My First WSOP in Las Vegas Came With an Opportunity Cost: Priceless Inspiration

June 2 – June 9, 2018. The week I went for it. The week I went to Las Vegas to play in the annual World Series of Poker.

I should clarify, I have played in WSOP events before, but they were merely “circuit” events. By circuit events, I mean that they were smaller buy ins, at each state’s biggest casino, and instead of giving out hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bracelet, the circuit events give out tens of thousands of dollars and rings. Still, a very cool experience and a cheaper way to play and go for the WSOP glory! Back in February, I took a week off from being a funeral director (yes, I’m a death dealer – haha, dad joke, poker style). I played a few events and I could only muster a 19th place finish out of a few hundred for over $900. I also came within 20-30 players of the money in a couple other events and totally sucked in another one. It was a success in terms of experience and cashing, but not a success because I felt I could have played a little better in spots near the end.

Fast forward to the summer, the here and now. For those looking to catch up on my journey through poker so far and how I felt during the WSOP Circuit, check out these two blogs by clicking on the names: Life Is a Gamble and Playing in the World Series of Poker.

I booked my seemingly one way flight (which I later realized had layovers). Overpaid for the hotel (resort fees, am I right?). And was scammed into a rental car (with insurance I already had).

After all was said and done though, I had arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had been before. I had my fun before. I had certainly played poker before. But this was different. This whole time, leading up to my arrival in Vegas for the WSOP, I was focused on one thing only, and that was playing poker. All I wanted was to make some money, come back with a bunch of stories of me busting my favorite pros that I have never met and of course, get that coveted gold bracelet (again, only reserved for those that win a tournament).

RIO

My first day of arrival began with me checking out the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino, because that is where the WSOP events all take place. Inside, there are quite a few ballrooms, which hold hundreds of poker tables, cameramen, media members, bright lights and professional poker players (semi-pros too) as far as the eye could see. I’d like to think of myself as a fan, a student and a semi-pro. I have a career as a funeral director, which pays my bills, but I used to pay the bills with poker. And at the start of 2018, from January through April, I had made more from poker than from my job. Suffice it to say, poker had been pretty kind to me.

Anyway, I walked into the Rio, and checked out all of what was going on inside. I had my schedule of WSOP events in hand, my notes on each day, each event and which ones I would enter, with the buy ins ranging from $565 to $1,500. If I cashed or made a five figure score, I would play higher buy in events. I had $3,000 cash on me, and had another $3K round ready to be wired over via crypto and turned into liquid if needed be.

I was ready. I was well rested. I was prepared. I was confident. I was into this. I was a believer. I wanted this more than anything.

What I received was a kick in the pants. And the face. And for good measure, let’s just say the nuts.

My first day was filled with excitement like a kid on Christmas, I was nervous and anxious. I had registered the day before, remember, so on Day One, all I had to do was find my table. I found it pretty easily, and then found out about a new rule: They would not start play at your table until you had 6 players seated. Of course, we only had 5 at ours, so as the magical words, “Shuffle up and deal,” were announced, there we sat. I found out I was seated with a guy who claimed he bluffed Barry Greenstein out of some $100K pot at Commerce Casino out in L.A. and then another guy who was already on his third beer since getting here (it was about noon). I was also seated with a player who had on a PCA (Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure) sweatshirt, so I just assumed he was an online player and the one I would keep my eye on. 

These days, if you’re an online only player  or rather, make a living playing online, you are far greater than who once played years ago. That’s just how the games are these days. Sort of like, only the strong survive mantra.

Day One

Eventually, we got to 6 and play was under way! I was in the BB (big blind) to start and had called Mr. Hollywood G down all the way with Ace high because of his story and figured he was the overly aggressive type. I was right and raked in my first pot of the WSOP. Always good to knock that one out. 

