AUTHOR’S NOTE

It is difficult to write about poker without writing about specific poker hands, and it is difficult to write about poker hands without including a lot of complicated poker-nerd jargon and analysis. I toyed with the idea of including a glossary to explain a handful of poker terms that I would use throughout this zine, but ultimately I decided against it and chose to focus more on the story of my time in Las Vegas. So although the main purpose of my trip was to play poker and hopefully make money, I’ve written here about my entire experience in Las Vegas, touching on food, feelings, and family, while at the same time attempting to provide some insight into the tournament poker world. I do occasionally use a few poker terms that I do not necessarily expect the reader to understand, but they are not crucial to the story.

 

One question I get asked often about poker is, “How much of it is luck, and how much is skill?” The answer is that poker is a game of skill, with an element of chance. Making good decisions requires skill: advanced logic, problem solving, creativity, math, psychology, study, practice. The outcome of those decisions is influenced by chance: if you get all your chips in with 70% equity, 30% of the time you will lose. Considering the fact that this can happen multiple times in each tournament, there is a very good chance you will bust out of a tournament even if you have been playing perfectly. It is rare for the best poker player in any given tournament to actually win that tournament. But in the long-run, the best players win the most tournaments. Even casual fans of the game approach poker as if it were a sport more than anything else. As poker enthusiast Bryan Bayles put it, “Poker is so far removed from other forms of gambling that it should be classified separately and I think most [poker players] would agree with that.”

 

One final disclaimer, about tense: I am aware that “proper grammar” generally dictates that authors stick to one tense throughout a piece of writing. Switching back and forth between past and present tense in this zine is intentional, and simply reflects the time of writing. When I write about events that have already happened at the time of writing I use past tense, and when I write about present thoughts and feelings I use present tense.

 

 

 

getting to vegas

I have fourteen thousand dollars in my backpack. I have fourteen thousand dollars in my backpack. In cash. I hope I don’t get excessively hassled at customs. I hope I don’t get excessively hustled in Vegas.

I’ve been a professional poker player for five or six years now, and this will be my first trip to the World Series of Poker, a tournament series hosted in Las Vegas every summer. I’ll be playing in six or seven tournaments out there, including the illustrious $10,000 buy-in Main Event. (I will not be paying the entire entry fee out-of-pocket; I have investors.) This zine will document my trip. I’ll be writing as I go, so I won’t be aware of results beforehand; so the suspense is real.

I am scared of losing, I admit. Not so much because of the money—as a poker player I understand and accept variance—but because when I come back east and my non-poker friends ask how I did in Vegas, I don’t want to have to tell them about how I played poker for ten hours a day for three weeks and lost a ton of money. Someone who didn’t know better, upon hearing that, could easily think I have a gambling problem. But the truth is that the outcome of any given poker tournament is beyond anyone’s control. All you can do as a poker player is consistently make good decisions, and in the long-run you’ll win. For this reason, poker players know better than to make results-oriented goals for themselves.

So my main goals for this trip are to exercise every day, eat well, stay focused, play my best poker, and not drink coffee. My relationship with coffee could be the topic of a whole ‘nother zine, but to put it briefly I feel best when not addicted to coffee, so I quit a few days ahead of time to prepare.

 

 

Well, I got excessively hassled at customs. Because of all the cash I had on me, I was sent to a special area in the Toronto airport designated for suspected international criminals. After some preliminary questions, the officer asked me, “Where’s the money?” and I couldn’t help but smirk. Made me feel like I was in an action movie. WHERE’S THE MONEY??

“Fill out this form,” he said, “and tell the truth about how much money you have. If I find $5000 more than you write down we’re gonna have a problem, and I don’t want any problems.”

“Me neither,” I said. I filled out the form and got his attention when I was finished.

“You’re quick.”

“I have a plane to catch,” I said. I had a plane to catch.

“One minute while I bring this to my supervisor to get it signed.”

A few minutes later he came back:

“My supervisor found this unacceptable. It needs to be pristine. Don’t make any mistakes or cross anything out, and write clearly. Make it pristine.”

