Taking the plunge

It’s essential to work out what you want to get out of poker before taking your game further

Karma was restored a few hands later when I knocked out the Orient Express

There comes a time when anyone who plays poker has to decide what they want from the game. Ask yourself: does the weekly home game satisfy my needs? Are my monthly trips to the local cardroom all I crave? Do I play poker purely for the love of the game? Or do I yearn and think I have the potential for more?

I value my regular game, even more so when some curious media types who’ve seen poker on TV want to drop in to donate some cash. The regulars and myself welcome them with open palms, as we bleed them dry in the most convivial of ways.

The problem is, though, when you’re playing with the same people all the time, there’s only so much you can improve. Sure, you’ve noticed your evolution from novices to competent players and you’ve got to know each other’s traits, enabling you to play the player not the cards. So on that basis, congratulations – you’ve made it past the first pit stop on your poker journey. But the crucial question now is how good are your survival instincts when you’re out in the jungle, playing with a mixture of the good, bad and (certainly in the poker world) ugly?

Last year I made a conscious decision to take my game up a notch, to compete with the big boys. I would still earn my bread and butter at the soft games around town, but use surplus funds to see if I have what it takes to do this poker malarkey for a relatively comfortable living.

One of the first hurdles to address when going from recreational to subsistence poker is whether the lifestyle compliments you. A friend hit an impressive run of form recently, netting more than he’d earn in more than 10 years of his current employment. Although his presence at work is becoming increasingly sporadic, he still can’t let go of the security a job offers. He needs the structure and interaction with human beings. I have no such problem.

Vegas, baby

Not one to waste time, I headed to Vegas in July. Where better to test the shark- and, hopefully, fish-infested waters than the WSOP? Looking down the list of the 45 tournaments, my eyes locked on Event 42 – the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em. If the answer to everything in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy world is ‘42’, then that’s good enough for me. This may seem like a decision largely based on sentimentality, but when I have a good feeling about a tournament, it changes my approach and belief in my potential performance.

My rational side chose this event because the runners would be in the hundreds rather than thousands. The disadvantage to this, though, was of the 400 players taking part around a quarter of them were well-known pros. But as students we must turn this to our advantage – it’s a privilege to sit at the table with Hellmuth, Negreanu, Brunson and co., a sharp learning curve, and value for money all rolled in one.

However, after a few rounds I was shocked to discover that on the whole, the standard of play at my starting table was ghastly. If this was the pinnacle of poker, then we’re in good shape, my friends.

Looking around to see how many players were remaining, I noted I’d survived to the final 60. Turning back to the table, I witnessed a collective bottom-clenching by my fellow players, submissive expressions on their faces – Johnny Chan had sat down… to my left. This disturbed me. It wasn’t because with just a few events left, he was hungry to pick up his record-breaking 11th bracelet. No, this was personal. Mr Chan and I, we have history. A few months earlier, he had given me the most hellish interview I’ve ever been put through, and I’ve met some difficult buggers.

Karma was restored a few hands later when I knocked out the Orient Express and he flounced off. With that double-up, I scraped my way to a cash finish, and had earned my place in the high stakes poker world.

I leave you with the wise words of Paul ‘Action Jack’ Jackson: ‘You have to be in it to win it – a bad player means the pot, a good player means the tournament.’ Well said.

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