With the World Series of Poker Europe hiding around the corner, Lee Davy shares his first experience of this once mighty event, the 2009 World Series of Poker Europe £1,000 No-Limit Hold’em Side Event.
I need it more than my morning smoothie, family and orgasms.
When it hides, I feel like I’m back in 1998, watching Gordon Brown putting the price of a pint up. I feel lost, stupified, twitchy. I need to be in that Bob Dylan video, the one with the note cards.
I can’t research.
I can’t do shit.
So, here goes.
I will have to use my memory.
A few months ago, I was sitting in the courtyard of the Landing Resort in Jeju, South Korea sipping on a smoothie containing more sugar than a teenager’s cup of tea. Philipp Gruissem was with me, as was John Juanda, and a lady friend of his.
It was the fourth time I had spoken to John in my life.
The second time was at the 2010 PokerStars European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event in London. We were deep into the contest, and I was there on trial for PokerNews. I was standing at his shoulder trying to make head and tail of the action when he mistook me for a waiter and asked me to get him a coke. I didn’t know what to do, so I put my notepad and pen in my pocket, and did what the man said.
The third time I met him was in Jeju. I had asked Gruissem to convince Juanda to sit down and do an interview with me. No. Then I saw him standing in the urinal, doing his business.
I introduced myself.
He knew who I was.
“Is there anything I can do to change your mind?” I asked, aiming and firing at the fly in the bowl.
“I am not very good at those things,” said Juanda. “I had to do them during my Full Tilt days, but I never liked them. Anyway, I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say.”
“You are a legend.”
“Are you calling me old?”
“I guess I am.”
And here we are; our fourth meeting and Juanda is playing a card game online against someone. He is animated, frustrated, excited – all the traits of a schoolboy gambling for the first time. I can tell this guy loves the buzz.
He stops playing and looks at me.
“Where do I know you from?” He asks.
“London…World Series of Poker Europe…2009.”
“Was that the year I won it?”
1975 was an important year for my cellular structure. My mother was up the duff. 18. ‘Frowned upon,’ doesn’t do the situation justice when describing the judgment handed out to someone sluttish enough to bring a bastard into the world. Back then, nobody had heard of John Snow.
She considered having an abortion.
Then considered handing me to her parents to raise me, and my mother would have been my sister.
In the end, she stuck it out.
I’m glad she did.
2009, doesn’t carry the same magnified magnificence of 1975, but it’s the year of my rebirth; the moment I found myself, after years of wearing more masks than the horny fuckers in Eyes Wide Shut.
I had stopped drinking alcohol in a desperate need to revitalise my marriage. It worked, sort of. I stopped, and have been someone that doesn’t drink alcohol for nine years, but my wife asked for a divorce.
The divorce paper read.
He sits in his bedroom all night, every night, losing all of our money playing poker.
After removing the alcoholic-fog from my mind, I started to drag my knuckles in the concrete, carving a new life for myself, and becoming a new inspiration for my son.
The first thing I did was hire a life coach. It cost me £3.5k. I chucked it on a credit card and got down to work. I felt like Neo when he began thinking that something was wrong with the world. An itch.
The first thing I worked on with my life coach was to deal with the cognitive dissonance over my career on the railway. It provided me with security, and there were aspects of the position that my ego gobbled up like blackbirds on worms silly enough to check out the pitter-patter of morning rain. But I also hated it – the responsibility, the complaints, my Managing Director, the core values of the business.
I knew I had to leave, but fear had a grip on me like you wouldn’t believe. It felt like the word railwayman had branded on my heart. Each time I considered leaving, the resistance would give me 300 lashes. The inertia crippled me. Tears filled the teacups once brimming with champagne bubbles. Heads butted walls. People thought I was going slightly mad, and I was.
We figured out that my meaning & purpose lay in teaching. I wanted to create people that didn’t drink alcohol. I wanted to help people remove their masks, and help them with the stubborn sticky bits that most coaches were unable to shift.
But how do you go from a £45k a year career to a business that pays the same amount of money, helping people to stop drinking?
And that’s where poker comes in.
The $45k Goal
At that time, poker was a vital part of my life. It saved my life because once you decide to stop drinking, your status shrinks, you become a mirror and people don’t want to see their reflection. They stigmatise you and treat you like a leper. People who once loved you, treat you like a photograph of that once loved dead dog you keep in your wallet next to your Rewards card.
The poker world is a world within a world.
Judgments, although they exist, aren’t as startlingly savage as they are in the real world. I found a home game. There was alcohol, but not too much; just the right amount. Money was the primary goal. Camaraderie seemed to come attached to the banknotes, like a name tag sewn inside a school jumper.
I don’t know how it happened, but it did. I would have burned my Matrix Trilogy to keep these guys warm, as we played the game of our lives.
So that was my answer.
I would become a professional poker player as an interim measure to find the time freedom and money to become someone who helps people rid their lives of alcohol.
I created a stretch goal – to earn $45 through poker in one year. Failure meant going back to the grind. Another faceless commuting ghost on a tube heading to hell.
I decided early on that to put all of my eggs into a basket marked ‘poker winnings’ would be dumb. I created a mind map containing various streams of income, and I also created a bucket list.
The Bucket List
One of the items on my bucket list was to win a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. Vegas was out of the question. I only had £45,000 in redundancy money, and I wasn’t about to blow it all on a trip to Sin City. My gambling addiction still lived inside me as reliable as the stone inside a plum.