Now, I promise you the first form was 100% legible, although perhaps I had made a couple small cross-out corrections (because of confusing questions—not my fault). But I gave in and copied my answers onto a new form while feeling bitter about the extra paper they were wasting. They were also wasting my time—I had a plane to catch and hadn’t even been through security yet—but I did what they said and halfheartedly tried to make my handwriting pristine.

A few more minutes later I was free to go. Twelve more hours later, after flight delays and airport stress, I was in Las Vegas.

 

event #44, $1500 no limit hold’em

 

My Airbnb spot is about a five-minute drive to the Rio Hotel and Casino, where the WSOP is held. I rented a car like a grown-up, and I’ll give you a tip: the secret answer to the “do you want the full insurance or limited coverage?” question is, “neither, I have my own insurance.”

Meet my Airbnb hosts: Barry the pastry chef and Karen the psychology student/therapeutic yoga instructor. They thought I was a “raw foodist” when they saw my kraut and berries in the fridge, but I proved them wrong by cooking a burger. Somehow they seem to think it’s exotic that I’m a professional poker player even though they live right here in Las Vegas. They’re sweet people though, and we all watched Parks and Rec last night on their big-screen.

After having a couple days to settle in and adjust to a new time zone, my first tournament of the series was today. I had planned my morning meticulously: wake up by 9am, go for a run at 9:15, stretch, shower, pack my day pack, have a breakfast of arugula salad and yogurt and blueberries, and leave for the Rio at 11:15, giving myself plenty of time to make my noon tournament. The run was invigorating and breakfast was delicious. The tournament was another story.

Short story shorter, I got unlucky in a few big hands, and even though my plays were better than my opponents’, I busted out in a few hours. I did make a couple of small mistakes as a result of not being quite patient enough, but I learned from them and feel glad to have that out of the way. For my final hand, some dude who thought he was way better than he was made a terrible call, and got very lucky to knock me out.

The good news is that I was one of the best players at the table, and even though results-wise I am not happy about how I got knocked out, poker-wise I am, because it reassures me that I have a positive expected value in these tournaments. My plan for the rest of the day is to try to find a solid cocktail, check out the Las Vegas Zine Library, and get some rest for tomorrow’s 1k.

 

event #45, $1000 no-limit hold’em

 

This event was over even sooner than the last. I’ll spare you the details but the structure was bad and I got unlucky again and was out within an hour.

 

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever had real ramen, but it’s dope. Only a couple months ago I conflated “ramen” with gross instant noodle cup, but I’ve since learned of ramen as an art form; a delicacy. At the heart of good ramen is its broth. There are a handful of different styles, each originating from a different region of Japan, but my favorite ramen broths are rich and complex, each slurp a meaningful experience. Traditional toppings include mushrooms, seaweed, tender pork belly, green onions, a fried egg, and of course the noodles which should be slightly firm.

So I did some internet sleuthing and found the alleged best ramen place in Las Vegas. What else was I going to do with the rest of my day? Pulling into the parking lot of Monta Ramen I noticed there was a line extending out the door, at 2pm. This place must be good, I thought. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I was dining alone, so I got to snag a seat right away at the bar. But this was not real ramen. The menu was sloppily laminated plastic and if you wanted seaweed and/or a fried egg you had to pay extra. The broth was thin and too salty, the pork belly was thin and too salty, and the magic flavors of ramen done right were absent. The best ramen in Las Vegas? I hope not.

 

 

event #47, $1500 ante-only no-limit hold’em

 

It’s been one whole week without any coffee and to be honest, it hasn’t been going so great. My head has been feeling fuzzy and out-of-focus, and I’ve been getting bored at the tables pretty easily. Maybe I didn’t give myself enough time to get through the withdraw symptoms, or maybe I just function better with a little bit of coffee. Either way, after doing a lot of thinking, I’ve decided to allow myself a little coffee and see what it feels like. Taking my first sips right now.

