HeartFelt: Remember to Smile

HeartFelt: Remember to Smile


This is a blog I write for Epic Poker (www.epicpoker.com) called HeartFelt

When I was a kid, my favorite movie was The Sandlot. I watched it so many times that I could do a voice-over for the entire film. In the eyes of a ten-year old, watching Benny hit a ball over the fence and outrun “the beast” inspired me to play baseball. It wasn’t the thoughts about the majors, endorsements or winning the World Series.

When I turned sixteen, everything changed. A new ambition interrupted my desire to be a baseball player: poker. Instead of home runs and no-hitters it was big bluffs and one-outers. There was no greater feeling in the world than waiting for the 6th period high school bell to ring, knowing that I was on my way to a friend’s house to test my wits at poker.

Now, eight years later, a $10,000-buy-in World Poker Tour event is … just another World Poker Tour event. With each passing tournament, it has become more about the winning and less about the joy of playing. I forgot what it was like to play poker because I loved it.

Just when I needed a dose of reality, I got invited to the 6th annual Hogan Series of Poker (HSOP), hosted by Hogan Meyer himself. As a UNLV student and a dominating force on the local cash-game circuit, I knew he would be on top of his game. It wasn’t going be like the high school days, where I could sweep through. After a disappointing finish in the Epic Poker League’s inaugural event, I was still looking for my first cash in 2011. With 18 entries each paying $100 and a field of veterans like Hogan, Dean, Ronnie, Spencer and Dan, I would have to earn it.

When you fall off the high horse, you have to get up slowly. In anticipation of the big day, I did my normal tournament prep: went on a run, ate a hearty breakfast, and uploaded my favorite playlist. When I walked into the room, the players gave me the stare down. I felt their heavy expectations. I didn’t want to crumble under pressure. I couldn’t.

Each player started with 3,000 in chips with the blinds at 5/10 and a 1 ante. Rebuys were allowed during the first two hours. Just when I thought I had my table figured, Marty, famous for the deadly limp and call, strutted in late like Phil Hellmuth. The table fell silent as he drew for a seat. “Please not here”, Ronnie whispered to me. He picked the card and began walking right at me. Ronnie’s face filled with terror. “Is this seat five?” he asked pointing to my right. “It is,” I said with a sigh of relief, consoled by the fact I had position on him. The first hand, we got all the money in. Five cards later, I had to rebuy. So far, not so good.

Fortunately for my ego, I redrew a seat at the opposite table. “Do ya’ll run cash games here?” I inquired to one of the players.

“Do we run cash games?” he said smugly. Like a waiter, he pulled out a menu titled “The List.” It had every permutation of poker one could imagine. Games I’d never heard of, like Chinese Baseball and Lucky Swingers, were played in limit, no-limit and pot-limit format, where fearless contenders anted up anywhere from $5 to $50. “You guys wanna hit up the casino this week?” I asked.

“Well, are you over 21?” he asked. “Because there’s a casino called Commerce right by here. It’s actually the biggest poker room in the world”. I sat back and smiled. “What expectations?”

A few hours later, I left with a fourth place finish, securing my first cash of the year. With $200 spent in entry fees, $5 tipped to the house and $3 for the dealers, I took home a total profit of $8. After stopping at Gelato Paradiso on the way home to enjoy a well deserved coffee and almond ice cream, I ended the day up $4. Baby steps Torelli.

Cone in hand and with my new found riches, I wondered how long it had been since I’ve simply enjoyed playing poker. The passion that drove me toward professionalism, the joy of needling someone after you stack them, rabbit hunting just to see if you got there, and the excitement of staring down your friend wondering “does he got it?” were gone.

In the HSOP there were no politics. Nobody cared about your online screen name. It felt good to be back in the game with the gang, getting “walked” without doing anything. One of the best things about poker is that it affords you to play as equals and communicate not by words, but by the courage of your bets and the conviction of your reads. That’s what makes it one of the most popular games in the world, a game that I am proud to play for a living.

“Can you help me remember how to smile
Make it somehow all seem worthwhile
How on earth did I get so jaded
Life’s mystery seems so faded”

Runaway Train – Soul Asylum

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