A few hours go by and a new player emerges at the table, and much to my surprise, it’s a pro that I follow on Twitter and am always interested in his hand history reports. I also knew he was originally from Wisconsin, where I reside. We got to talking and found out he had actually been to a funeral I ran last year. He was super cool, friendly, and I was able to see into the mind of a poker player who was living life the way I sometimes envision. His demeanor at the table was awesome to see, and made me realize, all of these players I look up to are just like the rest of us. Still human, still playing a card game, only they do it for a living and I do it as a side hustle. Thanks, Ryan!

Another player who would be seated at my table, was one I used to have a crush on. Haha. For real though, she is probably one of the players I look up to because of how open she is on Twitter and how relaxed she comes across while playing. I got to see this firsthand when she got it all in with AJ against QQ (or KK, I don’t remember specifically), and proceeded to go runner runner J J to stay alive. She didn’t even flinch. Didn’t even so much as give a smile. She knew it was going to be a LOOOOOONG grind and a long summer. Amateurs would have celebrated there, not knowing things like that will happen and will need to happen in order to survive the tournament and continue on. Before I would bust out, she did comment on one of my Pokemon tattoos, so there’s that. My claim to fame, haha. I’m such a star struck person. Get it together, Noah!

Full Tables

I want to give a special thank you for those two making my day one enjoyable, even though I did not cash in anything I played (Colossus, WSOP Online and Cash) that first day. They stuck out to me the most on Day One, for a WSOP newbie. Give them a follow on Twitter if you like: Ryan Laplante and Loni Harwood

Not every pro I encountered over this trip was as fun to play with as Ryan was, but most of them were. Mike “The Mouth” Matusow could be heard from across the poker tables giving life lessons. Phil Hellmuth could be seen leaving in a hurry (bad beat, obviously). And the giant crowd surrounding a table was most likely for Daniel Negreanu. Scotty Nguyen was also as advertised, walking around with a beer, smiling and laughing, posing for every picture request.

One of my favorite things to do between breaks and before my tournaments would start up would be just walking around the tables, following each tournament going on, from the $565 buy ins to the $100K High Roller. I felt like such a fan during those moments, I tried to hide my excitement, but I wanted to snap so many pics and just give myself some inspiration for back home. Watching Jason Mercier or Fedor Holz or Jason Koon interact with one another as they play for literally millions of dollars made me smile. Such a camaraderie between foes on the felt, but friends off it. I have visions of doing what they do. I have thoughts of traveling and just playing poker. I absolutely love being a funeral director, as it is what I do best in this world, but poker is my passion. I will never not love the game and follow it.

I was in Heaven. I was so happy to be at the World Series of Poker.

Featured Table

Day Two was quick and easy. Had nothing going on all day cardwise. I gave pep talks to myself and stayed positive. I did what I could on the felt and left it all out there. Day Two didn’t really have much of anything to note, only that I did start to feel burned out by night fall, in that I had been playing poker for two days straight (after busting the tournaments, I would go play cash games until about 3-4AM, then crashing afterward). Can’t do that where I live!

By Day Three, I was in need of a reset already! I was only going to be in Vegas for one week, and I originally scheduled one day that I would do non-poker things and sight seeing, so Wednesday seemed like the perfect day to do so. 

Ricks Restorations

I checked out a well renowned breakfast spot, Roxy’s Diner, for a morning bloody mary, with some kind of egg sandwich that was amazing, very filling and pretty cheap, considering it was Las Vegas. Afterward, I got into my rental car and headed out towards Rick’s Restorations! Before you give me a confused look, realize I used to be a welder in my mid twenties, as I was regaining my life back and learning about the value of a dollar all over again. Yes, I even blogged about it here: Metals Finishing Grit and Grind

Anyway, American Restoration was a show on the History channel, for a few seasons about Rick Dale and his family, who would restore old Americana items such as gas pumps, Coke machines and coolers, or anything wacky like a circus wheel or jukebox. The process they went through from stripping out the inside wiring to sandblasting the paint off, to deburring and grinding new bevels or welding up some areas, was a lot of what I would do. So, it was interesting to me and I’ve been a fan after all these years.