My first thoughts are that this coffee is effing gross. All I could find without driving too far was Starbucks, and apparently when you order iced coffee at Starbucks you have to specifically order it unsweetened. Of course I saw that as a red flag, but I went for it anyway because I really want to be focused today. Second thoughts are that wow, it doesn’t take more than a few sips for me to feel this stuff and wow, this is a powerful drug. I’ll definitely be able to focus better today.

My goal for today is to have fun. The “ante-only” structure of today’s tournament is different than what everyone is used to (it’s a very rare structure) and will require a lot of new and on-the-spot strategy. From what I can tell it will also require more skill, because since everyone is getting such good odds pre-flop, there will be more post-flop play, i.e. real poker.

 

 

At dinner break, after the first six hours of play, I was the chip leader at my table, meaning I had more chips than any of the other 8 players at my table. But there were still 234 players remaining in the tournament, out of 714 to start. $212,000 for first place.

It’s important in poker to let go of your ego, which can sometimes be difficult for me to do because I’m a competitive person—I enjoy outsmarting people and I like to win. (Whether and to what degree that may or may not be a result of being brought up in a capitalist/civilized society I will not attempt to touch on.) And the ego thing has come up a lot in this tournament so far. For the first four hours of the tourney I did not get any good hands, but I did make a lot of bluffs, most of which worked. It already takes a fair bit of self-control for me to not show my bluffs, proudly proving to everyone what great plays I make, but at one point one woman almost pushed me over the edge. I made a tricky bluff against her and she pronounced smugly, condescendingly, “Oh I didn’t know people were limp-re-raising in early position expecting to get value with their monsters.” Translation: “It’s obvious you have a very good hand and I am amazing at poker, so I fold.”

I wanted so badly to say, “No! I didn’t have a good hand at all! Look at my cards! I bluffed you!”

 

But I didn’t. I gave her a slight nod and moved onto the next hand, pushing my pride into the background.

At the end of day one, there were 80 players remaining, and I had a healthy chip stack. My brother Eric had just gotten into town and he came and watched me play for a bit. After I was done he convinced me to play blackjack with him, so we found a blackjack table upstairs and talked about poker strategy, blackjack strategy, and family. I lost $100 but got a free martini.

 

 

To prepare for day two of this tournament, I looked online to see who was remaining, and watched a couple videos of one of them playing to try to get some reads. Some very big-name players were still in this tournament that I hadn’t even known were playing: Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Helmuth, Dutch Boyd. These guys are poker superstars, celebrities, and there my name was alongside theirs on the list of the top 40 chip stacks. Walking down the hallway with my brother, on the way to my new randomly-assigned table, Eric asked me how I was feeling about the tournament.

“Good,” I said, “but I really hope I don’t have to play against Daniel Negreanu. He’s the one player I hope gets eliminated as quickly as possible and I just don’t want to be at a table with him. He’d make me uncomfortable.”

Daniel Negreanu is an ambassador of the game of poker. He’s known for being confident and talkative at the table and making good reads and solid plays. Because of his television personality and strong tournament results, he very well may be the most famous poker player in the world.I’ve watched some of his “vlog” videos and listened to some of his interviews.

“What about Phil Helmuth?” my brother asked. Helmuth is known as the “poker brat” and is infamous for blowing up and yelling at people after he loses a hand. He is not actually a good player by today’s standards, but he’s been around for a long time and won a lot of money from recreational players.

“I wouldn’t mind playing with him,” I said. “I’d much rather have Phil Helmuth tell me how bad I am than Daniel Negreanu intimidate me.”

I found my assigned table and took my assigned seat, and moments later none other than Daniel Negreanu walked by and sat down directly to my left, right next to me. Our feet touched a few times. Not only were we assigned to the same table, but he was directly to my left which was the absolute worst possible situation for me: in addition to having to sit right next to him, the fact that he was on my left as opposed to my right meant that he had position on me, which to sum up is a very powerful thing. My phone vibrated in my pocket and I pulled it out to read a text that came from Eric, who was watching from the sidelines: “Oh snap.”

