A couple of weeks ago I came upon this thread on the 2+2 forums, in which it is revealed that Erick Lindgren, one of modern poker’s biggest all time winners, is also a colossal loser at life. It sparked in me a desire to write a blog post. I planned on putting something together that revealed how things in poker are seldom what they seem. I planned on telling you that a great number of supposed tournament heroes are in fact destitute, in hopeless debt and playing poker on borrowed money. I planned on revealing that most of the guys who became poker celebrities in the initial post-Moneymaker wave were frauds who are now broke and/or disgraced. I planned on mentioning that many of these same people ran a multi-million dollar online business like it was a weekly card game hosted in some guy’s basement. I was going to tell you about all the expert wizards who exert so much energy mastering poker, win big at it, then squander every last dime in their bankrolls on games they cannot beat. I was going to bring to light the fact that many professional poker players—including some who enjoy celebrity status—are just your standard gambling addicts, desperate losers who lack integrity when their pockets are bare. And I planned on mentioning how it was all so dispiriting. But then last week I had my biggest score since 2009, so I think I will write something about that instead.
Since I last wrote anything here I have enacted my plan of returning to lawyerdom. Initially I went through a training regimen which had me following my Dad around from court appearance to court appearance, and now I’m back on the suit & tie hustle myself. The practice has been busy since my return, and last week I had the opportunity to watch an interesting trial. I won’t get into the details of the case (I doubt anyone cares, and I also have an ethical obligation not to run my mouth) but the stakes were pretty high. Our client rejected all plea deals and was facing the possibility of a felony conviction for a crime he swore he did not commit. As the trial unfolded I became more and more emotionally invested in the outcome. Crucial and highly contradictory testimony was presented by both sides, and as my father cross examined the State’s key witness, I felt my phone vibrating. Sitting in the front row of the courtroom, I slid it from my pocket, cupped it in my hand and stole a furtive glance. It was from a professional poker player friend of mine:
ran KK into AA again. What else is new. Busto Caesars 550.
Theater of the absurd. I pictured my friend, his brow furrowed and his face red with fury, storming back to his hotel room, where he would now spend the rest of his day doing something important like prepping for a fantasy baseball draft or masturbating. Then I looked at our client sitting there at the defendant’s table praying that my Dad would discredit the man on the witness stand so that he could avoid a felony conviction and jail time. I did everything I could to suppress my desire to laugh, but I couldn’t—I chortled a bit.
Poker exists in a world unto itself. An isolated fairyland world.
My current situation at home is asphyxiating. Ivy is now an impossibly cute, funny and inquisitive toddler. While she still only uses a few English words (”hi,” “this,” “that,” and most recently, “no”), she now is ambulatory and also very clever. She understands everything we say and she does lots of silly things. Yesterday she put her Elmo doll into Max’s mechanical swing, stuck her bottle in Elmo’s lap, placed a blanket over Elmo and rocked him to sleep. And when you say “rock star!” to her, she grins, raises her hand in the air and does some fistpumping. Also residing here is Ruthie, who at three years old is somehow still in puppy mode. Both Ivy and Ruthie require plenty of attention.
And then there is Max. He’s a difficult little fellow. He craves affection desperately and cries whenever he is not being held. He also doesn’t seem to understand that daytime is for wakefulness and nighttime is for sleeping. With this confused little attention-starved booger added to the mix, keeping everyone happy is almost impossible. Janeen and I are trying our best, dividing duties, making due. We live day-to-day and minute-to-minute, diffusing one bomb after another. Sleep is hard to come by, especially for Janeen, who has been kind enough to shoulder the burden during the graveyard hours so that I can be coherent in court in the morning. Our life is a series of chores, one ending and then another beginning. A long string of meals, baths, diaper changes, baby hushing, dog walking… repeated ad nauseum. When we watch an hour of uninterrupted television together it’s considered a big treat. This phase of our lives is about survival. Presumably Max will soon begin to act more like a tiny person and less like a cranky little lump of crabmeat. A couple of days ago he started to smile and coo. There is hope.
Into this mess I am trying to fit some poker. The Borgata series in January was my final meet as a pro. When it ended I decided that my game plan going forward would be to play only the tournaments with especially soft, large fields or the possibility of life changing money. No more $500 events with $75,000 prize pools. Only big fields and big buyins. For the Caesar’s Atlantic City WSOP Circuit meet, that meant playing only Events 1 and 2 ($345 buy ins that typically draw big crowds) and the Main Event (a $1,600 reentry).
Because my mother-in-law was staying with us at the time, no special arrangements were necessary for me to get down to AC for the early events. In Event 1, I got fairly deep but didn’t cash. In Event 2, I blew up my stack in short order. Faced with the decision of hanging around for 20 hours and re-entering the next day or going home, I chose the latter and got the hell out of Dodge. I felt a bit wistful skipping all the prelims that were my former bread and butter, but diapers awaited.