Regardless, I printed out an image of a WSOP bracelet, glued it onto my vision board with Pritt-Stick, and that’s what I saw every morning when I woke up.
I saw an ad for World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) qualifiers on Betfair. On my mindmap was an action to satellite into a WSOP event, so I opened up an account and registered to play in a satty for a £1,000 No-Limit Hold’em side event.
I can’t remember how much it cost.
I can’t remember how many people entered.
I do remember getting heads-up, and my Internet connection dying like my old life. I marched around the room, throwing things, stamping my feet, switching the router on and off searching for signs of life, and then a pulse.
By the time I got back into the game, it was nearly over.
He or she had taken me to the cleaners.
I had five big blinds.
I kept moving all-in.
I kept winning.
Eventually, after a grind that seemed to last as long as a deep sea dive with Great White Sharks, where the cage is slightly open, I won.
Fuck me, I won.
London here I come.
The 2009 World Series of Poker Europe
My first task was to convince someone to come with me. Fear again. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being the dick standing around with a Betfair goody bag, playing around with my mobile phone. I would be the leper once more.
So, I took the train down to London and made my way to Leicester Square.
It was the early days of the WSOPE.
In 2007, Annette Obrestad became the youngest-ever player to win a WSOP bracelet when she won the Main Event aged 18-years, and 364 days old.
In 2008, Ivan Demidov made the final table, and at the time, could have become the first person to win both WSOP Main Events in the same year having made the November Nine. It was also the year that John Juanda won the Main Event.
It was such a new concept; the US-based players were still complaining about its existence, thoroughly believing it was a fad that would eventually go the same way as the Dodo.
And here I was, sitting next to a roulette wheel, texting my mate Neil Farm, telling him how excited I was. As I knew nobody, I sat down at my table, alone, afraid. The dealer asked me to fill in the form in front of me. I did so without reading it.
Then Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson sat next to me.
I said hello.
He nodded his head.
I sent a text to my mate.
“No fucking way.”
My ego wouldn’t allow me to ask him for a photograph, and he was busy asking the dealer if he had a fax so he could send the form to his lawyer to check before he signed it.
I remember he didn’t smell too good, and his hat was a lot tattier than it looked on TV. Outside of the excitement of sitting next to a legend, he looked like your run of the mill, scruffy middle-aged bloke who frequents every bar in the world.
Then John Juanda sat down.
I texted my friend.
“John Juanda is at my fucking table!”
“No fucking way!”
Juanda and Ferguson began talking. Never before in my life had I felt so insignificant. I felt like a big hairy toe at a beauty pageant. We started playing. I remember feeling so nervous, although I seriously thought I had a shot of winning back then. Looking back, I didn’t even understand the basics of the game.
I vaguely remember bluffing Ferguson in a blind v blind hand.
I texted my mate.
“I just bluffed Ferguson.”
“No fucking way.”
I don’t remember much more of the play, but I do remember that a woman sat down, and began introducing herself to John, and Chris. She looked like a rock star. Hot as fuck. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
It was Liv Boeree.
Later, when looking through the PokerNews Live Reports, I would learn that I had knocked out Davidi Kitai. The reporter called my table the Table of Death, but there was no mention of my name, with the reporter referring to me as the guy who was ‘picking his nose.’
And then my exit hand.
I can’t remember the details, but I went a little crazy with pocket tens on a board containing more kings and queens than a Guide to Permanent Residency & British Citizenship Quiz.
I moved all-in.
I had a hefty stack.
Juanda was the enemy.
A call would cripple him.
There were no rebuys or re-entering.
The good old days.
Juanda studied my form for a long time; my shirt clung tighter to my sweaty skin for dear life. I tried to look like a rock, knowing I had made a move like a cock.
He talked to me.
I couldn’t hear what he was saying because I was making my best rock impressions and they don’t have ears.
I can’t remember what he had.
It was the third pair or something.
I was out.
I got up, said my goodbyes, and went outside.
It was break time.
I saw Barny Boatman, Joe Beevers, and Victoria Coren in a circle, some smoking, others not.
I felt lost.
Out of place.
The whole world had ended.
I came to the WSOPE to win a bracelet.
Now, what do I do?
I sat down in a cash game. Antonio Esfandiari had three massage girls working on him in a bigger game. I played £1/£2 with a grandma who kept winning pots and putting the winning chips in her handbag.
I couldn’t get Juanda, Ferguson or Boeree out of my head.
I couldn’t get the WSOPE out of my head.
I wanted to be the peacock.
I felt like the pea.
I texted my mate, and told him the news, going through the exit hand.
“No fucking way, what a fish.”
And I explained this to Juanda, nine-years later, in response to his question of where he knows me from.
“I remember the hand.” Said Juanda.
“You nearly had me there,” he said.
And I believed him.
I truly believed him.
Imaginary feathers puffed out of the back of my white shirt. My slumped shoulders ratcheted up a notch. I felt good. I felt like a part of something. I felt like I belonged at the table, drinking sugar-laden smoothies, with one of the greatest players the world has ever seen.
And in a few weeks time, the WSOPE will go at it again.
I won’t be there.
But someone like the 2009 version of me will be. Someone who wrote I want to win a WSOP bracelet on a piece of paper with the words Bucket List on the top.
An action taker.
A memory maker.
The 2018 WSOPE takes place at the King’s Casino, Rozvadov, Oct 9 – Oct 28, and you can satellite into the event by competing on partypoker.