Daniel’s confidence and comfort at the table seemed to take away from mine. But he was a friendly guy. Not friendly enough to make me happy about my seat, but friendly. I was still able to make some good plays, but ultimately got eliminated in 41st place after making a big bluff that didn’t work out. My payout was $4482—not terrible, but also not great after having spent $4000 on tournament entries so far. And also not great considering it was $208,000 less than the first place prize. Three more tourneys to go.

 

 

event #51, $1500 monster stack no-limit hold’em

 

This tournament had a record 7,862 entries, with a total prize pool of over $10 million. $1.3 million for first. I was particularly excited for this one because we were to start with 600 big blinds, which is a large starting chip stack compared to the other $1500 buy-in tournaments. This leaves room for a lot of strategic options, especially in the early stages, and favors the more skilled players. But you still gotta get lucky to win poker tournaments, and in this one I did not. I felt particularly frustrated once I finally got knocked out, partly because it started to seem like I just couldn’t catch a break, and also because of the astonishing amount of fish, or recreational players, that were in this tournament. With large starting stacks, a huge prize pool, and plenty of fish and bad pros, this was my tournament. But it was not to be, and I still have a couple more tourneys ahead of me, including the Main Event which has the most favorable structure of them all.

I had swapped 4% of my action in this tourney with a student of mine from Germany named Claas, meaning he gets 4% of whatever my prize money is, and I get 4% of his. This is common practice among tournament poker players and reduces variance, on top of making things more exciting. Claas is still in at the end of day one, and while there’s a still a long way to go in this massive five-day tournament, I’ll be rooting for him.

Eric flew back to Atlanta today and it was nice getting to hang out with him the past few days. It occurred to me that this was the only time we’ve ever spent time together, just the two of us, as adults, and I hope it happens more often. It feels like I have a brother again. Tomorrow I have the day off, and after that it’s back to the grind.

 

event #55, $1500 no-limit hold’em

 

Another tournament and another uneventful string of run-bad. I played about as well as I could have hoped but busted after a few hours. On the bright side, Claas is in the money in the Monster Stack, meaning I’ll get at least $400 back and potentially as much as $50,000 if he wins.

As a consolation, I did get to meet one of my poker heroes: Phil Galfond. Phil is primarily a high-stakes pot-limit omaha player, and he also started a poker training website called Run it Once. They just opened up a lounge at the Rio for elite members, with free snacks, drinks, wifi, comfy couches, and some of the best poker minds around. So I hung out in the lounge for a while and met some other Run it Once members, and was even treated with the privilege to talk strategy with Mr. Galfond. The Run it Once lounge would later become for me a home-away-from-home of sorts, a cozy quarter to find refuge and friends away from the casino madness and poker noise.

event #58, $1500 mixed max no-limit hold’em

 

The mixed max structure. Nine players per table on the first day, six-handed the second day, four-handed the third day, and heads-up (one-on-one) the final day. It was a relatively favorable structure for me since I specialize in short-handed play, which allows you to play more hands and be more aggressive. So my plan was to play tight the first day so that I could hopefully make it to day two and beyond. But of course my pocket aces—the best possible starting hand—got cracked in the first level and I was out. I did swap 5% in this one with Paul “Internet” Otto, legendary mid-stakes online cash pro, so at least I still had someone to root for, but unfortunately he was knocked out a few levels later. My plan for the rest of the day is to drink bloody marys and rail my boy Claas at the final table of the Monster Stack, which starts up again in a few hours.

 

 

3:00 rolled around and it was time for the final table of the Monster Stack to begin. Nine players remained, out of the initial 7,862, and Claas was one of them. I hurried over to the special section where the final tables are held, with cameras and television monitors and spectator stands. The stands were packed with fans cheering for whichever player they knew at the final table. I was cheering for Claas, of course. The pay jumps were huge, with over a million dollar gap between 1st and 9th:

 

          1st: $1,327,083

          2nd: $820,863

          3rd: $619,521

          4th: $468,594

          5th: $356,620

          6th: $273,090

          7th: $210,469

          8th: $163,238

          9th: $127,364

 

Watching the final table was nerve-wracking and exciting. I paid close attention to every hand, and whenever Claas was involved in the pot my heart raced more than it does when I’m playing myself. Claas played amazingly well, making bold and impressive plays, and it soon became apparent that he was the best player at the table. He has been a student of mine, but I can only wish I’d be capable of playing as well as he did at this final table, especially under so much pressure. I did feel proud when he floated king-queen suited on a jack-high flop out-of-position and then bluffed the river when the turn checked through—I had taught him that.

