Monday, July 15, 2013

My Top 5 Moments from the 2013 World Series of Poker

Although I write for PokerNews on a daily basis, this is the first of what I hope to be many blog posts on the site. My intention is to use this blog to document my poker experiences and any interesting offbeat stories (ones that might not make the sight) that I encounter on my travels as a PokerNews Reporter.

For my inaugural post I thought it’d be cathartic to offer my top five moments, both professionally and personally, from the 2013 World Series of Poker, which for me was literally a life-changing experience. Here are my top five favorite moments from the 2013 WSOP:

5.) Seeing All of My Poker Friends

My good friend Paul Oresteen once described the WSOP as going to summer camp. While I never went to camp as a kid, I imagine he’s right. Every summer for six weeks poker players, media and fans flock to the innards of the Rio All-Suite Hotel’s Convention Center. It’s there inside rooms called “Amazon,” “Brasilia” and “Pavilion” that we spend at least 12 hours a day. You get to know some people pretty well over that period of time, and while familiarity no doubt breeds contempt, you learn to love one another—especially the other media folk as they’re the only ones who can truly understand what it’s like to work the WSOP.

There are far too many people to name that I enjoyed seeing, but suffice it to say I got to interact with friends and colleagues from all across the globe. Many of them were on hand to share in my bracelet victory (more on that below), while those who weren’t showed their support from afar. For that I will always be grateful.

A few special shout outs—thanks to my boss, Donnie Peters, for occasionally letting me use his car. Thanks to Matt Sexton and Matt Whitefield for taking me out to dinner every once in awhile and allowing me to get out of the Rio. Thanks to Tim Duckworth and Ben Ludlow for the bottle of whiskey, a small gesture that inspire great appreciation. And to everyone else, thanks for another great summer and I look forward to seeing you next year or on the circuit in between.

4.) Visits from Back-Home Friends

You lose track of time when you’re in Vegas, even if you’re here only for a weekend. Imagine being here for six weeks. In the past four years I cannot differentiate a single day in June, that’s the truth. I’m not afforded the luxury of being able to go back home for a breather halfway through (nor would I want to), but I am fortunate to host some friends every summer (it’s not hard to talk Midwest folks into coming to Vegas when they have a free place to stay).

Adam Brown, Sarah Grant, Heath Herring and Carsen Nachreiner at Hash House-A-Go Go.
Adam Brown, Sarah Grant, Heath Herring and Carsen Nachreiner at Hash House-A-Go Go.

This year I had two friends—Carsen Nachreiner and Conroy Greendeer—visit me at separate times. The former, who has been one of my best friends since childhood, came up from San Diego for a few days. We didn’t have much time to spend together, but we made the most of what we did. Some of the highlights from that visit include drinking the aforementioned bottle of whiskey, going to see World War Z (I liked it a lot), partying at the Poker Listings House, going to see Penn & Teller, eating at Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR and spending a night downtown where I introduce Carsen to my friend Heath “Crazy Horse” Herring. Carsen is a huge MMA fan and it was kind of funny seeing him a bit star struck as we walked about Fremont and ate at Hash House-A-Go Go. Special thanks to Sarah Grant for making that possible.

Conroy came about a week later, which is a shame considering Carsen, him and I always have a good time when we get together. I actually had less time to spend with Conroy, though we did squeeze in a breakfast buffet and some drinks. In the meantime he spent his leave from the military trying to strike it big on the slots. He flew home with an empty wallet but surprisingly high spirits.

3.) Playing the Main Event

Ever since Robert Varkonyi won the Main Event in 2002—that’s right, I got in right before the poker boom—I’ve always dreamed of playing in the WSOP Main Event. I could have plopped down the $10,000 buy-in any of the past few years, but that would have been horrible bankroll management on my part. My patience finally paid off this year when I had the chance to check it off my bucket list.

Thanks to winning a bracelet (again, more on that below), I had a lot of people offer to buy pieces of me when I expressed interest in playing the Main. I’ll respect their privacy and not single them out, but I do want to say thank you to each and everyone, no matter the share you bought. Your kindness allowed me to accomplish a dream of mine that I’ll remember forever.