Pawn Stars

Another spot I hit up, is a Las Vegas staple, Gold and Silver Pawn Shop. Yes, this is the one that is on TV (Pawn Stars) and no, I did not get to interact with or make fun of Chumlee. I did barter with someone on a very cool James Bond framed piece from Casino Royale. It was the cards used in the movie’s final scene, where everyone miraculously has a hand to go with and James hit the straight flush. I regret not purchasing it, as I had talked the guy down from $375 (shipping included) to $250 (shipping included). It would have been an awesome piece for my condo. My thinking at the time was, I had been down $1.5K already, so I was being a little tighter with my spending on “things” over experiences. Boo me (sad face emoji).

The final mental break I would take, would be one of my absolute favorite things I’ve ever done and seen in my life. I drove the 30 minutes out to Red Rock Canyon. The pictures and video I took did not do it justice. It was simply breathtaking and I could not have felt more alive and free. Here I was, in the middle of Nevada, by myself, experiencing something I had never done before, and felt so insignificant in the way of life. These mountains were cavernous and surrounded me wherever I turned. So many of my mental issues in the way of poker not going as well went away just like that. I needed this break. I needed to do something to take my mind off poker and recharge for the rest of the week.

Thank you mother nature, for being so beautiful and inspiring me.

Mountains

I would also catch a Vegas Golden Knights (NHL team) game later on, watching TV at a bar in the Aria (my favorite hotel and casino in Vegas). I had this great combo of a beer and lobster grilled cheese. So good. I also caught the Purple Rain Tribute Show at the Tropicana, because I am a fan of Prince, and my mom loves him still, so much as well. It was a little bit of me wanting to see at least one show out here and a little bit of doing this one for her.

Walking around Fremont Street and checking out the old Vegas casinos was pretty neat as well! Having a beer in Binion’s, where the old WSOP used to be played was a really nostalgic type feeling. Back to where it all began. Pretty interesting to see how far things have come since the smokey back rooms of bars playing poker to where we are now, being televised and sponsorship deals being given out for a card game.

As I came back to my hotel room, a little tired, I hit up the Stratosphere rooftop pool and bar for a drink and dip. I was so relaxed and cleansed after my busy day of sight seeing and getting my mind right, that I wanted to get right back to playing poker. I was reminded of the Cavs/Warriors game three starting soon and was told by a friend of the money line on the point spread, so I placed a bet quick on the Warriors AND the points. I took in $380 after that bet (shoutout to my man, MINERS).

That night, and the night that followed I would cash out for $800 and then $1,000 at the cash tables. And just like that we’re in the black! It was a blast playing with the group I did, though. Poker is always better when the table is laughing, telling stories, and you’re making money. I had some thinking I was the big shot pro because I had talked about my not so great showings in the WSOP events, “You played in the WSOP!?” “Wow, I hope to do that someday!” Haha, it was just funny to me, because ANYONE can play in these events, just plop the money down and you too, can sit next to Phil Ivey, or Ryan Laplante and have a story to tell. Or even, if you’re lucky enough, make some real money.

Cash Game

I would not cash in any tournament I played, but I made money from the cash games. I should just stick with what makes me money, right? Well, I am still enamored with wanting to win a bracelet. Cash has no glory, it just pays the bills and allows for a grander lifestyle. Tournaments have history and the chance to show the world, that for one day (or two or three), you were the best. You were on top. You were the one who could not be beat. And of course, there’s more money up top  than I could ever have imagined back when I was a pizza delivery boy making $6/hour as I grinded $5 sit and go’s on Full Tilt Poker. Think hundreds of thousands. Sometimes millions. I can’t even fathom winning that much. But, it’s there and someone has to win it. I just want to win. I just want to show everyone that this glorious game of poker is a money maker, and that skill wins out in the end. And that I know what I’m doing.

I would get to showcase that skill one last time, the Friday night before I would have to awake and leave Saturday mid morning. I played a simple $100 buy in at the Orleans, which had a $20K guaranteed prize pool (it smashed that by almost $5K). So, I was up and down early on, but really started to gain some momentum when my AK was good against QQ for a full double on a A A 3 7 8 board. He just didn’t believe I had the Ace, I guess. And then I would triple up, crippling the other two when my JJ got there on the turn against AQ and 10 10 on a board of 10 9 Q 8 K.

