Despite what “they” say about assuming things, I’m going to assume that if you’re a regular reader of this blog, your poker skill is higher than that of the average recreational player. That’s a good starting point for a post recently written by Brad Willis, the PokerStars Head of Blogging, called “Before the bubble“. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to go do so.
Qualifiers are a big part of life on the Latin American Poker Tour. Often the qualifiers represent the best of the recreational players: players who chose the goal of qualifying for an LAPT event and then succeeded in that quest. Some qualifiers go on to cash in the events they play or even to make deep runs, but for almost all of them the experience itself is a big part of the thrill. They’re playing high-stakes poker, in a casino, against seasoned pros. It’s the David v. Goliath story played out again and again again.
Qualifiers typically aren’t players who can afford to regularly shell out the thousands of dollars (for buy-in, airfare and hotel) that even a single LAPT tournament can represent for circuit regulars. For many, the event for which they qualify represents their one big shot – maybe for a year, maybe for a lifetime.
I was thinking about that last week, before Brad wrote his post. Josh Cahlik, a PokerNews writer and a guy I know and respect, lived the dream of “weekend warriors” everywhere by making a deep run in WSOP Event 1, the $500 Casino Employees event. His 12th-place finish was just shy of the final table but his Twitter feed reveals how much he enjoyed what turned out to be a very wild ride.
I recalled my own WSOP experience in 2008. I made a small cash in the $1500 Razz event, finishing 33rd out of 453 players. It was, without a doubt, a huge thrill. I remember feeling fried after eight long levels of concentration on Day 1; nervous as my stack shrank before the bubble on Day 2; elated after the money bubble burst; and disappointed at busting out after the Day 2 dinner break.
Overall, it was a glorious, glorious two days. I was there, at the Big Dance, dancing like I belonged, like I knew what I was doing. Isn’t that feeling the validation that, at some deep level, every recreational player strives for by choosing to “take a shot” at big buy-in poker?
At the time, on my now-defunct personal blog, I wrote a post called “Moonlight Graham” in which I recapped my Day 2 experience and mused about the possibility that the 2008 razz event may have been my one chance to leave even a small mark on the poker tournament scene. It turns out that after the razz event, I’ve only played two other tournaments with buy-ins bigger than $350: the 2009 WSOP razz event, in which I busted early, and an $1,100 NLHE event at Palace Station in 2011 (ditto).
Brad beat me to the punch with his “Before the bubble” post. He’s good that way, spotting what he calls “The Story” before others do. His post did make me think about what I see on the LAPT at every stop I go to: qualifiers trying to live the same dream that Josh Cahlik lived last week in Las Vegas, the same dream that I pursued in 2008, the same dream that Brad had when he sat down at the WSOP tables in 2005. In many ways, they are the backbone of poker tournaments the world over, but especially here on the LAPT, where they always represent a sizable percentage of the field.
Nobody plays poker to lose. We all want to win. Winning is fun; losing isn’t. But those of us with even a hint of self-awareness know that the odds are long in tournament poker, and even longer when you consider how much better both the pros and the “average” players are now than they were five or eight years ago. That doesn’t stop online poker players from qualifying to LAPT events, from traveling to an exotic part of the world that maybe they haven’t seen before and from dreaming about hoisting an LAPT trophy. I’ve met some really great people on the LAPT who were “taking a shot”.
The thing that will stop those people from “taking a shot” is when taking a shot stops being fun. My Spanish (and my Portuguese) isn’t nearly good enough to tell if the atmosphere that Brad described in his post about the WSOP Circuit extends down here to South America. I’d like to hope that it doesn’t, because the LAPT fields always seem happier, more jubilant, than fields I’ve encountered anywhere else in the world. North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania: I’ve covered multiple tournaments on all of those continents. Nothing compares to poker in South America.
But just in case something is being lost in translation between LAPT players’ eloquent, flowing Spanish and my pidgin variety, consider this a plea: welcome the recreational players. Talk with them, joke with them, make them feel comfortable and at home. Try to remember what it was like when you took your first “big shot”. Try to recapture that feeling and understand that the recreational players are chasing the same feeling. Smile as you take their chips and smile as they take yours.
Life’s too short to be bitter about bad beats and bad plays, even where money is involved – and it will be even shorter if the bitterness chases the recreational players away from taking their shots.
Dave Behr is a freelance contributor to the PokerStars Blog.
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