An Initiate’s View of WSOP
Posted by Shuchi Chamaria on 2016-07-28 at 4:19 PM
I had only heard stories from my husband about his last 10 summers at the WSOP; these stories had been repeated about a million times in the last 2 years that I have known him. Some stories were funny, some were inspiring, some were sad, some were crazy and some simply absurd. They got me looking forward to the Vegas summer all year. I knew it was going to be an important time of the year for us, but I had no clue what was in store.
Adi and I arrived at the Palms Place after our very long flight in from Hong Kong where he had played one of the bigger tournaments in Asia, APPT Macau. We checked into our suite on the 36th floor with a 180 degree view of Las Vegas. Even before I could take in the view, Adi was ready to head to Rio to get us our players cards, since the lines would have gotten crazy the next day, as day one of WSOP was about to commence (Despite my husband being a veteran at the WSOP, he needs a new players card to replace his lost one, every year).
I had never played poker before I met Adi. Although I had played Black Jack and other table games, Adi introduced me to poker a year ago. I learnt the basics of the game which opened my eyes to how much there is to learn. Between getting married and traveling I never had the time or inclination to take up the game professionally. I did come 4th in the 1st live tournament I ever played a few months ago, but in all fairness the field was of 30 Calcutta cash game regulars who had little to no tournament experience, like me. You might call it beginners luck, but honestly all I did for those 9 hours was try and recall what I saw Adi doing on PokerStars every day, and also not to play so terribly as to lose face in the Kolkata poker community. I ran well and things worked out for me as I chopped it 4 ways with the biggest stack and cashed 3 times my buy in.
When I was to play my second tournament at the WSOP, I was a nervous wreck. I decided on the 7pm $135 Deepstack. Adi came along with me to help me register. He sat me down at the table; kissed me good luck and left with his friends who were always close by, always (Adi has a close knit Vegas family). My table started filling up, mostly 30-40 year old cocky Caucasian males, who made me even more nervous. I felt like the newcomer in a school where the kids wouldn’t accept me. I felt like a 14 years old girl behind her glasses who could so easily be fooled and bullied, and that’s exactly what happened. I was out of there before I could say poker. I came back home very disappointed and feeling like a loser, but Adi has dealt with this before and gave me lots of motivation for the following week to go routinely at 7 pm for the Daily Deepstack , for what were going to be not very long sessions of poker. I was like that same new school girl who went back every single day to be bullied, with no choice but to battle the storm and get stronger. I started getting comfortable with my bullies and started learning the tricks of the trade, slowly but surely.
WSOP is a different world in itself, the big banners and sea of poker players in hallways and outside, will give you a feeling of strict business. Thousands of people come from several different countries, not just to play poker but to achieve, what is the ultimate dream and goal of every poker player, a gold bracelet and lots of $$$. Players came from far and away into Vegas’s 50+ degree desert heat, dressed in hoodies and sweatpants to counter the cold in casinos. They are there not just to try their luck, but also to put their poker skills to test. Then there are the recreational and aspiring players such as myself, referred to as newbies. For those who don’t know, WSOP has its own history – records made and beaten. They have a website which has live updates of the big tournament chip counts of the top 200 players and interesting hands from the last level. Everyone needs to know it live, literally, millions of dollars are at stake.
It is not anything like a casino, the Amazonian room, the huge Brasillia room and the gigantic pavilion rooms at the Rio convention center have 500 poker tables set up. The smaller banquet halls around, serve as the Poker kitchen, registration and payout rooms; along with make-shift permanent lockers for gold and diamond card holders and anyone else who wants to pay a $200 fee for the next 45 days. It is a very formal environment, people are there for serious business, and winners of the next 50 events take home more money than families inherit in generations. The only sound you hear is that of chips clanking, cards being shuffled, dealers saying all-in, or the occasional loud gasps, sighs or cheers. You could potentially convert your thousands to millions, or lose all that you put in as your buy-in to chase the glory. People could choose to do a crash course over the summer with the world renowned Antonio Esfandiari for a few thousand dollars, which he did a good job of advertising all over Rio.
I would walk by many famous poker personalities, many of whom I did know and many more of whom I did not. I was particularly excited to see Phil Ivy, Phil Helmuth, Negreanu, Jason Mercier, Jennifer Shahade, Chris Moneymaker, Doug Polk and Norman Chad. Everyone loves to spot Norman Chad, even the famous guys. I also got to meet and interact with many of them personally during the PokerStars event on legalization of online poker. I was invited in the capacity of Mrs. Aditya Agarwal.