I was now able to fully deploy my game, taking advantage of every weak spot I could. I could finally play table captain and build up a mountain of chips. We would find out that 40 players would make the money, with a little over $8K going to first. And I was the chip leader going into the final break before the money bubble. I mean, it wasn’t even close as I checked out the other tables. What a trip saver and then some this would be! I was bluffing and hitting hands. I was folding when I knew I was beat and getting maximum value when I was ahead. I was doing it. I was actually on my way to playing perfect poker and going to win. Or so I thought.

The poker Gods giveth, the poker Gods taketh away. 

Chip Leader

There’s a fine line between being cocky and confident. I was confident I was playing my “A” game and was going to win. And then all Hell broke loose. I would get screwed out of winning a pot when the dealer made me show my hand and retrieved the folding player’s hand after it hit the muck. I had bet throughout the hand and eventually, the player folded his hand, and for some ungodly reason, the dealer said I had to show my hand. “But he already folded,” I exclaimed. “Doesn’t matter, I need to see a winning hand.” Ummm, Ok… so I tabled my hand, which was Ace high (bluffing on a board with straight possibilities and most likely). The folding player then said that he could beat that, and then the dealer says he knows which two cards were still his and retrieves them, then saying he won. He actually took his cards from the muck and said his cards played. In no casino anywhere is this a thing.

I instantly called for the floor (the tournament director who has final say on rulings or questions regarding things). A few other players at the table also said how screwed up of a move by the dealer this was. I was certain I was going to be given the pot. Nope. In what would go down as the worst ruling I’ve ever personally been a part of, the director made it a split pot! WTF indeed. I was not happy and extremely confused. This was laughable and very poor judgment. I will never play there again because of this ruling. The dealer would go on to apologize to me repeatedly throughout his turn at our table but I said nothing to him. I didn’t berate him, but I wanted to. Maybe I should have.

After that gaffe, I would start to implode as another bluff failed to get through. I should have known my image would take a hit after that one. Ok, no more bluffing Noah, focus and take this baby down. Well, I would then become involved in two huge hands. I would lose a race with 10 10 to AQ when the Q came right in the window for half my stack. 

The final hand came down to a battle of the two big stacks at the table (the one player who had me covered in chips). He had raised it in early position, and I looked down at AK of hearts. Oh it looked so pretty! I reraised him about half my stack, clearly showing I was ready to go with my hand and signal strength. Everyone else folded back to him, and after thinking for some time, he went all in! I instantly called and flipped my hand up. His hand? Pocket 8’s… That’s right, he decided to take a stand with 88. Ok, I’m still not too worried and really like my chances to see all five cards with the one hand I could have possibly had for him to be ahead. I mean, he didn’t think I had 99, 10’s, JJ, QQ, KK or even AA?

Regardless, right before the flop was dealt, someone made a comment of how this hand was for the tournament. I couldn’t agree more. I win this hand, I probably have at least 50% of the chips in play in the entire tournament. There was no question if I win this hand, that I go on to win this thing. I was that confident. Maybe, I was that cocky, and that’s why… I couldn’t catch up. No Ace. No King. Nothing. His pocket 8’s held up. In shock, I stood up from the table, wished everyone luck, and congratulated the guy who just knocked me out on his future victory. He said nothing as he stacked my chips into his pile. Stay classy, Orleans (eye roll emoji).

Empty Tables

And thus, I went back to my room, defeated and exhausted. I left it all out there on the felt. I did what I could. In regards to Vegas as a whole, I came, I saw, I left inspired. This trip was a great one. One of the best weeks of my life. I went toe to toe with some well known poker professionals, and held my own. I also was schooled in many spots. But that’s the opportunity cost of going after your dreams. You live, you learn, you walk away with experience and a desire to do better next time. Winning a cool million and starting my own funeral home will have to wait another year.

WSOP 2019, here I come.