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A Poker Life: With Eric Wasserson

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Dec 21, 2016

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Eric Wasserson was just 13 years old when he got bit by the poker bug, and although he wasn’t always confident a career in poker was in the cards, he made the leap anyway and has since become one of the top cash-game grinders in the game.

The 27-year-old high-stakes regular has also proven he is no slouch on the tournament circuit as well, having racked up $1.2 million in earnings, the majority of which have come in the last three years. The Philadelphia native’s biggest score came this summer in the prestigious $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship when he finished in third place for more than half a million. This is his story.

Poker Beginnings

Wasserson grew up as the younger of two children in Narbeth, Pennsylvania, a small suburb just outside of Philadelphia. His father owns a home theater company and his mother was an architect before becoming a homemaker. Wasserson’s older sister owns and operates a jewelry company. But it was another family that laid the groundwork for his future profession.

“When I was a freshman in high school, one of my good friends was Jake Shak, who is [high-stakes poker player] Dan Shak’s son,” he said. “I would spend almost every weekend at their house and at this time, poker had exploded in popularity. Dan was playing all of these events and Beth made a big WSOP final table. I was already a big poker fan before all of that, and to go into my friend’s place and see an entire household playing cards all the time, it was very hard not to get captivated by that lifestyle.”

It wasn’t long before poker and other distractions caused his grades to slip and his parents decided a change of scenery could be beneficial.

“I was really into sports when I was growing up,” Wasserson recalled. “I played basketball, baseball, tennis, and golf, and that was kind of my thing. I wasn’t a bad kid by any means, I didn’t really get into much trouble, but I also wasn’t putting that much effort into my classes either. By the time I got to tenth grade, I was basically doing nothing academically and I wound up at a boarding school in New Hampshire. I ended up doing well there and got into Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.”

Turning Pro

Wasserson spent a little more than two years chasing a finance degree at Lehigh, but his heart just wasn’t in it. Poker had become more than just a profitable hobby and with his bankroll at a new high, Wasserson decided to take the plunge into the world of professional poker.

“I’ve been obsessed with poker for a long time,” he admitted. “I was just a teenager and I already knew all of the players and would read the updates and watch all of the episodes on TV. After years of exposure to the poker world and some good results, I finally just decided to go for it. I was two years into college and finally just asked myself what I was doing with my life. Lehigh had a policy that students could always come back and finish their degree, so with that little bit of a safety net, I dropped out.”

His first live tournament as a pro was the $10,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Festa Al Lago main event at Bellagio in Las Vegas. Wasserson min-cashed and then used that ego boost to take down a $1,000 event at Borgata for $97,165 just a few weeks later. But Wasserson recognized early on that he was more of a cash game player.

“A casino opened near Lehigh while I was in school and I would play some $2-$5. I’m sure I had a skill advantage over the players, but the games were so soft that I don’t think it mattered. Back then people would just find ways to give you their money. Those games really gave me the confidence to try bigger games at places like Borgata. It’s much easier, emotionally, to play cash, just because the variance is lower and the winnings, although not as big, are much more consistent. I would play some tournaments here or there while focusing on cash, and eventually I made the transition to mixed games.”

Although he started learning the other poker games before high-stakes mixed games blew up in popularity, Wasserson knew that he had to branch out so that he could always find action.

“I’m not sure I could say it was a calculated decision on my part, there just happened to be some really good mixed games going on at Borgata at that time, and I wanted to learn those games so I could play. The no-limit hold’em games were still pretty good and beatable, but I noticed they were gradually getting a little tougher. I read a few books just to get a handle on the basics and then jumped into some low-stakes games. For some reason, a lot of it clicked right away and it definitely helped that a lot of the players I was hanging out with were playing those games as well, like Melissa Burr, Andrew Finkernagel and Chris Klodnicki.”

Close Calls At The WSOP

Although cash games made up most of his work schedule, Wasserson couldn’t just ignore all of the tournament action happening each summer in Las Vegas. His first final table came in 2013 and started a string of deep runs at the WSOP.

Wasserson has cashed in almost every single poker variant that the WSOP offers, including no-limit hold’em, triple draw, Omaha eight-or-better, stud eight-or-better, razz, lowball, pot-limit Omaha, H.O.R.S.E. and even dealer’s choice. In 2014, he narrowly missed out on a bracelet when he finished runner-up in a $3,000 shootout event for $157,490.

“I don’t like to beat myself up, but I will say that I made a couple of mistakes heads-up and that one stung a little bit,” he admitted. “I used to be really hard on myself but over the last couple of years I’ve been able to overcome that way of thinking. It obviously pays to examine your sessions and see if there’s anything you can clean up, but after that you just need to put it out of your mind. The worst thing you can do is throw away more money because you are still thinking about an earlier hand or bad beat.”

It was that kind of positive attitude that helped him through his latest close call, when he finished third in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship for $545,772. Wasserson more than held his own at a final table that included the likes of bracelet winners Ray Dehkharghani, Justin Bonomo and previous champions Michael Mizrachi and Brian Rast.

“I don’t have a bracelet, and I really want one, so obviously I’m going to be disappointed when I fall just short. But it’s hard to be disappointed when you cash for that much money against a field of some of the best players in the world. If you are super upset with that outcome, then why are you even playing in the tournament in the first place? Yes, things could have gone differently and I was a huge favorite to at least get heads-up, but I also could have taken a bad beat earlier and not even cashed.”

Although it would be life-changing money for most of us, Wasserson doesn’t have any flashy plans to spend it.

“It was nice to make myself and some friends some money, but it’s not going to affect my life much. The way the games are running now, there’s a huge gap between the $300-$600, $400-$800 games and the next level up, which is $1,500-$3,000 and $2,000-$4,000. So I might have a bigger piece of myself now, but I’m not changing which games I play.”

Moving Forward

Outside of a few trips a year, Wasserson calls the Bellagio his home base for most sessions. Since he’s successfully dabbled in all forms of poker, he usually just plays what he wants. But does he want to be a lifer, or is poker simply an easy paycheck?

“Ideally, I would like to have some sort of stable income outside of poker, whether that means I start my own business or buy into another, but I think I’m always going to play poker. I think most players dream of one day playing just for the fun of it, but I’m not looking for that any time soon. I still love playing poker and look forward to it, so it’s not like I’m searching for the nearest escape. Hopefully I’ll be around long enough to be the old guy at the table one day.” ♠