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Running diary of a day on the rail at the WSOP: "It's all luck"

1 July 2012

My good friend and regular home game opponent Jas Rai managed to accomplish four of his five goals in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em tournament at the World Series of Poker on Saturday.

Normally in life, when you accomplish four out of five goals, you’ve done well. But in a poker tournament, you usually only walk away happy when you accomplish ALL of your goals.

Jas revealed his goals to me, one-by-one, as he accomplished them.

1. Don’t bust out first
2. Don’t be the first to bust from the table
3. Make it to the first break
4. Get 10,000 in chips before the second break
5. Make it to the dinner break

Jas didn’t bust out first. And at the start of the second level, someone from his table was eliminated. He hit the 10,000-chip mark (players started with 4,500) just before the second break, at the end of level four. But he fell about 20 minutes shy of accomplishing goal number five -- reaching the dinner break. He raised all-in with pocket jacks on a flop of 2-2-3 only to be called by pocket aces. He didn’t improve, and that was that. He outlasted a little more than half the field in a 3,166-player event, but needed to beat about 1,100 more people to have a sniff at finishing in the money.

Jas won a seat in this event by winning a 10-player satellite event our home game held after collecting money for the better part of a year. I put away my media credential and experienced the tournament from the rail, like any other friend would have to. Watching a friend, especially one who I had a 7.36 percent equity in, compete for a $737,248 first-place prize was a new and interesting experience. (Yes, I realize it was a pipe dream … there were 3,166 people in the tournament. But isn’t that dream what the WSOP is all about?)

Now Jas plays poker, but I’m not sure I’d call him a “poker player” in the modern sense of the word. He plays for entertainment, and easily grows tired of those of us who lecture him about how he’s making bad plays. He insists that poker is really all about who gets lucky and that it’s not a game of skill. Needless to say, we have had plenty of arguments about this point, though he got a big leg up when he won the satellite.

So as you can imagine, it was entertaining to watch him play in a WSOP bracelet event as a fan and friend. Here’s a running diary of my experience on the rail.

T-minus 10 minutes to tournament start
I meet up with Jas in the Pavilion at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. He came by yesterday to register and to watch me play for a level or two in a deepstack event, so I ask him about his first impression of the WSOP.

“It reminds me of purgatory,” said Jas. “I went [back to my hotel] yesterday, and I told my wife, ‘That is one place I do not want to spend more than three days.’ It’s like you’re not alive and you’re not dead.”

Classic Jas. And he’s got a point. Now he was watching a deepstack tournament where we were still hours away from making the money. He may have had a different impression had he been watching people who were playing for five- and six-figure paydays.

Level 1, 50 minutes left
A player at a table right in front of me is already eliminated. He lost most of his chips with pocket kings against ace-queen on a K-J-10 flop, then lost the rest after flopping two pair holding Q-3 when a player with Q-10 hit a 10 on the turn. Ouch. But at least Jas accomplished his first goal.

Level 1, 35 minutes left
Jas is playing one table in from the rail, so it’s hard for me to see what’s going on. I’ve spent the first 20 minutes or so tweeting information out so other regulars in our home game can get a sense of what the atmosphere is like, so I have to admit I haven’t seen one hand. I ask him if he’s played a hand yet and he looks at me like I’m crazy.

“Are you kidding?” he asks. “I’ve played at least seven or eight.”

One of them hit big for him; he’s almost doubled up his 4,500-chip starting stack.

Level 1, 20 minutes left
I’ve been standing around for almost an hour, and my back and feet are starting to feel it. Maybe Jas’ wife, Erica, who opted out of watching Jas play to stay by the pool at The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, has the right idea.

Level 1, 3 minutes left
Jas comes over to report that he folded pocket aces when the betting got a bit out of hand on the river. He would have been third, as two players had sets. Atta boy, Jas! This is a Jas we would never see at the home game. Maybe skill does play a role in your performance?

Level 2, 55 minutes left
An entourage of big-name poker pros walks by, including Jason Mercier and Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier. I think they are all playing in the $1 million Big One for One Drop. Maybe getting ready to do interviews for ESPN?

Level 2, 50 minutes left
Phil Ivey walks by in the other direction, looking pissed off at the world. Someone runs up behind him and grabs him to guide him in the other direction. Yep, pretty sure he’s got some media responsibilities and isn’t too pleased about it.

Seeing all these big pros walk by makes me realize that Jas may have picked the softest of the $1,500 events to play. With the Big One scheduled to start tomorrow, any player that’s planning to jump in won’t be playing in a $1,500 event today because they would have to abandon their chip stack if they advanced to Day 2. There’s also a $25,000 satellite going on, which takes even more pros out of the picture.

