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World Series = Opportunity

by Diego Cordovez |  Published: May 24, 2002


One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies takes place just prior to the climactic finish of Hoosiers, as the underdog farm boys from Hickory prepare to take on the big-city powerhouse for the Indiana state high school basketball championship. The team falls into an awed silence as they enter historic Butler Field House, the iconic venue where the deciding game will take place. The arena is worn and dusty, but it's huge, and the boys can't help feeling intimidated as they step onto the floor where legendary players had achieved fame before them.

Gene Hackman plays the coach, and he senses that his talented team is disoriented by the surroundings. He whips out a tape measure and has one of his players measure the distance from under the basket to the free-throw line. Fifteen feet, he's told. Next, he measures the distance from the rim to the floor. Ten feet. "I think you'll find that all the dimensions here are the exact same as our gym back home in Hickory," he reassures them.

I wish I had thought of that scene years ago as I weighed taking part in the World Series of Poker. Dusty but historic Binion's Horseshoe had the same effect on me as the Butler Field House had on the boys from rural Indiana – my mind was filled with visions of Johnny Moss and other legends playing for high stakes and history, and these impressions kept me on the sidelines, given my lack of tournament experience. It seems obvious now that even though the world's best players gather at the World Series every May, the game is still played with the same rules and the same cards as you play with back home. But things weren't always so obvious to me, and in fact the first World Series event I ever played in was in 1999, even though at that point I had been a winning ring-game player for almost a decade. Despite my sense of wonder at taking part in an event that I had only read about, my experience that day was typical: Once the first hand was dealt, I was fully concentrated on the task at hand and confident that I would play my best. The World Series has a way of focusing your poker mind like no other tournament, leaving no room for nervousness or distraction. Of course, on that day I got off to an inauspicious start, because I managed to lose every single hand that I played. Playing limit hold'em, with a healthy starting stack and small blinds, I managed to avoid dragging a single chip, as every single one of my hands met defeat. I never even won a blind. There were no spectacular bad beats, but every draw was completed against me while every one of mine failed.

Despite this setback, I actually went away feeling very good about my play and about my ability to compete, and resolved to never again bypass the most important poker event in the world and the opportunity to compete at the ultimate level of tournament poker. I realized that while well-known players would continue to make their mark, newcomers like me also had a chance to win.

The World Series is filled with talented but unknown players who each year break through and make their mark. Last year several amateurs made the final table of the championship event. One of the finalists, Steve Riehle, was playing in his first World Series event ever. Not too long ago, Kevin McBride came close to winning the championship event in his first try. Already this year, the opening limit and pot-limit hold'em events were won by lesser-known participants. So, don't sit on the sidelines. There are many strong winning players out there who don't play tournaments or who don't travel to Las Vegas to play. Well, the World Series is not just any tournament, it can be a life-changing tournament, financially and otherwise, and at the end of the day it's the same game that is played every day all across the country, with the same deck of cards and the same rules.

Hoosiers was based on a true story – underdog Milan, Indiana's last-second win in the 1954 state championship. Perhaps this year the World Series championship will feature a similar upset winner, and perhaps that person is you. There's only one way to find