jennifer thought she was better than that girl. I was not impressed, and I was a bigger fan of the girl trying to do her job than of Jennifer Tilly. I did get to talk to Jennifer’s boyfriend Phil “The Unabomber” Laak before the tournament started and he was a really nice guy.
Now we were at $4000/$8000 with $1000 antes. Things were moving pretty fast now, and I was down to around $26,000. I was going to have to find a spot to make a stand while I still had enough chips to make someone at least think about laying down when I move in. When I looked up at the TV with all the tourney info to see how long we have left in this round, I saw we were down to 70 players. I looked around to find Jason on the rail and he was standing on a chair next to Lucy wearing that stupid shirt, backwards with the “Spectator” facing front! He is indeed a man of his word and he was having fun; he is a good friend. It was time; I had picked up queen ten of hearts in late position. I needed to start stealing and get healthy again, and if I got called I got called. Any hand that called me would likely give me live cards to draw at and the hearts provided additional ways home. It was folded to me and I moved in. Like a storybook ending it was Ian that called me. He turned over AK, I didn’t improve and just like that I was out in 56th position. Ian walked around to me and gave me a hug; I wished him luck. Then he said, “I am sure I will see you in more of the upcoming events; you’re a pro right?” I was very complemented and I said, “No, I am just the fourth best player in my home game and it was an honor to play with you all! Good luck!” I shook everyone’s hand including Dan Harrington, and I would like say he was very nice to me and very professional. Some other professional players could learn from the example he sets. I hope the next WSOP story I write starts like…. “So there I was at the final table with Jason and Brad.” Until then, be nice, it matters.