To my left is Barry Schulman, the owner of CardPlayer magazine, and a professional poker player. At the next table over is Jennifer Harman, considered to be one of the very best limit hold'em players in the world. As the dealer starts flinging the cards around our table, Jennifer stands up. She's just been busted out of the same tournament I'm playing.
I look down at my cards and see pocket queens, the third best hand you can be dealt. I've been waiting for a hand like this for hours.
Amid a field of 675 poker players, the majority of them professionals, and a handful of them famous, only 100 players remain. Improbably, I'm one of them. Luck has a giant part to play in this, of course. If not, I would have been busted out long before Jennifer Harman was. But at the same time, playing for twelve hours with some of the best poker players on earth has given me a lot of confidence. They're better than me, but I've held my own. I'm good enough, at least, to not be totally run over.
I've wanted a test like this for a long time, but normally these players are playing at tables where individual pots can be thousands of dollars. That's way more risk than I could take on just to see how I play against pros. But right now I'm in the $1500 Limit Hold'Em World Series event. The prizes and prestige associated with placing well are significant, but $1500 is cheap enough that I could justify paying it for the experience.
Then again, I probably wouldn't have entered if I had known just how good everyone was. I figured that the low buy-in would attract mediocre players. It may have attracted a handful of them, but mostly it's just pros trying to win a World Series bracelet. And me.
It's the second day and my stack is down to around $13,000. I've been playing conservatively, looking for a hand like this to take a stand, play aggressively, and try to double up. The top 63 places get paid, and doubling up would make me enough money that I'll probably make it there.
Everyone folds to the button. Being the last position before the blinds, a raise is almost required there no matter what cards he has. The blinds are now $600 and $1200, and a raise can often steal them. As expected, the button raises.
Small blind folds. I reraise. He calls-- it's just the two of us.
The flop comes JJ7. That's a great flop for me-- unless has a jack or two sevens, I'm WAY ahead. If he had KK or AA he would have reraised me before the flop. I bet and he calls.
The turn comes an eight. Unless he has two eights, seven-eight, or nine-ten, it can't help him. I bet. He raises.
His raise is telling me that he has one of those hands. Maybe he's trying to bluff me because we both know that if I complete this hand, all of my money is going into it. But more likely, he has the hand he's representing.
Despite this, I have to raise. There are still four cards that give me the best hand (the two remaining jacks and queens), or he may be holding something weird like ace-eight. He calls my raise, and we flip over our cards. He indeed has the miraculous ten-nine, and has made a straight. The last card is a deuce, which leaves him the winner and knocks me out of the tournament.
It stings to lose the tournament so close to the money, but knowing that I did way better than could have ever been expected against these pros makes the pill a little easier to swallow.
Even if there was no prize money, I would still have been glad to pay the $1500. It gave me the unbelievable experience of playing in a professional-level game for twelve hours, winning and losing hands against the people you see on ESPN, and made me more confident in my game. In fact, I immediately started playing a higher limit game after the tournament, and did quite well.
Photo was taken by Christophe. It's the only one he got where I don't look scared for my life.
It's hard to write a poker article that non poker players will understand/enjoy. The short version is that I had a great hand and was a huge favorite to double up and win enough money to coast to the level where players make money. A guy played correctly, got lucky, and beat me.
TL::DR I spent $1500 to play in a public poker tourney for the privilege of sitting near some D-List "celebrities".
WOW THEN YOU LET HIM KNOW WHAT YOU HAD AND HE MADE YOU THINK HE HAD SOMETHING ELSE BY BETTING LIKE YOU EXPECTED HIM TO BET
I'm trying to eat healthier at work (overnight at a hospital), and on international trips. Bento box thermus from your old articles seem ideal but I have no experience cooking dried beans and seasoning them. Any advice or recipes for me? I'm a vegetarian in good shape with a hearty appetite.
Woulda been sweet to cash in your first ever WSOP event. Getting down to under 100 is a good run though, especially first time out. Well done sir, well done.
Saw my wife's comment on your post so guess I should sign off as Matt "the poker husband".
Cheers from the Circus Circus RV Park... (the dogs needed the A/C)
Great post! I've been steadily getting better at Hold 'em over the last 6 months or so, heading to Vegas for unrelated reasons in a few weeks, but definitely looking forward to playing with some actual cardplayers. Any tips on where a newbie can play some low-limit and not get absolutely roasted?
i've just been getting into poker, and i was happy to see i could follow this post and see the logic of it, and i also was happy to see you get nerves too! i find playing intimidating, but the intellectual aspect fun.
First, the results. Since the World Series of Poker last year, I've played 174 hours of poker. I play limit hold'em, with almost all of my play at the $10/20 or $15/30 level. In that time I've made $7594, which is $43.70 per hour.
I say that I'm a semi-professional, because obviously 5 hours of "work" per week isn't really playing at a professional level. Statistically speaking, it's also somewhat possible that I've just gotten lucky over this time. Considering my level of understanding of the game, including knowing what I don't know, honest evaluation of the competition, and a general comfort level with the game, I can objectively say that I don't think luck plays a large part in my results.
Anyway, I say all that to let you judge for yourself my playing level, rather than having to take my word for it. Real professionals might disagree with some of my advice, but I'm offering it because I think that it's difficult to find the correct path towards becoming a winning poker player, and I've now discovered one such path.
Three times a week I spend an hour driving to the casino to begin my work. On the outside the casino looks like a Disneyland for adults with statues of roman warriors on the outside. I walk in, greet the managers, employees and fellow players and place myself on the 2/5 poker list. For the following 10 hours I shuffle chips with one hand, browse the internet with the other and quietly observe others in order to exploit them. Despite my long-term success; playing poker each day presents me with new challenges. Every hour I face a $500 decision which I must be right more than 80% of the time to be a winning player. Sometimes I chat with other players. Sometimes I listen to music and act solemn. Sometimes I play the role of a douchy frat kid. More than 90% of the time I’m friendly with the other players and chat with every dealer. Everyone knows my name. Some players refuse to sit at my table in fear, despite that I’m really not that great.
Playing poker for a living sounds like the dream, right? When everything is going in my favor I simply can’t help but see poker as a dream. One month I won so much I dropped a grand on clothes and it barely affected my monthly earnings.
I have no boss, yet no employees. I have no schedule. If I piss my “customers” off it usually makes me more money. I can work whenever I want. Also the job is relatively recession proof: gambling increases during times of economic hardships. Sometimes I can watch movies while I play and still make great money. I can listen to music the whole time I play. Writing all of these benefits make me smile irresistibly. I’m literally smiling right now.
Nearly every other day someone asks: “Should I quit my job to play poker for a living?” on the world’s only poker forum.
Honestly, no you should not. Players are continuously becoming better. All poker players are becoming better. If I could go back 8 years ago with the knowledge I posses now, I would earn half a million a year easily. Poker is a dying business to dive into. More and more people start playing poker for a living with each passing day. You can continue to increase your skill level, but at a certain point your efforts are better spent elsewhere.