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Level ?, blinds 3000/6000 with a 1000 ante. Monstrous. The pot is now 18,000 chips before cards are dealt, meaning that my 180,000 chips is still good for barely 10 times around the table. I need to pick up some good cards soon. With less than a minute to go before cards are dealt, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I look up and see Annie Duke. She nods at my stack. "Looks you are doing well. Doubled up?"
"Yeah. Better. You?" "About 750,000." "Wow, good luck." "You, too." She heads back to her table, having solidified her reputation with me as a class act, no matter what I've heard.
Just a few hands into the level I am dealt a pair of Queens, the third best possible starting hand. High stakes kid raises to 17,000 from early position, and I re-raise to 60,000, ready to get it all in against this aggressive player if necessary. But then someone behind me announces "All in", everyone folds, and I have a decision to make. I have put 60,000 chips into this pot and have about 120,000 left. There are now 275,000 chips in the pot, but it will cost me everything I have if I want a chance at winning them. Folding now will leave me in desperation mode again, and I am sick of being there. I really feel like I am at my best when playing a big stack. I know how to fold and wait for opportunities to move all in and steal the blinds, but I don't like having to do it, and I don't relish spending the rest of the day in this mode. We're still nowhere the big payout jumps that will start occurring when we get below 80 players remaining. I have one of the best hands in poker and am getting 2.5:1 on my money. But, my opponent has re-re-raised all in. That's an awfully strong play to make. If he has Aces or Kings then I'm a 4:1 dog. But if he has a pair of Jacks, I'm a 4:1 favorite. If he has Ace-King, I'm a little better than 50/50. I have no idea if he could have those hands. Against the average internet player, I'd call this in a heartbeat and not think twice about it, but this is Day 4 of the World Series of Poker. I've only been playing with this guy a few hours and I honestly don't know whether he could do this with AK or JJ.
I'm also exhausted. I played poker for 10 hours yesterday, got about 6 hours of sleep, and have been playing for 4 hours this morning. I've been away from home, away from my apartment and my bed and my girlfriend and my kitchen and my regular life, for 10 days. I started today with a mindset of win big or go home. "I call," I announce, turning over my pair of Queens. My opponent turns over the pair of Aces that I knew he had all along. I'm an internet donkey at heart.
And so I am eliminated in 279th place, twenty minutes after cancelling my flight. I shake hands with everyone at the table and wish them well. I put my hand on Jason's shoulder and tell him, "You can recover." I grab my bag and start to leave the table, but the dealer reminds me that I need to wait for someone to escort me to the cashier's cage where I'll get my prize. We walk past Annie Duke, and I tap her on the shoulder. "It was a pleasure," I tell her. "Good luck to you." She looks up at the floor man standing next to me and realizes what has happened. "Hey, you too," she tells me. "Congratulations. I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but congratulations." Actually, it does. This is a huge score for me, better than I ever expected to do, and as well as I think anyone could expect to do in a tournament like this. There are still a few big name pros left: Daniel Negreanu, Annie Duke, Allen Cunningham, Humberto Brenes; and a few internet superstars looking to make a name for themselves in the world of live play: Eric Lynch ("Rizen"), Jason Strasser ("Strassa2" or "Kamikaze") and Prahlad Friedman ("Mahatma"). But I have outlasted many of the biggest names in poker: Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson, Dan Harrington, Johnny Chan, and the legendary Doyle Brunson, winner of back to back World Series titles in the 1970's and author of the Bible of poker.