There was one group among the crowd that was rowdier than everyone else. They were the friends and fans of Sean Drake, one of the other final tablists. They were drunk and obnoxious and I hated them. They wore matching custom t-shirts: on the front it said “PLAY LIKE SEAN DRAKE” and on the back it said “AND RAPE”. I repeatedly cycled through wanting to do three things: cry, punch them, and burn their shirts. And they were standing right in front of me so I was forced to constantly catch glimpses of the backs of those shirts when all I was trying to do was watch a poker game. Logistically I knew I wasn’t going to punch them but I at least had to do something about the shirts. I couldn’t talk to them directly because they were bros and would have told me to take a chill pill. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do so I decided totry to find Vanessa Selbst, a very successful tournament pro also involved in social justice issues, and ask her for advice. I knew she was in the area so I searched around for a few minutes but couldn’t spot her. Plan B was to talk to a floorperson and see what could be done. Walking back through the room from failing to find Vanessa to trying to find a floorperson, I noticed the Sean Drake boys had changed into different shirts. I went back up into the stands to find out what had happened, and apparently I was not the only one with the idea to get the shirts banned—Twitter users were also on the case. Apparently there were so many tweets on the subject that Rio management became aware of the issue and asked them to remove their shirts. I arrived just as word was getting out to the last of them (this conversation is 100% verbatim):

“Hey, you gotta remove your shirt brah,” one Sean Drake fan said to another.

“What? Why?” He looked confused and slightly agitated.

“Because it offends people. Apparently rape is not okay.”

He gave a little snort, rolled his eyes, and reluctantly took off the shirt.

ughhhhh I still want to punch them.

 

Five hours later and with four players remaining, Claas was all-in in a standard spot, and lost. He placed 4th for $467,500. He’s 22 years-old and this was the first WSOP event of his life. What a sick score. Lucky for me I got 4% of his earnings, which felt like a summer saver.

 

 

event #60, $1500 no-limit hold’em

 

In light of my big score (thanks to Claas), I decided to add an extra tournament to my schedule. Just another standard $1500 buy-in no limit tournament with a relatively poor structure, so all I could do was stay focused, try to have fun, and maybe get lucky.I did have fun this tournament and I felt grateful to actually get into some interesting spots and make good plays, but eventually I ran AA (the best starting hand) into KK (the second best starting hand) and lost, despite being an 83% favorite. Aces cracked again and now I have a couple days off until the Main Event.

desert hike

 

I drove up to Red Rock Canyon to get my mind off poker for a while, and, you know, to see Red Rock Canyon. I get a little bit crazy when I spend too much time in a city, and Las Vegas is the epitome of a city: necessary and unnecessary resources being imported from all over the world into a concentrated area that would otherwise not support this much human life, or, in the case of modern-day Las Vegas, any human life. (The area currently known as Las Vegas used to be a marsh lush with water and greenery, hence the no longer appropriate name, “Las Vegas,” Spanish for The Meadows.)

Approaching the vast canyon walls, even in a car, was breathtaking. Infinite colors and crevices and how was it all made? Strange and exquisite, foreign and beautiful. It felt like there was some ironic connection to be made with the fact that I was celebrating the natural beauty of this country on the 4th of July, but why bother? I picked out a 5-mile hike from the tourist info guide and parked by the remote White Rock to set off. The official difficulty level of this trail was “difficult”, but I figured that was mostly a warning for children. If I can run 3 miles, surely I could walk 5 miles. Besides, I wanted a challenge. What I did not so much consider were the hills and the heat, the sand and the solitude.