With that said, I wish I could have done a little fucking better! Within 40 minutes on Day 1a I was down to 11,000 from the 30,000 starting stack after trying to bluff my fellow Wisconsinite and friend Eddie Blumenthal (it was still a good call Eddie), but I managed to bring it back up and finished the night with 36,600. Unfortunately Day 2a didn’t go well. My stack only went down until I was sitting with 18,000. I had recently been moved to the same table as Hollywood actor Kevin Pollak and tough pro Jesse Yaginuma. I ended up busting to the latter after he opened for 1,300 at 300/600 and I three-bet to 3,000 with pocket nines. Action folded back to Yaginuma and he paused briefly before moving all in. I suppose I could have folded here but nines were the best hand I’d seen all day and my read said he had {a-}{k-}, {a-}{q-} or perhaps a smaller pocket pair. I called off and was wrong as he held pocket queens. They held up and that was the end of that.

Still a great experience and the structure of the tournament is second to none. I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to play it again, but I know I’ll be back at some point.

2.) Poker Writers Roundtable

One day about three-quarters through the WSOP my friend and mentor Nolan Dalla, famed poker historian and author of One of a Kind, invited me to dinner at a seafood restaurant at the Rio to join him and some other noted poker personalities for their annual get together. Other guests include Anthony Holden, author of poker classics Big Deal and Bigger Deal; Michael Craig, author of The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King; Poker Hall of Famer Eric Drache; and long-time poker pro Thor Hansen.

All of the aforementioned books were hugely inspiring to me, and meeting the men behind them all at one time was overwhelming. I’ve never felt so honored and intimidated by the company in which I found myself. Thankfully all of them made me feel welcome and is if I was one of their own.

The dinner lasted more than two hours and during that time some great stories were told. Everything said was off the record, and while I won’t get into too many details, I’m sure they won’t mind me revealing a few of the topics discussed. They included Craig’s plans for a new poker book (I’m very excited about this); the events of Black Friday and what some of the villains have been up to since; a lot on Larry Flynt including his venture in the casino business and his famed Seven Card Stud game; and Hansen’s love of the ponies and his cancer situation (which seems to be better than originally expected).

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting each and every one of these poker titans. A heartfelt thanks to Nolan for inviting me to the private affair. It was personally gratifying and a professional highlight.

1.) Winning a World Series of Poker Bracelet

I’ve always dreamed that I would win a gold bracelet, but I thought that if it were ever to happen that it’d be many years down the road when I could afford to play 25 events a summer. Never did I imagine that it would happen right at the start of the 2013 WSOP in Event #1 $500 Casino Employees. Granted, that’s the “low-hanging fruit” on the WSOP schedule and isn’t an open event, but truth be told I don’t really care as I have a gold bracelet, something I had only dared dream of before.

It’s hard to describe what winning a bracelet feels like. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love the history of the game and the bracelet means a lot to me. To evidence this point, let me quickly tell you about what happened when we I was heads up for the bracelet. Against WSOP rules, my opponent and I discussed the possibility of a chop on a break. During the negotiations he said something along the lines of, “We can split the money and then flip for the bracelet or whatever.”

Right then and there I knew I didn’t want to chop. Obviously the money meant more to him than the bracelet, and the opposite was true of me. I’m sure I could have negotiated a chop where I was awarded the bracelet, but I didn’t want to win it that way. In my opinion it would have cheapened the win and lessened the value of the bracelet. Sure, maybe no one would ever know, but I would. I knew if I was going to win and have it mean something it had to be pure. For me that meant declining any chop and playing it out the way it was meant to be. Win or lose I could live with the decision whereas I wasn’t sure I could with a chop. While those details were unknown to most, I still got a cool nickname out of the ordeal courtesy of Jason Mercier—“No-Chop Chad.”

Fortunately I was able to win the bracelet, which you can read about in the PokerNews Live Blog and the event recap. I wish my family and friends from back home could have been there for that very special moment, but I am grateful that my poker friends and family were there. Their support from the rail, birdcall and all, helped me stay focused through both the ups and downs. I’ve no doubt had they not been there I would have derailed at some point.

Winning a WSOP bracelet is among the highlights of my life. Poker is my life, and by winning the game’s most prestigious award validates what I’ve been doing for so long. It’s not going to change who I am or what I do—I’ll still be writing the best articles I can for PokerNews—but now instead of dreaming about winning a bracelets I’ll be dreaming about capturing No. 2.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @ChadAHolloway for more poker articles, stories and musings from the tournament trail.