I fill out some paperwork, including tax forms (I cringe to think of the bite they will be taking out of my prize), and tell the cashier I would prefer a check over casino chips or cash. I'm surprised and disappointed when no one asks me if I want to leave a tip for the dealers, and worse, that when I ask about how to go about doing this, the woman tells me, "I don't know." Tipping dealers is standard practice at a casino, and my understanding is that it is customary after winning a tournament prize as well. I asked one of my favorite dealers about the matter discretely, and he said that 1% would be a good amount, maybe a little less if I won a really big prize (in the context of this tournament, $40K is not a really big prize). I ask the woman if she can find out what I need to do to leave a tip, and she returns to tell me that I can leave cash with her. Well, I don't have $400 in cash on me, so I have to pay exorbitant casino ATM fees to withdraw the money for a tip. This is really, really shameful. I understand, though don't respect, the fact that Harrah's doesn't feel they need to provide competitive pay and accomodations for dealers at the WSOP. Some good dealers will continue to deal it anyway, just to have the honor of doing so, and from Harrah's perspective a green dealer straight out of training is worth nearly as much as someone with twenty years' experience. Most players will continue to play the event because it is the World Series, even if the quality of the dealing deteriorates. So Harrah's really doesn't have much economic incentive to provide compensation that will attract world class dealers to a world class tournament.
But why make it so difficult for players to leave tips? I had at least 50 different dealers during my four days of play, and felt that all but 2 provided exceptional, professional, and friendly service. I think they deserve tips above and beyond the cut of the prize pool they are getting, and I know that it is in the interest of players to be sure that good dealers feel it is worth their time to keep dealing the World Series. Well, that concludes my World Series adventure. I guess the last question that may be on your minds is, "What are you going to do with all that money?" I've already paid off most of my student loans with poker winnings, and this is more than enough to finish those off. I've always enjoyed playing poker, but since I've been relying on it for supplemental income, it's started to feel like a job and a chore sometimes. I'm actually looking forward to taking some time off from poker, now that I've got a little monetary cushion, and focusing on other priorities to which I haven't always devoted as much attention as I would have liked. As many of you know, I've spent the last six years both working and volunteering with various urban debate leagues around the country and now run a non-profit organization in Boston that starts debate programs at public high schools and runs debate tournaments. I want to devote more time to the Boston Debate League and ensure that it remains viable. Having a little money will also make it easier for me to volunteer for friends who run other leagues in places like Chicago, LA, and Providence. In the past I've asked them to cover my costs whenever I've come to their cities to work with their leagues, but that won't be necessary now. Also, between poker, my paid work, my volunteer work, and my girlfriend's busy work schedule, I haven't had as much quality time with her as I would like. She'll still be busy working on the MA gubernatorial campaign through November, but I've been promising her a vacation for a while now so I'm looking forward to planning a getaway with her to celebrate my victory and hopefully hers as well. After talking with a friend in LA last month, I realized that I need to start thinking more seriously about saving and investing as well. Poker is probably at the height of its popularity right now, meaning that the games are as profitabe as they are going to get, and there is legislation pending in Congress that would prohibit Americans from playing on the internet. I want to make sure I've got enough money saved up that I'll be able to enjoy the financial freedom that poker has afforded me these last two years even when I'm no longer able to derive as much income from it as I do now.
Some people have asked whether I'm going to re-invest this money in poker. Honestly, I don't think there's much need to do that. I have enough money in my poker bankroll already to allow me to play at the stakes I want to be playing right now, and while I'd like to play a few more live tournaments and try to qualify for the WSOP again next year, I think I can pretty much do that with the money I already have set aside for poker. So once again, thanks to everyone who has been following along and wishing me well. ESPN is going to be dedicating probably ten one-hour segments to coverage of the WSOP, and I will definitely be in one and possibly as many as three of them. They won't be airing for at least a few weeks, but I'll be sure to let you know when they will be on. Update: A few days before my episode aired, someone from ESPN called me to get my name, background, etc. He confirmed the date that I would be on TV. I e-mailed everyone I knew and told them to watch. My 12 hours of play at the ESPN Feature Table boiled down to about 5 seconds of air time, most of which was shot from under some dude's armpit. My own mother didn't recognize me and called to ask if I hadn't gotten the date wrong. So I should still have 4 minutes and 55 seconds of fame coming to me....