Editor’s note: Staff writer Tony Marquis recently advanced to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. This is his second — and sadly, his last — column from the world-famous tournament.
I think it was Doyle Brunson who said, “You don’t have to be lucky to win the World Series of Poker, you just can’t have anyone get lucky against you.”
The first 10 minutes at the World Series of Poker were surreal. I’m not sure anyone can fathom the image of 2,000 people on 200 tables in one room. I could barely take it in. Most of the 2,000 players sat silent and the only sounds that echoed in the giant convention hall were the constant shuffling of cards and the endless clicking of poker chips which sounded like cicadas during mating season. Even more unbelievable was the mass exodus during breaks, where the field of 2,000 would vie for twenty stalls down the hall. I adjusted to the surroundings quickly after I took home a large pot early that had me as the chip leader at my table. But after a table change and eight hours of bad cards, I was in seriously bad shape.
Until it came.
With two big raises before me I looked at my cards — pocket kings. I immediately pushed in my chips, figuring that the previous player who went all-in was making a desperation play. I was right, and he turned over pocket eights. To those who aren’t aware, two kings beat two eights 80 percent of the time. That’s the best odds you could find in Vegas, and if my kings had just held up, my chip stack would have been a healthy $16-17,000 and I could resume sitting back and playing conservative. But of course, an eight comes on the flop — the first three community cards — and I sat stunned in my chair, looking down at my few remaining chips and wondering how it happened.
I was so dejected after being eliminated, I didn’t even attend a party hosted by Brunson — who was promoting his new online card room — which I now regret. I walked the streets of Vegas searching for an answer. But as I sat in the poker room at the Flamingo — one of Vegas’ less-ritzy gaming sites — playing $2 to $4 limit poker with a bunch of goofballs, I laughed at my predicament. I had gone from the pinnacle of poker competition to the hoary nether regions of poker in the span of an hour and a half.
I suppose I can take solace in the fact that tournament master T.J. Cloutier, Daniel Negreanu, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Phil Hellmuth all were sent home early on their respective first days. Even my favorite poker player, Doyle Brunson, was sent home quickly and I easily lasted longer — 10 hours — than all of these big names.
But it doesn’t help.
I kept searching for an answer, a way to play each hand differently, trying to see if I could have made some subtle play that would have had me in the tournament instead of writing this column. I wanted a solution, the secret of mastering big tournament poker, and one day later, at the poker room at the Mirage Hotel, I found it.
A beefy kid who looked about 28 was raking in pots at the poker room with mediocre hands. He seemed to catch everything. I quickly learn that he is still in the World Series, and he has a good chip stack at that. I couldn’t believe it.
I turned to him with my eyes opened wide and mouthed something that resembled, “What the .. ?” Then I asked him how he managed to do so well. His answer was so simple, and it put the whole experience into perspective for me. Unbeknownst to him, he revealed to me in five short words the secret to winning the World Series of Poker, “I was lucky, I guess.”