By the time the Main Event came around, I had logged another work week and my mother-in-law was gone. Playing the tournament thus required a lot of legwork on the front end. After testimony concluded for the day in the aforementioned trial two Fridays ago, I arranged for my parents to take both Ivy and Ruthie for the weekend. This left Janeen with only Max to contend with, and I departed for Caesar’s early on Saturday morning. Having no interest in dumping $3,200, I was prepared to fire a single $1,600 bullet—a solid strategy for a recreational player.
My Day 1 table had two very aggressive players at it, both seated to my right. One was the dangerous Ari Engel (playing poker on Shabbos, no less) and the other was a less crafty but equally crazy button masher whose poker claim to fame is winning a women’s event at Borgata a few years ago (he is not a woman). I was lucky to be seated on the left side of these two players, and I was sure I’d end up in a big confrontation with one of them at some point, and that’s exactly what happened.
I’d worked my 20k starting stack up to about 27k at the 100-200/25a level. One player limped under the gun, another overlimped, and the Ladies Champ iso-raised to 1,200. It folded to Ari (who covered me) in the hijack, and he three-bet to 2,450. I was on the button with KcJc, and feeling that Ari’s range was very wide, I chose to 4-bet to 4,400 for leverage (dicking around with these small raises is en vogue, I’m happy to join in). The limpers and the Ladies’ Champ quickly got out of the way, but Ari proceeded to 5-bet to 8,100. I wasn’t liking the idea of cramming and getting snapped off, but I also was in no mood to fold, so after some deliberation I chose to put in the chips to call. Almost one-third of my stack was in the pot, and I was now prepared to get my money in if I flopped any piece, draw, gutshot, whatever. It all became elementary when the dealer rolled out a 10 high flop with two clubs. My stack was going in. Ari led for 2,200 (yes, he bet 2,200 into ~18,000) and I moved in. He tanked for a few minutes, had the clock called on him by a player who was never involved in the hand and eventually folded.
Now armed with a big stack, I was off to the races and I ended up bagging a big stack at the end of the session. When I reported this to Janeen she was openly and unapologetically disappointed. She was exhausted and frustrated and had been rooting for me to bust so that I would come home and help her care for Max.
Putting Janeen’s torment at home on the back burner, I ended up battling my way through a treacherous and draining fourteen-hour Day 2. One of the few hands I recall playing took place toward the end of the night. I opened the Ks5s and got called by both blinds. I triple barreled a 9-8-5-10-A board, shoving all in on the river, and my opponent folded (thank you, sir). It was one of those “screw it, I don’t give a shit” kind of hands that I may have played differently if I were still relying on poker tournaments as an income producer. When we bagged chips at the end of the night, only 23 players remained and I was in the middle of the pack. Now guaranteed about $8,000 and utterly exhausted, I texted Janeen and again discovered that she was still miserable and had again been rooting for me to fail. What a railbird!
I had packed exactly enough clothes for three days. On the morning of Day 3 I was down to clean undergarments and my Jim Brown jersey. That suited me just fine, because with $191,000 “up top” in the tournament, I was gonna need to run like #32 to get all the money. I had been in this exact spot many times over the past few years with not much to show for it. That late tournament rungood had been evading me for some time. Complicating matters was the remaining field, which featured a murderer’s row of East Coast grinders; I personally knew about half the players remaining, and of the ones I didn’t know, the majority were internet geniuses in expensive baseball caps with stiff brims. Not an easy assignment. As play started up I learned that my father had won a not guilty verdict in the trial. No matter what I did during Day 3, our client’s day was guaranteed to be better than mine. A good omen?
I ran well right out of the gate. During Day 3 I repeatedly beat AK with pocket pairs in crucial all in preflop spots, I believe a total of six consecutive times. While I never got my money in bad and won as an underdog in the entire tournament, winning six or seven big coin flips definitely qualifies as running way above expectation. My stack swung wildly throughout the day, but when the field was trimmed to the final nine, I was still there with a good amount of chips. Maybe this was happening.
Also at the final table were two friends of mine: Eugene Fouksman, my new poker role model: a guy with a full time real world job who is nonetheless as tough as they come at the poker table, and to my direct right sat one of my best friends in poker, Ryan Eriquezzo.
Since much of my readership is comprised of poker outsiders, I always thought it would be interesting to write profiles on some of my long time colleagues. I have consorted with a lot of real characters in the past six years; it would make for good blogging. I’ve never done it, though. I can’t seem to summon the energy to write something that would do these guys justice. Also, my blog isn’t supposed to be about blowing up people’s spots—I have no idea whether my friends would even be amenable to having pieces written about them by a hack like me. But in this instance, because so much of what I experienced at Caesar’s has to do with my relationship with Ryan, I’m going to write a little something about him.