It was very thrilling to watch famous players like Jason Merceir, (who had recently won his second bracelet this summer) Fedor Holz, and Jonathan Little, sit at Adi’s table. Adi’s performance as always was great, and it was a proud moment for me to stand at the railing and see my husband play against people, who are easily the best in the world.
My regular grind continued along the way. I even tried playing “softer” tournaments at Planet Hollywood and Venetian aside from WSOP, but saw no luck anywhere. I wasn’t disappointed, because I knew how much I had learnt, and continued to learn every single day. Eventually, I started getting deeper in tournaments and lasting until dinner break, which I considered a good first step. I began to get comfortable in this “new school.”
Live poker games are very exciting. 10 players and 1 dealer transport themselves to different world for a few hours. Within the first few hours, one’s able to tell who the tougher players are. Much like social media, players portray themselves differently, but the truth is revealed, because on the table you can hide your emotions but not your cards. I learnt this in a very unique experience, when a well-dressed woman of about 50 on my table started huffing and puffing Under the Gun, like someone had wronged her. She began muttering about how much she hates her husband, who had been fighting with her over text and wanted her to return immediately. She started pretending likes she simply wants to dump her stack. The fish on the button took the bait and called her short stack, she showed him the old Hooks (jacks), and won the pot but lost all respect.
In another incident, an old man with about 30 bbs, didn’t return after break. He stood in a corner and watched us play right in time to jump in and get paid 5th. I had my most flabbergasting experience, when a man at a table I joined, started saying all sorts of sexist things like, “just sit there and look pretty,” and “just smile and fold it like laundry.” To my utter dismay, all the other men at the table found his jokes hilarious and no one raised objection to his comments. Busting the guy a few hands later gave me a great sense of satisfaction, and wiped that smug smile off his face. We got this one girls!
Poker might be as misogynistic as some other things in our community, but is ultimately not about the gender. It is about composure, patience, and self-control. Adi always says, ‘it doesn’t matter what two cards you are dealt’. Once I started to understand him better, I finally made him proud, and as he says “SHIPPED” one. It was a small win monetarily, but a big one nonetheless, because this time I knew it wasn’t luck. People at my table started taking me more seriously, I was not a little girl anymore who could be pushed around and bullied. I was the poker pro’s wife on serious business.
The hallways at the Rio are full of make shift kiosks for the summer. They sell anything a poker player might need, from hoodies for the cold rooms, to caps to avoid the cold stares, from headphones to act aloof, to shades to not give it away, and also consumer oriented stuff like customized chips, poker training tools, investment advice, anything you can think of. The sales guys at these kiosks are friendly and wise, they only approach the hopeful faces walking in, never the disappointed ones going out. Lots of cocktail waitresses and masseuses loiter around to keep you going for 14 hours straight of what could be a 4 day long battle.
Don’t forget that every second of every minute counts. One bad choice could cost you your tournament life, or you could hold your composure with cards, agreeing and earn so much money to last the rest of your life. To help people carry all sorts of charms to bring them good luck, a family picture, customized card protectors, small ceramic dogs or turtles, little piece of bauble. I once saw an Indian guy bring along an idol of Ganesha as his card protector. Lucky charms may work, or not, it could be your day, or not. But if you become student of the game and spend time solving and understanding the little intricacies you should be able to seize the day more than often. (SEEMS AVOIDABLE – NO, ITS GREAT!)
A tournament poker player’s life is tough. More days are disappointing than not. But the adrenaline, the excitement, the highs and lows and of course the money to be won is nearly unlimited. You might get lucky a couple of times, but the guy, who generally wins, wins, and the guy who generally loses, loses. If you see a guy calling all the hands, you know he is not going to be around very long, and when some guy who you thought you could bluff, calls you on the river with just an ace high, you know not to mess with him. Bad things could and will happen to you at the table. You might lose a full house to a better full house or have your queens cracked by a 25o. You will be on the winning end sometimes, when you manage to bust a guy with your straight flush over his ace high flush, or show someone a shitty rivered straight over his top set, but you can’t take the high or the low to the next hand, all you take is how your opponent played the pot and move on with that information to your next two dealt cards. A new hand starts and all you can do is focus on facial expression of players as they look at their hands, remember last calls and adapt your game accordingly. (Have added yellow highlight – Paragraph seems incomplete, add a line to the last sentence)
Special mention to the Indian restaurant at Rio that provided delicious life savers for hunger pangs. I think I speak here for all the 30 Indian poker pros present at the 6 week long grind. I always ended up bumping into at least one of them when I was there. These lucky 30 Indians are high achievers and accomplished players, and hence gained the privilege to represent India at the World Series, and must I say what a performance. Many players exceeded expectations and played international standard poker with the best of other countries, and made poker lovers all over India proud.
