Taking a Risk

At some points in life, we are all faced with important situations that require us to take a chance on something. It could be a job, an investment opportunity, or even a person. We're all faced with uncertain futures and the decisions we make are often gambles with unknown payouts that shape the course of our lives.

My story about a big risk I took pertains to gambling in the traditional sense. A couple of people in the "How Did We Get Here" thread asked me to share my tale of when I tried to strike it big by entering the Main Event at the World Series of Poker. We needed a new RRRR, so I figure no time like the present.

I had been playing poker online on back in 2008 and had been stockpiling "Frequent Player Points" (FPPs) for quite some time. FPPs could be used for anything from clothes to electronics to poker products, to direct cash conversion, etc. They had one package where if you accumulated enough FPPs, PokerStars would compensate your entry fee for the $10,000 buy-in Main Event at the World Series of Poker and put you up in the Palms Suites hotel for the duration of your stay. I was in my last year of college and had a summer on the horizon with virtually no obligations before starting work in August, so I figured why not give it a shot? I might never get this opportunity again.

I had played poker online (and in person) for much of college, but I seriously ramped up my commitment during my senior year. Sessions involved playing 12 tables of $2/$4 No-limit Hold 'Em simultaneously in hopes of accumulating enough points by May to purchase the package. There was a cutoff date, and I made it with about a week to spare. I was on my way, and glowing with excitement in the months leading up to the big tournament.

Despite what you might think for a $10,000 buy-in tournament, the World Series of Poker is one of the softest (skill-wise) tournament fields you'll find. There's an abundance of online qualifiers who paid a small amount of money and lucked into their seat, inexperienced celebrities, and older folks with a lot of money who treat the WSOP like an annual hobby. On the first day I sat down at my table and was pretty pleased with what I saw. In 2008 it was fairly possible to tell with reasonable accuracy how skilled a poker player was just by looking at them, especially in a tournament with this substantial of a buy-in. Generally, the younger, unfriendlier players were the dangerous ones, plus there's a certain "look" to many of the sharks that I can't really describe. There was another empty seat when I sat down, but nobody around the table looked all that dangerous. Unfortunately, just before the first deal, Ted Forrest sat down in that empty seat. At the time, Ted Forrest was a well-known professional and at one point was considered the top seven card stud player in the world.


(my Day 1 table, I have my back to the camera)

The first two hours went simply awful. I was out of my element with Forrest playing nearly every pot and outplaying whoever crossed his path. I got involved with him too much and wound up losing about 1/3 of my $20,000 starting chips in the first hour. My then-girlfriend-now-wife was behind me watching on the rail and must have thought I was nuts to blow that much money on this.

(WARNING: poker terminology ahead!)

My most fortunate hand of the tournament was one that I wasn't even involved in. A maniacal French guy on my right got involved with Forrest in a pot in which the flop came with three spades. They went all-in for more than the starting stack. Expecting Forrest to have a flush, I was pleasantly shocked when he just flipped up 22, which was a set on the flop. The maniac had nothing except the ace of spades. A spade hit on the river to complete the maniac's flush and Forrest was gone. I could breathe again!

After that I settled down and slowly picked up small pots to recoup my losses. I won a couple bigger ones in which I turned the nut flush and turned a set of aces, but for the most part I built up a nice stack by picking good situations and people to play against. During the course of the 10 hours of poker I played at that table on the first day, I got a pretty good idea of what I could get away with against which players, and that carried me through. By the end of Day 1, I had $57,000 in chips, which was above-average for the remaining field (about half). It was the most fun, yet exhausting day of poker I've ever played.

That last sentence doesn't bode well for Day 2. Where I picked my spots intelligently on Day 1, I unfortunately left too much up to chance the next day. I made a standard raise with pocket Tens and a guy next to me went all-in for over ten times what I had committed, and about 1/3 of my stack total. I don't know why I convinced myself that there was a non-zero chance the guy was trying to throw his weight around or take a chance with 88/99, but after a huge debate I just went for it (honestly I felt bad for the others at the table about how long I was thinking....this is not a good thing to consider when making decisions). The guy had Ace-King and I lost what was essentially a coin toss. A crippling blow.

The blinds ate away at me for a bit and I eventually made a raise with 56 suited, thinking the table would peg me for a tight player because of how much I had been folding. I got re-raised by a guy in position and had to fold. The very next hand I had pocket Jacks. The exact same guy re-raised.

What I should have thought: This guy wouldn't do this a second time in a row to toy with me. He has to be loaded to re-raise a player with a tight table image two times in a row.

What I actually thought: Screw this guy if he thinks he can push me around like that! I'm short-stacked, and I'm not gonna take it!

In the end, I could not calm down. I went for it and was up against pocket aces and my opponent's hand held up. My best day of poker ever was followed up by one of the absolute worst.

I was of course fuming mad the rest of the day and my poor friends that had accompanied me to Vegas had to deal with that for the duration of their stay. However, as time went on, I let go of being upset that I got eliminated with nothing to show for it. It was an outstanding life experience and I'll have those memories forever until I am old and senile. I had lost a pretty big amount of money playing in that tournament, but I knew the risks, and will forever look back at my decision to roll the dice just that one time with no regrets.

What about all of you? When in your lives have you decided to take a big risk on something? How did it go? Would you have made different choices if you were given a second chance?

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