In many ways, Ryan Eriquezzo is the poster child for the wild world of live professional tournament poker. His story is both a cautionary tale and (hopefully) a triumphant one—a tribute to perseverance and determination. I first met Ryan maybe four or five years ago at Foxwoods. He presents as a very intelligent and excitable guy. It turns out that both of these attributes are accurate: Ryan seems to have an aptitude for learning and excelling at whatever he sets his mind to. He also has a penchant for becoming wild and erratic.
Ryan is a classic example of a weird Catch-22 that I’ve observed a lot in poker: in my opinion, the same personality traits that have given Ryan problems in the real world also contribute to his success as a poker player. He is stubborn and willful, with the guts of a burglar. He is capable of acting like a petulant child. And, to be frank, he also might be a little bit crazy. When you combine his creativity and intelligence with his tendency to be wild, unpredictable and careless, the end result is a guy who is a holy terror at the poker table and self destructive everywhere else. To illustrate: Ryan would make anyone’s list of the best players to ever visit the poker rooms at the two casinos in his home state of Connecticut, but Ryan is currently banned from both places. To further illustrate: he executed a seven-bet (not a typo, seven-bet) all in preflop bluff against a very accomplished player deep in the money of the WSOP Main Event. Then he flashed the ten of diamonds. It takes a special kind of crazy bastard to do that. It also takes a special kind of wackjob to develop the number of so-called “life leaks” that Ryan has dealt with during his whirlwind career. Enumerating them here would be time consuming and pointless. He does seem to have them under control right now, by the way.
While some casino floorpeople and many of his opponents do not care for him, despite his flaws Ryan is beloved by many of his colleagues, including myself. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is honest and forthright about his struggles and desires. Most importantly, he is a good person.
His talent at poker was immediately apparent to me after sitting with him for only a few hours. I have been very open about my admiration for his game through the years. Whenever anyone asks me who the best player I know is, Ryan’s is one of the first names out of my mouth. I have told him and others on several occasions that he was the one player in my inner circle who was most likely to win a major event. I even mentioned this fact in a January interview that I gave to the guys who blog the Borgata Events (the interview apparently ended up on the cutting room floor). Ryan is also the only poker player I have ever staked on a semi-regular basis. He is an absolute threat to win any tournament he enters. That makes for a good investment. His biggest poker leak is inextricably tied to the characteristics that make him so difficult to play against: it’s his inability to gear down, stop trying to own everyone’s soul and simply pass on a spot or two.
At the close of the Borgata Winter Open, Ryan was broke, without a backer and unsure if he could stay in action. He confided this to me, and I offered to stake him in some cash games. I did this not because I enjoy being involved in staking—I really don’t—but because I wanted to see him get back on his feet (and maybe so I’d have a little something to sweat as I departed the full time poker scene). I drove up to Connecticut, took him to lunch, and dropped off his stake. Unfortunately, the arrangement got off to a bad start and Ryan tore through my money in short order. He was now broke, out of action and in makeup to me. When he told me that he didn’t think he would make it down to Caesar’s for the circuit events, I again helped him out, promising to put him into Events 1 and 2. From there, assuming he didn’t do anything in those tournaments, he would be on his own. He busted both tourneys short of the money, burning through another dime in DZ dollars. As I suspected, Ryan was nevertheless able to sell a staking package for the rest of the series, and while I was in court, he was grinding prelims. He made a small score in one of them, coming up just short of the final table. Which brings us back to the final table of the main event, where Ryan and I were seated side by side.
We were eight-handed for something like three hours, with short stacks winning a ridiculous nine consecutive all-ins (including me once), and then the carnage commenced. Ryan was playing well and was also in full Godmode, and by the time the table was five handed, he had a pretty commanding chip lead. I, meanwhile, was hanging in there, happy to be cruising along despite losing two huge pots that would have catapulted me into chip lead contention. Playing the final table wasn’t rocket science, it seldom is. These final tables truthfully don’t differ too much from the $55 sit ‘n go’s I used to grind on Pokerstars in the middle of the last decade. There are important ICM considerations involved with each hand, and two of my best decisions of the entire tournament involved hands I passed on when the tournament was five and three-handed.
During five-handed play I made one of the biggest blunders of my poker career. I was under the gun and found aces. Eugene, who was now on my direct left, openshoved out of turn. Dumbfounded, I looked at the dealer and then the floorman, and neither gave any real indication about what all this meant. I honestly had no idea that Gene’s all-in would be ruled binding if I limped my aces and was not told as much. It’s a pretty basic, simple rule, but with my limited experience in cash games, I just had no idea. In the end it was my fault for not inquiring specifically. After a protracted pause, I made my standard open and Gene folded, very happy that I had changed the action. I picked up only the blinds and antes. As it turned out, he had one of the hands with the highest equity against my aces: J-10. It ended up working out fine, but I was briefly embarrassed.