Every time you meet and compete with various people from very different cultural backgrounds, you have to try to decipher their thoughts. Players stare at each other for several minutes before taking any decision. Time at the table is very relative too. Sometimes minutes feel longer when you are card dead, and sometimes you freeze on a crucial decision, not realizing how much time you have spent in the “tank.” Time flies by and the clock has to be called upon you by a fellow player. For many, poker is just a game, but for so many others who put their mind, body, and soul into it, poker is life. It’s a jungle out there, and rules of the jungle apply – survival of the fittest. If you don’t keep an eye out, you die. It’s like a food chain of chips which starts with the smaller fishes being eaten first and with the sharks at the top.
What makes Texas Hold’ em particularly exciting, is that it is a battle you have to win with minimalistic arms. You just get 2 cards and you have to figure out your opponents from the 45 remaining (5 community cards). You might think that it is impossible, but you can see it happen every day here at the WSOP. This one time, a tough player sitting across from me at my table told me, “I know u have an AK” on a 10 7 4 3 Q board, after calling my bets till the river and then mucked his hand, that is exactly what I had. I was beyond amazed; it was like someone had whispered in his ear. Crazy, right?! Not all opponents are that tough, there is almost always a guy getting drunk at the table that keeps everyone entertained. He keeps getting more drunk as you go deeper. 3 drinks down, he starts playing very big pots, opening, raising and re raising a lot. Six drinks later he can’t tell a spade from a club and busts.
The worst feeling on the table is when you have to go ease your bladder, with a shallow stack on a deep table, you wait and you wait for big blind, hope for a free check, then wait for small blind, 50% more only if you are lucky, then wait for the button, the most important position at the table and then you wait for cutoff and then you finally run to the stalls before you explode. You hurry back to the table just in time to shove, and give away your last 7 bbs, but no one can console you at the end of the day if you know you made silly mistakes, or bluffed your stack away or if you hero call down and are wrong ??
The $1000 tag team event was the biggest event for me this summer. Adi, Joseph (Adi’s friend and a super fun guy) and I were a team. Adi was also playing day 2 of the $5000 event and I wasn’t good enough to play with the big boys just yet, so Joe did most of the playing all day, but I played two whole orbits. While I was playing, I saw Negreanu sitting on the very next table, Polk a few tables ahead and Mercier joining in after late registration. I cannot begin to describe my excitement and fan girl moment.
You cannot go looking for thrill elsewhere, when you are in the City of Sin. If you want to be a professional here, you cannot be swayed. You need to be able to handle the variance and swings involved in the game. You need to have a strong level head, a big heart and the willingness to learn even after several years of playing. There is no end to this ladder and there are no shortcuts. It’s not about trusting your instinct, it’s about trusting yourself, and keeping yourself calm even when your heart is pounding in your throat. Your slightest facial twitch or your eyes could tell your opponent more than you think, especially when you are at the World Series of Poker playing against the best, as those guys can sniff your cards from afar.
Adi always told me that the only reason he became a poker player was for WSOP, and now I understand why. I always respected his dream to win a bracelet, now I share it too. We will live this dream together every single day till we can achieve this, and more. You cannot, not be passionate about poker after visiting the WSOP. There is an energetic vibe in the place that engulfs everyone around. You see the high achievers, achieving more and more and the newbies realizing dreams.
When you walk through the ocean of frenzied people in the hallways, waiting for their 20 minute breaks to end, you are sure to feel the rush. There is so much motivation, concentration, and determination in the air that it will make you want to be a part of it. For most, it is an expensive summer of losses, but that does not de-motivate them from coming back the following year for more action. Poker is a like religion, where several people with common beliefs are willing to put everything it takes to make it big, and WSOP is the ultimate pilgrimage for all these poker followers. You could choose to be an atheist at first, but you will start believing once you are deep in one of these tournaments.
A big “Thank you” to Page Harris and Timothy Dombrowski for playing the dailies with me!
And, to the Vegas family for accepting me into their wonderful group; I feel like I always belonged here.