Saturday, November 5, 2011

Poker's 1% walks into a bar

The poker tournament is in town.

I feel like saying "the poker tournament" oversells the matter. The BC Poker Championships is the biggest tournament of the year in Western Canada. Its main event is a $3000 buy-in, certainly not an amount to sneeze at, but in an age where $10000+ main events are the norm, it's not the sort that attracts international attention from media or high-stakes pros.  Typically during the BCPC, I am among the short list of best-known or most successful players in the field. But something unique has happened to Vancouver's poker population in the post-Black Friday world.  Dozens of the best American poker players have come north in the past few months to continue earning a living.  And that is why at midnight on a Friday night, at a dive bar called the Atlantic Trap and Gill, I found myself flanked by five self-made poker millionaires: Brian Hastings, Mike McDonald, Mike Watson, Tom Marchese and a fifth guy named Matt that I'd not met before.

Adding to the incongruity of tens of millions of dollars in poker winnings hunkering down and squeezing on to a crowded bar bench over $13 pitchers of beer were the half-dozen or so non-poker players in our group.  Some were old friends of the poker pros, but the others were actually just randoms who were nice enough to share their table with us. By engaging us in conversation they suddenly found themselves knee-deep in a world they had not even considered or fathomed.

"I'll lay 8-to-1 that Brian left that on the table," declared Mike McDonald, upon returning from the washroom.

The EPT champion and 3-time final tablist pointed at the crisp $100 bill sitting by itself in the middle of the table.  No one had asked to settle the tab, but Brian was in fact the person who had left the C-note before heading out the door.  A couple minutes earlier, Brian, apparently having made progress with the attractive young woman who'd showed up just a few minutes earlier, had made the decision to move to a (presumably nicer) bar.  He'd only been around 20 minutes and had one, maybe two beers at best before casually tossing the $100 on the table.

I told Timex how I'd even offered to break the $100 for Brian, but that Brian simply shrugged his shoulders, said "it's fine", and casually left.  Timex found the situation hilarious and exuberantly started explaining to one of the puzzled non-poker randoms that even in this collection of highly successful poker players, Brian stood an echelon above us.

"So this guy that was here and left that $100 bill, well basically, all of us here have won a bunch of money playing poker, but he's won more money in one day than any of us have won in our careers. He holds the world record for most money won playing poker in a single day.  So basically he just bought us all drinks because he's baller like that."  (Tom Marchese then pointed out that his lifetime earnings are in fact greater than Brian's legendary $5 million walloping of Viktor Blom.)

After the hubbub of the $100 bill died down, the topic shifted to poker players and the public perception of how much they win playing poker versus their actual results.  Eventually the topic of Andy Beal came up and I wondered out loud at what limit I would be willing to play him if I had all of my action.

Timex, true to his nature, quickly jumped in with his opinion: that assuming I am worth about a million dollars, that I should definitely be willing to at least take a shot with $300,000 and play him at $3000/$6000, estimating that I have an 80% chance of losing those 50 big bets but a 20% chance of winning some obscene amount like $30,000,000 (assuming he would go that deep).  Mike then punctuated his story, drawing images of me in some Caribbean island with dozens of models on my arm, a sort of 30-year-old Hugh Hefner being waited on hand-and-foot on a tropical paradise.

It was at this point our random turned to his friends and said "I can't believe the conversations that are going on this end of the table."  I think that while there are certainly many groups of successful poker players who are incapable of judging when it is socially acceptable to discuss huge sums of money in varied company, that the social intelligence of this particular group in that respect is actually above average.  But here we were, clearly blowing minds simply by talking candidly amongst ourselves.  At one point I reached into my inside jacket pocket in search of my phone and instead grabbed a small wad of $100 bills. I turned to Timex and Tom and said, "Sweet! Found money; I love when that happens!"  Needless to say, I had not considered the potential reaction of Jess, the red-haired girl on my right whose bewildered expression seemed to indicate that she had not, in fact, experienced the feeling of randomly finding $600 that she'd forgotten she'd had.

Last call came and went, unnoticed by us since our party still had a completely full pitcher on the table.  Our waitress brought us the bill. Actually, she brought us several bills.  I suppose in a bar like this, waitresses are used to splitting bills among large parties of 20somethings, but when we added up all the pitchers, the sum of all the various bills was just $75 and thus well-covered by Mr. Hastings' gesture of generosity.  Jess suggested that we should figure out Brian's share and give him back the rest of the money tomorrow. I assured her that while this would indeed be the fairest thing to do, that it was beyond unnecessary.

One of the randoms, a very pleasant and sociable girl named Andrea, went to leave, but before doing so, made sure to get our attention to tell us how nice it was to have met us, and we returned the sentiment.  I do wonder whether she meant it was nice to meet us in the traditional sense, or in the "I feel like I've just witnessed things that I'll never see again" sense.  I still can't help but shake the feeling that a half-dozen regular folk encountering a half-dozen millionaire poker players simply being themselves was only slightly less strange than meeting an alien species which happened to speak English.

Timex received a text from Brian, and he and Tom decided to head for the bar where Brian had left some time earlier.  I decided it was best for me to head home.  We bid farewell to the remaining randoms, as well as Mike Watson, who seemed engaged with the young woman seated next to him.  The waitress was appreciative of her $25 tip.  We opened the door to find it was raining outside, hard.  Timex and Tom quickly flagged down a cab.  Living only two blocks away, I simply put my head down and ran for home.

The young kids, they can enjoy their late-night drinking and partying.  I'm an old man and even before I was even an old man I was an old soul, so I'll just tap away at the keys and make some words appear on the computer screen for an hour.  But despite where we differ, I am still clearly one of them.

And if you read this story and thought, "nothing about this seems that out of the ordinary," well, then you're one of us too.


  1. This is great writing for two reasons: (1) it gives a glimpse into a world that few people ever see, and (2) it was exquisitely well described. I'm sure the "randoms" will have difficulty getting their friends to believe what happened at the bar that evening.

    Well done.

  2. Get over yourself

  3. Youre are the 0.05%!

  4. LOL, just LOL. Nice flame.