Well Guys... We did it.
In my last blog, which was my first blog in 4 months, I discussed my failures during this Summer's World Series of Poker. I highlighted the aspect of having "emotional control" while dealing with downswings, and the resilience necessary to keep competing at the highest level. I discussed my perspective on the importance of learning through failure, identifying the value gained, and continuing the uphill battle as a more prepared, improved warrior.
Perhaps I was having a moment of clarity the day I wrote that blog, but I did make a lot of sense. I had noticed a huge progression in the way I was handling everything. I felt more like a "grizzled veteran" in the game. I could feel myself gaining that grasp on my emotions, which has been the biggest leak in my game for some time. I also knew that a had a lot of work to do to improve in this particular area, so I made it the focus of my thoughts. I was on my way to Biloxi to play the WSOPC series... and that is where we left off.
During the Biloxi series I played very well and, more or less, laughed off each of my bust outs. This was obviously a very good sign. Throughout the week I played a lot with John Dolan and hung out with him away from the table. I learned a lot about a lot, lets just say that. In the $1125 event I played great... near perfect. I steam rolled everyone the entire day and made the final table of 9 with 40% of the chips in play. We came back the next day and I did just the opposite. I made 2 marginal mistakes, both times doubling up the short stack. I had a slipped a little but didn't lose that many chips, and was still in 2nd place. The old man who had just busted a player doubled his stack and had me barely covered, although we were both head and shoulders above the other players remaining. 4 hands later I got it all in pre flop against this guy with KK to his AA and was busted in 6th place. I made like $5K, but 1st place was $30k. Bad luck right? No. My marginal mistakes cost me the ability to have him covered and as a result I had no chips to fight back with. The way I see it, I had cost myself $25k. I was upset with myself but was aware of the errors I had made and identified them.
Also, read Aaron's interview with Cardplayer magazine: http://ow.ly/dZMDx
In the Main Event I played awesome on day 1 and made it to day 2 with a good stack. On day 2 I played like dog shit and busted myself. I was once again aware of what I did wrong, discussed it with people whose opinion I respect, and took away the positive. That day, we drove to Oklahoma for the Winstar River Poker Series. I bricked a few tourneys then made a deep run in the $1k re-entry tourney right before the Main Event. I once again made the final table as the chip leader. I was clearly the best player left and was a huge favorite to win the tournament. Naturally, I didn't win and ended up getting 4th place. I played great, not perfect, and the cards didn't work with me. I won $26k but could have won $78k, a difference of $52K. However, I wasn't mad at myself the way I was when I got 6th in Biloxi, even though I left twice as much money on the table. I didn't make any crucial mistakes and was very content with the way I played. I was very confident that I was making great decisions.
It was my first decent score in a while, and we ended up celebrating it with an impromptu trip to Oklahoma City to go see a Phish concert at the Zoo. I had never been to one, even though my friends have been going since we were kids. Myself, Kurt, Bazeman, Ben Mintz, and Corey Burbick had a crazy night that ended in an IHOP with dozens of freaks and geeks. In the morning, we made the 2 hour drive back to the Casino to play 1a of the $2100 Main Event.
I played great all day. It was past midnight and I was short with like 20 bbs after having chips most of the day. I was exhausted but was only a handful of players away from the money and the end of the night. I wanted to get through so bad, so I could lock up the money, not have to invest another $2100 (or $4200), and have a full 2 days off. Unfortunately for me, when I went allin in a standard spot a few players from the money, I ran into Aces. I had to scrape myself off the canvas and come for day 1b. The next day I made it past the dinner break but couldn't get anything going and busted around 9pm. I showed up for my last chance on day 1c but ended up getting off to a horrible start. I was down to 5100 at 150-300 and had been folding for over an hour. I stayed extremely patient and never gave up, as I knew this was my last shot. I hung in there and ended up finding some spots to take the pots with nothing. I was patient and waited for the perfect spots, which is more valuable than waiting for the best pre flop hands. I chipped up a little bit and found my double up. I was still short but had a playable stack, it was then that I started taking over.
I had been texting with my brother throughout the tournament. The night before I was pretty demoralized about not making the money on my first 2 bullets. Even though I had cashed for $26k just days before, that goes straight to my tournament bankroll. This bankroll, my cash game bankroll, and my expense/ liferoll money are 3 different entities and my expense account was tapped. Here are the texts between my brother and I the night after I bricked day 1b, and my updates throughout day 1c.