Amusingly, my two biggest fuckups in late-tourney play occurred during two of my biggest scores. I’ve never told anyone this, but back in 2007 I mucked the winning hand in a big pot with two tables left in a $1500 Foxwoods event. I was livid with myself, but I recovered and ended up taking second. Screwing up in this instance didn’t fluster me at all. In fact, I felt completely calm and collected at all times at the final table, so I guess I can still handle myself like a pro. That’s nice to know.
In a hand that was worth an absurd amount of equity, Ryan busted two guys at once, JJ > I think two A-x hands, and just like that we were three handed. Only a short time later, I took out the third place finisher, AQ > A3, and much to the delight of Ryan, myself and our big group of mutual friends on the rail, I was now guaranteed $118,000 (my largest score since the summer of 2009) and was somehow heads up with one of my best friends in poker.
Getting heads up in a big tournament happens very infrequently, even for the best of players. Being heads up with a good friend is rarer still, and I will likely always fondly remember this experience. At stake was over $70,000, a WSOPC ring and a seat in some big freeroll tournament in July. I was at a 2-1 chip disadvantage. We took a short break, and when we returned I posed the idea of an equity chop or saver to Ryan, who immediately shot it down.
Playing my good friend for $70,000 is really not in my repertoire. When I think of $70,000, I envision things like two fully loaded SUV’s, a couple of years’ worth of mortgage payments or over a full year of day care. The idea of a heads up match for that much money honestly just does not appeal to me, I’m not wired to gamble for that much money in one sitting. I guess that might make me less of a true poker player; it also makes me less likely to ever go broke. The circumstances under which I would choose to play someone (much less a friend) heads up for $70,000 are: (a) I feel that I have a big advantage in the match; and/or (b) the amount at stake isn’t significant to me. Neither factor was present for me here, so I was looking to lock up 15 or 20 dimes.
After the fact, Ryan gave me a somewhat convoluted explanation for his unwillingness to deal that had something to do with “needing it for his career.” Well, it is plain to anyone with any common sense that what Ryan’s career needed most was an infusion of money (I sound pissed but I assure you that I am not, by the way). He ended up getting just that, as he defeated me after a nice hour-plus battle. It was important to me that I gave Ryan a good match, and I think I did. I immediately lost about half my stack but came back strong, and by the time the final hand took place, I felt like I was wresting control from him. Someone put the final hand on youtube, so here it is. Holy rail pandemonium.
Note that Ryan’s live rail was about 20 people strong. My live rail consisted of just my friend Rob, who actually deserted me during heads up play (there were also a few neutral parties present, I believe). I had almost no virtual rail watching the grainy live stream (reveal yourselves if you exist!), as both Janeen and my Dad were sound asleep by the time the tournament finished. I was definitely the road team in this matchup.
I am very happy with the result, both for me and for Ryan. I have long predicted a big score like this for Ryan, so even though I lost the heads up match, I get to feel prescient about it. There is literally only one pro poker friend of mine who could make me proud with a big win like this, and it is Ryan. There are several guys I’d be happy for, but there’s just one I can honestly say I’m proud of, and it’s the guy who won this tournament. I sincerely hope this win becomes his springboard to poker stardom.
For those of you keeping score, Janeen claims she finally began to root for me to win around the time I made the final table. After the tourney concluded, I collected a cashier’s check from the Caesar’s Corporation, had a couple of drinks at Borgata with three friends, and went to bed. I woke up early the next day and drove home. I arrived to no fanfare. I took a shower and lifted Max out of Janeen’s arms, giving her a much needed break. A couple of hours later I quietly deposited a check for $118,000 in my local bank. Last weekend I bought a new car. Not a luxury car, a Honda.
Nothing has changed. I’m typing this from my desk at work and am happier than ever with my decision to quit grinding full time. Apparently my 2nd place finish did vault me up the WSOP Freeroll Thing points standings so that I’m close to qualifying, so I am going to take a crack at the circuit event in someplace called Council Bluffs in two weeks. I’m going to be in Chicago for Passover anyway, so it’s fairly convenient. Council Bluffs is eight miles from Omaha, Nebraska, so I guess I will stay there and go eat steak at an authentic “LOL I’m in Omaha!” steakhouse. Should be fun.
The best part about this nice score is that it proves to my satisfaction that I’m still capable of hanging with the big boys when the cards fall my way. Not too shabby for a suit.