Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reflecting Back on 2013 -- A Truly Amazing Year

The New Year is here, and to be honest I’m sad to see the clock expire on 2013. I can’t recall a better year for me both personally and professionally, and as 2014 approaches I thought it’d be a good time to reflect on the past twelve months. Here are the top five reasons 2013 will go down as one of the best years of my life.

5.) I Turned 30

Technically this happened in 2012 (I turned 31 a few weeks ago). That said, I spent the vast majority of 2013 as a 30 year old. I was actually in Prague, Czech Republic when the clock turned over on three decades, and while it didn’t seem like a big moment at the time, reflecting upon it has made me realize that I’m at an age where I can’t afford to screw around. There was plenty of time to do that in my 20s, and believe me I did; however, college is done and it’s time to build a career (I should worked at this much earlier).

I already feel like I’m behind, and that feeling combined with the realization that I’m now in my 30s has lit a fire under my ass. I don’t want to wonder where I’m going; I want to enjoy the journey on my way there. I want to harness my ambition to get things done and make positive steps to craft a fulfilling life. It shouldn’t have taken me so long, but now that I’m 30 (ok, 31 technically) I feel I’m headed in that direction.

4.) Coming Into My Own as a Poker Player

Myself and the legendary Bob Hooks.
Myself and the legendary Bob Hooks.

I don’t play nearly as much poker as I used to, not ever close. There was a time I was grinding tournaments and cash games 60 hours a week, but now with a full-time job I’m lucky if I can squeeze in a sessions or two a week. Had you told me at the beginning of the year I’d have over $100k in tournament winnings, I’d have thought you were nuts (unless of course you were offering to stake me). Somehow I managed to end the year with $102,171 in tournament winnings. Toss in some small-untracked tournament scores and so-so cash game results, and it was a good year financially.

Granted, most of it came from a single score (which you’ll read about below), but I can’t complain. Of course I didn’t pocket all of that due to some staking and swaps, but now I’ve got a little nest egg to sit on. I attribute the success to strengthening my mental game and trying to develop a more positive attitude. Hopefully I'll be able to work on both of these in the New Year while working on the fundamentals. My game can always improve, and it took me awhile to realize that.

3.) The People and the Places

In 2013 I visited the Bahamas; Choctaw, Oklahoma; Australia; Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut; Council Bluffs, Iowa; New Orleans; Las Vegas; Idaho; Galway, Ireland; Miami, Florida; Barcelona, Spain; London, England; Macau, China; and Prague Czech, Republic. One of the reasons I love what I do so much is being able to travel, and while it’s often filled with long days, I enjoy every minute of it. Plus I earned enough miles to make Platinum on United, and in “Sky World” that’s a worthwhile accomplishment.

I also got to interview some pretty cool people in 2013. It started in January when I spoke to Last Comic Standing’s Gerry Dee at the PCA, but in April I did one of my favorite interviews ever – Brian Baumgartner (AKA Kevin Malone from NBC’s The Office). I’m a HUGE Office fan, so to have the chance to interview one of the funniest characters was a dream come true.

How did I do it? Well in Season 2 Kevin mentions that he won a bracelet at the 2002 WSOP. That one sentence was enough for me to connect it to poker and do a piece for PokerNews. A stretch sure, but well worth it. Actually, that makes it sound really simple. Tracking down his agent and convincing them to do it was pretty tough. Unfortunately I didn’t actually get to meet Brian, but I spoke to him for over 20 minutes on the phone while he was driving from L.A. to Vegas.

Now if it’s one thing I love more than The Office, it’s Survivor. I’ve been a diehard fan for over a decade, and every once in a while that world intersects with poker. Last year I had the chance to meet and interview Amanda Kimmel, and this year it was former winners “Boston” Rob Mariano and Ethan Zohn. I don’t play fan boy often, but I do when it comes to Survivor.

Finally, I’ll forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to sit and talk with Bob Hooks, a forgotten Texas road gambler who deserves his place in poker history. The stories he told were nothing short of incredible, and I listened attentively for hours as he talked about the game back in the day. I was humbled by the experience and was thankful to tell his story, which you can read by clicking here.

2.) The Trip of a Lifetime with My Father

My dad and I.
My dad and I.

My dad has always wanted to go whitewater rafting, and now that he’s on the backend of his 60s, I said that if we were going to do it 2013 was going to be the year. Prior to the WSOP we made it happen by taking a trip to the Snake River in Idaho. We spent two days going down the river, and it was an incredible experience. It meant a lot to my pops, and I’ll forever cherish the time we had together on the water disconnected from the rest of the world. Moments like those are too few and far between.

Prior to the whitewater rafting trip, we spent a few days in Sun Valley, Idaho. It takes a few hours to drive to the middle of the state, but the beauty there is unrivaled. The reason for our journey was to visit Ketchum, which is where Ernest Hemingway (a literary hero of mine) spent the latter years of his life before ultimately committing suicide.

I immersed myself in all things Hemingway while there including visiting the hotel room where he finish For Whom the Bell Tolls, the house where he ended it all, and his final resting place.

1.) I Won a World Series of Poker Bracelet

I wasn’t even going to play Event #1 $500 Casino Employees, but when Caesars said we PokerNews reporters were eligible due to our contractor status with them, I decided to enter. We only stated with 3,000 in chips, and within 20 minutes I was down to 1,000. A fortunate hand gave me a double, and over the next two days I survived an 898-player field to win my first WSOP bracelet and $84,915 in prize money.

I can honestly say I’ve never been happier than I was in the early morning hours of May 31. Winning a bracelet is the goal/dream of every poker player (nearly 80,000 came to Vegas to compete for one), and I was fortunate enough to be one of 62 to walk away with gold. I’ve always thought I had the skills to win a bracelet, but I didn't think it'd come for years down the road when I had the financial security to play 10-20 events a year.

For me that bracelet wasn’t just a win, it was validation for the journey I’ve taken, who I’ve become, and what it is I do. I wish my family could have been there, but sharing that special moment with my friends and colleagues is something I’ll always hold near and dear to my heart. I’ve never had so much love and support, and truth be told I don’t think I couldn’t have done it without them. They helped me stay focused and hungry. I didn’t want to see the disappointment of my peers, and fortunately I didn’t have to.

Winning the bracelet also changed my outlook on the game (it’s hard to get angry and tilted when you’ve won gold), and it even led to me playing in my first WSOP Main Event, which was something that had been on my bucket list for a long time. Hopefully neither that bracelet nor Main Event will be my last.

What’s Next…

I’ll remember 2013 fondly, and I can only hope the years to come treat me just as kind. For 2014, I’d like to see a number of things come to fruition. Here are a few or my goals without explanation:

  • Reclaim my health

  • Write a comic book

  • Write a book

  • Visit either Africa or Antarctica (the only two continents I haven’t been to)

  • Continue to succeed in poker, which will include the following: playing my first World Poker Tour event; profiting in cash games; and establishing an online poker account.

Anyway, I've got to go. Bye.

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