Sunday, July 22, 2012


I ran into Julian Thew the other day on the second afternoon of a WSOP $1k. Julian was as kind and cordial as he was when I first met him in the fall of 2007, as he was when we had dinner with four players left at the final table of the EPT Baden that year, as he has been every time we’ve crossed paths since.

I have played something like a million hands of poker; financially speaking, by far the most significant was this one (starting at 1:54) against Thew at that final table. Win that hand and I probably would have won the tournament and its $947,406 prize. Instead, as had been preordained, I was eliminated in fourth place for $720k less. It didn’t feel like a $720k beat. I was half-rooting for Julian to win it. He was so nice, he played the hand properly, he had young ‘uns, he needed it more than me.

I think often of that fateful hand, of what might have been, but rarely in wistful fashion. I would probably be a lot richer. I’d probably be a better poker player. I would have had opportunities to do some special things.

But would I be any happier? I have no idea. Would I hang out with the same friends? Would I still live in Boulder? All unanswerable questions, as unfathomable as how the flap of a butterfly’s wings could cause a hurricane a thousand miles away.

Julian and 4,589 other competitors had been terminated from that $1k by the time Dominik Nitsche shoved all-in for about fifteen big blinds from early position and I woke up with pocket kings and a covering stack a couple slots behind. A moment earlier Dominik had been in truly dire straits, residing in the big blind with a fifth of his paltry stack already in the pot. An amateur player made an oversize raise to five big blinds, the size of Dominik’s stack, forcing a fold out of a European pro on the button. Dominik called all-in with ace-ten, the amateur flipped over ten-eight suited, Dominik doubled on a painted board, and the furious young button announced that he would have busted Dominik if the amateur hadn’t played his ten-eight. The next hand Dominik shoved in over the other European’s raise, the latter folded after disgustedly dwelling on the previous hand for a second time, and that was how Dominik had recovered to fifteen big blinds before shoving pocket sixes into my kings a few hands later.

Before the dealer spread the flop, I felt butterflies in my stomach at a poker table for the first time in two and a half years, when I found myself all-in against Sam Stein on the final table bubble of the $5k NAPT Venetian. I would survive that hand, but expire after a miserable final table in sixth place. Stein would finish second to Tom Marchese, just another in a string of six-figure scores each has made since hitting the circuit in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

In my last tournament in Vegas, the $5k main event of the Venetian Deepstack series, I had the pleasure of playing with Marchese and some other universe-class players. After a summer spent swimming amongst fish, I caught a glimpse of the shark tank, the habitat I used to call my home but haven’t visited in years. I fought with the best, and I fared just fine. That tournament was more meaningful for me than many of those beastly antagonists: it might be my last big buy-in for eleven months. The Marcheses and Steins have had and will continue to have many opportunities at Big Money; mine – because of both the skill and frequency with which I play – come far less often.

Yet it is not that Big Money that matters to me. I care even less about the cash than I did when I started playing this beautiful game. Money is caprice. Victory is immortality.

Perhaps it was that disregard for money that allowed me to play so well this WSOP. Perhaps it was patience earned from 2 ½ hour kindergarten recesses in Ethiopia. Perhaps it was the impassive experience – eight years of grinding the WSOP, a hundred $1 and $1.5ks in the archives, a thousand scenarios repeating like broken records. Whatever it was, it was the best, most consistent Series I’ve ever strung together. I regret perhaps three or four hands from the summer, none of them clear mistakes. Time and again I asked the best players I know what they would have done with X, Y, & Z, and every time I’d played 'em just as they would have.

I had Dominik’s sixes covered in one suit but his six of spades was unfiltered, immediate and terrifying once three spades hit the flop. Butterflies swam up my throat as the dealer peeled off a harmless turn card. One more and I’d have vanquished the most dangerous adversary remaining and be sitting with close to double average chips for the stretch run. It wasn’t a spade on the river, but the snake in the grass six that doubled Dominik up. Just seven hours later, while I drifted off to sleep pondering the flap of a butterfly’s wings, Dominik won the tournament and its $654,797 first prize.


Blogger TheGraveWolf said...

Poetry and poker makes a Wolf happy.

Well written post Moon.

I found myself contemplating the butterfly theory during my deep run, thinking back on the satellite that I won the seat in, coming back from <1bb. The possibility of busting to Nam on day 1 before that diamond spiked on the turn. Having 2mil early on day 4. And then having a small green payout slip on day 6 - the payout so welcome but also not life changing. I have a feeling I will read this post over and over again during the next few months.

9:26 AM  

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