In my handbag I carried a liter of water, a lunch of hummus and turkey, and a cartoon map of the area which functioned more as a security blanket than a functional map. I set off alone down the desert trail, and within minutes my car and all roads were out of sight. Sun and silence. I walked and walked, passing strange desert shrubs and intimidating cacti; the only sounds were my footsteps and the occasional scurrying lizard. The ground was sandy and rocky. It was hot and there was nowhere to hide from the sun. But I felt good, and I was on my way to Lost River and Willow Springs.

I was too naive to realize that “Lost River” was named such not because it’s an actual river, but because there used to be a river there. Now there is not. It has been “lost”. I was disappointed, but surely they wouldn’t fool me twice in a row with enticing water-based attraction names, so I trekked on to Willow Springs. I never did figure out why Willow Springs is called Willow Springs, but I suppose there is a seasonal spring there. Summer, incidentally when it’s needed most, is its off-season.

Deflated and tired, I stopped for lunch. Everything was hot. I missed my dog, my skateboard, my friends. Everyone was far away. I wanted cold water, but everything was hot. My simple meal hit the spot though, and in a few minutes I was satiated and fueled for the walk back.

I was still tired, but I remembered that phenomenon of the trip back from someplace new always being shorter than the trip there. Apparently this phenomenon does not hold true for hikes in the desert, especially when the hike back is mostly uphill. I had only brought one liter of water with me (there was more in the car), and less than halfway back I realized I had to start conserving my water. (This was a subtle but significant attitude shift from what I’d been getting used to: at the poker table, I’ve been trying to not drink too much water because we are only given one pee break every two hours. Now I was trying to not drink too much water so I didn’t die of dehydration later.) I only had a few sips left and I was thirsty. Before too long the landscape starting shifting around without really shifting around and I started to panic a little. I knew I was dehydrated and it got to the point where, after I had finished all my water, I was licking the inner rim of my water bottle to get out any drop I could. If I collapsed out here it would be a long time before anyone found me. But I knew people survived much more trying times than this so I sucked it up and trekked on. I wasn’t sure whether I should slow my pace to conserve energy or speed up to make it back to water as soon as possible. Slowing my pace felt right, so I went with that.

Eventually, with relief, I made it back to the sign at the start of the trail. I was only about 100 more yards from my car, and a couple long minutes later I was there. I had never been so happy to see a Chevy Impala. I stuffed my belly with warm water and drove back to Las Vegas.

 

 

penn and teller

 

The night before the Main Event I took myself on a date to see Penn and Teller, who if you don’t know are world-renowned magicians who have been performing together for over 30 years. Penn is tall and talkative; Teller is short and silent. The show was incredible, although I could do without Penn’s borderline obnoxious personality. He is a libertarian and an atheist and he wants you to know about it. I always find it a bit ironic when atheists try to push their belief system on others, much in the same way that religious missionaries do. To me there are just different ways of seeing the world, and the “trueness” of one belief over another is irrelevant at best. What’s more important is how healthy or unhealthy a worldview is, and it seems that religions (including atheism and science-ism) with the dogmatic mindset of “we’re right and everyone else is wrong” are generally not so healthy, for a multitude of reasons. Personally I do not believe in one “objective truth”; I believe in multiple truths. And if you believe in only one truth that’s fine; just don’t call people stupid for thinking otherwise.

Teller, on the other hand, is a true artist. He clearly has a deep love for magic and has dedicated his life to the craft. Watching him perform tricks leaves me speechless; with grace he exhibits beauty in the impossible.

Before one of the effects, Penn announced, “This next trick is done with a piece of thread,” after which Teller proceeded to bring a red children’s ball to life like a well-trained dog. The ball jumped through hoops and obeyed other precise commands, and the routine was beautiful—perhaps my favorite of the show. Even knowing that Teller was puppeteering the ball with a thread, the performance was stunning, and I found out later that he had worked on the routine for 18 months before getting it down. But why tell us that there was an invisible thread involved? As Teller has written, “My job is to leave you with a beautiful question, not an ugly answer.” So I’m not sure why Penn is so eager to issue ugly answers.

To me, “magic” means mystery. When something happens that we don’t understand, that’s magic. What Teller does is real magic. What Penn does takes some of that magic away.