Level 2, 32 minutes left
Jas realizes he’s hungry, asks me to go to order him some food and have it ready during the break at the end of the level. I’m glad to be given a task, something I can do to help other than standing 25 feet away like a useless idiot.

Level 2, 18 minutes left
It’s off to the Poker Kitchen to get Jas a chicken Caesar wrap with carrots and pepperoncinis.

First break
Jas scarfs down his chicken Caesar wrap; he has to hustle because he only has 15 minutes left in the break. He says he’s not intimidated by the people at his table; “I don’t count myself as that good, and I think those people are on par with me,” he says.

I ask him if he’d be intimidated if there was a recognizable pro at his table.

“No,” he says. “But that’s because I wouldn’t recognize any of them, except maybe Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson.”

He insists he wouldn’t recognize Phil Hellmuth, and that he’s only watched about two hours of poker on TV. I’m now somewhat disappointed that Hellmuth isn’t in this event, because I’d LOVE to see him play against Jas.

As the break nears its end, Jas still has a good portion of his wrap left.

“I’ll just finish it and get back to the table a few minutes late,” he says. I ask what position he’s in when play resumes, and he replies, “I don’t know, one of the blinds.”

“Then get your ass over there and play,” I tell him. “I’ve got 7 percent of your action!”

Level 3, 24 minutes left
I notice a new player at Jas’ table, and it’s one I recognize. I know he’s a pro, but I just can’t quite place him. Jas wins a pot off of him. I tell Jas that he’s going to be a tough opponent, but he shakes it off. “He’s only got a couple thousand,” Jas says.

Level 4, 30 minutes left
Casino City Managing Editor Vin Narayanan, fresh off an appearance on Quad Jacks TV, has entered the Pavilion. Another regular in the home game, Vin is curious to know how Jas is doing. He insists that Jas gets instant respect at the table because of “the Indian factor.”

Level 4, 25 minutes left
It’s one hour later, and the pro now had twice the chip stack of Jas.

“That guy has got a horseshoe up his ass,” says Jas. He also says that he bears a striking resemblance to a Hobbit.

Second break
I do some quick research and realize that the player I recognize at Jas’ table is Dan Kelly, who won the $25,000 WSOP event in 2010.

Level 5, 33 minutes left
I’ve been on my feet for nearly five hours, and if Jas makes it through the entire day, I’m less than halfway through. I tell Vin that my feet are starting to hurt, and he points out a woman standing about 25 feet away wearing three-inch heels.

“Poker’s not that much fun to watch,” says Vin. “And I’m wearing comfortable shoes. Why would you wear that if you’re just going to stand around on the rail all day?” he wonders. Like most things involving women, I am left utterly clueless.

Level 5, 14 minutes left
Jas comes over to tell us that the level of play has definitely intensified with the blinds at 100-200.

“The intensity is up,” says Jas. “You can feel it.”

Level 6, 56 minutes left
I see Kelly get up from the table and walk away, and I peek to see if he still has chips. He does, and I’m disappointed. I really wanted to see him bust to get rid of a big threat to Jas’ chip stack. Jas sees what I’m looking for and shakes his head, reading my thoughts precisely. I hope his reads on his other opponents are just as strong.

Level 6, 36 minutes left
Jas comes over to point out more luck.

“Frodo does it again,” he says. “All in with ace-queen vs. ace-king, gets a queen on the flop and another queen on the turn. You see? He’s a lucky bastard. Or maybe it’s just Middle Earth magic.”

Level 6, 20 minutes left
Jas stands up, shoots a look back at us and shakes his head. Uh-oh. The dealer is counting down chip stacks, and just like that, Jas is eliminated. He outlasted half the field, but gets the same amount as the player who busted 10 minutes into the tournament: bupkis.

He is rethinking his all-in maneuver: “I felt the pressure to do something,” he said after watching his chips drop from roughly 12,000 to 9,300 as the blinds increased.

Vin and I take Jas across the road to the Gold Coast to take his mind off things with some mindless Pai Gow. After playing for an hour or so, we cash out. I broke even, while Vin and Jas were both down. It was Jas’ first time playing Pai Gow, and while he enjoyed the experience, the result wasn’t exactly what he was looking for.

“I could have put that $80 towards dinner tonight instead of two Miller Lites!” Jas proclaimed with a laugh.

Even though the experience at the WSOP wasn’t everything he was hoping for (just needed better luck, I suppose), Jas walked away saying he’d think about returning again next year, even if he doesn’t win the satellite event, just to play in a deepstack and cheer on the winner.

And I hope he does. I’ll need someone to get me lunch when I’m playing, after all.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.