You know what they say, "You can't keep a good man down". I got knocked down, but kept coming back. I stayed patient with by back against the wall and didn't panic. Every time I gathered more chips I would get fired up. The entire table felt the momentum shift and I took advantage of their apprehension to play big pots with the guy that was on a "rush". In reality, I wasn't on any rush, I was merely manufacturing chips while presenting the image that I was. Towards the end of the night I had a huge stack. I got into a huge hand where I had a guy all in w AQ against my AA and he hit his 3rd queen on the river to double through me. I would have been among the dominant chip leaders going into day 2, and I was pretty pissed about it. I still ended up in great position with an above average stack, but I spent that night miserably bitching about not having more chips. I wasn't even happy that I cashed I was just acting like a baby, stomping around in my usual manner. I woke up the next morning with a great attitude, a 180 degree turn around from the night before (we all have our moments). I tripled up from 200k to 600k 15 minutes into the day and it was over from there. I ended day 2 with just under 3 million chips, good for 2nd place with 15 left. On the final day, we were quickly down to the final table. I was never out of the top 3 in chips the entire way, all the way down to 3 handed. I played close to perfect, which was a direct result of my experiences at previous final tables in my career. I was prepared bc I have learned from my previous mistakes, and have identified the factors within my control, that contributed to me leaving money on the table. I wasn't going to do it this time. I was also prepared to get 3rd. I have had experiences in my career where I have come up short as a result of the factors out of my control. So, I was just prepared in general. In this case, preparation met opportunity and I ended up winning the tournament.
I had finally done it. I had won my first major tournament and I broke down right there. For a couple minutes I guess, I sat in my chair with my head buried in my arm and cried. In front of a lot of people too, but I didn't care. I was exhausted. It has been a long journey for my brother and I in this life. It has never been easy for us. Throughout the years we have had our setbacks and our misfortunes. We have had to fight for everything we have, and we have never really had much to work with. We have been grinding it out our whole lives. Life is challenging, and luckily for us we had enough resolve to hang in there. He would always say, "chill out, it's coming", and as usual, he was right.
We didn't party that night because we had to fly to Borgota in the morning for a tournament series that started at noon. I was going to finish out my schedule strong, and wait to take some time off. The welcome that I received in Atlantic City was overwhelming... my life had changed overnight. It was crazy, EVERYBODY knew. I know a lot of people and let me tell you, they all showed me love. It was ridiculous, these people made me feel so special. People I didn't know would congratulate me, or stare, and talk about me like I wasn't standing right there. It was crazy. I had always dreamed of this day but, to be honest, it gave me a lot of anxiety at first. I was handling everything well on the exterior, but I was somewhat detached from the reality of the whole situation. It took me almost a full week for this to really to set in. I did manage to play great throughout the series. I had 3 cashes including making the round of 8 in the $2150 Heads Up Event. With a profitable trip in the books I finally came home to Chicago to chill for a minute, and here I am.
As I am able to sit back and reflect, I come to realize, through the good times and the bad, how much fun I've had. I enjoy what I do and love to play. Through poker I have had the privilege of building relationships with great people I have met along the way. I have been able to travel, and go to awesome (and not so awesome) places. I've gained so much through this journey. It's true what they say, the journey is what it is all about.
Moving forward, I am going to keep doing what I have been doing. Playing the same old circuit stuff. I may meet Kurt and Baze in St. Louis for a Heartland Poker Tourney this weekend, then go play the Circuit in Southern Indiana and back home in Hammond. I'm back on the points chase and I'm cool with that. Maybe I can bink one of these Main Events this season, who knows. I am still hungry and am focused on the future. I can't give up an inch. If I am at the top of my game why would I take a break? If I'm playing well right now it would be -EV for me to be wasting my edge. I'm taking my little break yea, but I'm gonna come out guns blazing cuz I want to win again, and again, and again. I know that for this to happen, I am going to have to show up over and over and over, like I have the last 3 years. If I don't keep working, and improving, I may lose my edge and fizzle out. I can't let that happen. I want to be successful for many years to come and I know my results will be the direct product of my work ethic and decision making. I have to stay dialed in.
I would like to end this blog by once again, giving credit to a special person in my life. Now, there are dozens of people that I have met along the way that I owe great thanks to. The thing is, there are so many, that if I rattle off a few or even 10 names, people may feel excluded, and I don't want that. So I am only gonna give 1 shout out... To Kevin Saul. You used to back me, you coached me online for hundreds of hours, you made my schedules, you did everything, and when it came to me you were always right. "Do as I say, not as I do" was the way I could describe Kevin's approach with me. Although he made mistakes himself, he never made a single mistake with me throughout the tutelage. His intentions with me were always genuine, and 100% in MY best interest. He turned me into a professional. He turned me into a champion.