 

 

event #65, $10,000 no-limit hold’em main event

 

It was finally here. The culmination of the World Series of Poker: the Main Event. 6,683 entrants, with $10,000,000 guaranteed for first place. I dominated the first day. I was the chip leader at my table for the majority of the day, and the others even openly commented about how I was the best player at the table. Having this image helped even more, because I could tell how each player reacted to the situation and respond accordingly. Most simply did not want to play big pots with me, so it was easy for me to bluff. One dude—the other bearded one at the table, incidentally—seemed to want desperately to bluff me, so against him I slow-played my strong hands and let him pay me off with nothing.

Throughout the day I became friends with the player sitting to my right—Matt from Dallas. He offered to get me into high stakes cash games in Dallas, and the next day—our day off—I hung out and gambled downtown with him and his wife and their friends. Making friends in Las Vegas with couples in their 30s made me feel like an adult.

 

They say the worst day of the year for a poker player is the day he or she gets busted out of the Main Event. I’d like to think I’ve had at least a couple worse days this year, but I can now confirm that it does suck. Day two was the opposite of day one. First off my table was a lot tougher—now I was the second or third best player at the table, but it was close. There were four or five very solid players, including myself, and none of the others were particularly terrible. On top of that, and more importantly, I was completely card-dead, missed all my draws, ran into the tops of my opponents’ ranges; in short, I ran bad and busted on the very last level of day two.

At one point during the day I was filmed at the table and then pulled aside and interviewed by ESPN. The interview was extraordinarily awkward—they kept asking for alternate responses, not wanting me to talk about certain things on TV, and they made me begin each answer with four or five forced words of their own choosing. On top of that they had pulled me aside after some intense hands and were keeping me from the table. Needless to say I am not an ESPN fan.

Despite all this, I reminded myself how lucky I am to be able to play a game for a living, and felt grateful. Sure it’s stressful at times and occasionally I want to throw my computer against a wall, but I couldn’t really ask for a better job.

 

 

Going into day three I had action on a handful of players who were still in, but by day four only one was left: Clayton Hamm, from Illinois. He has been top ten in chips for a while, and if he wins I get $200k.

I am leaving Las Vegas this morning. With 72 players remaining in the Main Event, including Clayton, it dawned on me that he has a real chance of winning this thing. I’ll have to wait until I get back to Toronto for further updates.

epilogue

 

After landing in Toronto, I learned that Clayton had come in 55th place, cashing for $124,000. A very solid score for him, and the 2% reserved for me is better than nothing. I was again hassled at customs—this time I got sent to immigration, waited in line for 20 minutes, and then got grilled by a woman whom I finally convinced I was not up to anything sneaky, despite my suspicious “freewheeling” lifestyle and previous border issues. It was not fun, but I could tell it could have been worse had I gotten a meaner agent.

Even though I did not end up making any money in Vegas, the trip was life-changing in two big ways: first off, I am inspired and excited to get back into doing magic. I began dabbling in card magic last year but have sort of fallen out of it since. Seeing Penn and Teller and then Mac King (whose show I did not write about in this zine but was stellar) made me remember how much I love magic. Secondly, I decided I want to buy a house. I want a physical home and I am tired of dealing with landlords and paying rent and moving around. I want a cozy place where I can focus on music and magic and homesteading projects, a familiar place I can come back home to when I’m gone. So next week I will begin looking at houses in Asheville.

And I’ll continue working—playing and coaching poker—probably as long as it’s as profitable as it is now. As the game has gotten tougher, as players have gotten better, questions have arisen as to how long professional poker will really be a viable option, and no one really knows. It’s unpredictable; it’s a gamble. But what isn’t?

Dustin Goes to Vegas was written by me, Dustin Goldklang, in June and July of 2014. If you have any questions, comments, jokes, or stories, I would love to hear from you: obliopokercoach@gmail.com

THANK YOU: Neil C. for some preliminary big-picture suggestions, the Guelph Zine Club for inspiring and encouraging me, Eli for choosing the cover font, everyone I met in Vegas for the fresh experiences, and Usnea for being the greatest pup in the world.