It’s World Series of Poker time again, another chance for me to play a lot of my favorite games (including non-hold’em games) as well as to try again for a WSOP bracelet. I’ve come close many times — in fact, I’ve finished second in WSOP events on three occasions. But I haven’t quite made it all of the way to landing a bracelet.
Whether or not I get a WSOP bracelet hardly will define my poker career, but it would be icing on the cake to get one, for sure. I remember at the most recent PCA getting interviewed along with some other players as part of one of those “best without a bracelet”-type articles. There I offered an analogy that it was a little like a NBA player or NFL player who has had a good career but who has never won a championship.
Of course, the analogy isn’t perfect and in fact poker is much different than sports in some ways.
In professional sports, championships are hugely important. Winning a championship is the primary goal for playing. That’s why you see, for instance, LeBron James leave Cleveland and go to Miami in order to increase his chances of winning a title, or Shaquille O’Neal leaving Orlando some years ago to play for the L.A. Lakers. And then when Shaq moved again over to Miami and won another title there, that just improved his stature even further when people assess him and his career.
Meanwhile in football people look at a player like Dan Marino, one of the top five quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, and immediately seize on the fact that he’s never won a Super Bowl when assessing his career. On the other hand, Tom Brady and Eli Manning are considered to be clutch performers and their status is heightened considerably thanks to the fact that they’ve won Super Bowls.
But obviously in poker it is possible to be a great, successful player — and to be considered as such — without having won a WSOP bracelet.
A big difference, of course, is the fact that in sports the outcomes of games are mostly determined by players’ skills and how they perform under pressure. In poker, both skill and being able to perform under pressure are important, too. But there is a big element of chance as well, that affects outcomes.
Looking back at my three runner-up finishes, I can say that on two occasions I really was quite unlucky at the end.
In 2004 I was heads-up versus Ted Forrest in the $1,500 seven-card stud event. We played five-and-a-half hours against each other, and during that period I only went to the river twice when I was behind. Once I had queens up with a flush draw and Ted had a set, and the other time I had aces and he again had a set. Now if you told a stud player that statistic — that I’d only gone to seventh street behind twice in five-and-a-half hours — he’d tell you it was impossible I could lose.
But alas, I did. If I’m remembering correctly, on the last hand of the match I had two jacks and a flush draw going to the river while Ted had a pair of fives and a straight draw. I had his hand crushed, but he made his straight and won.
Then in 2007 I made it to heads-up against one of the greatest tournament players alive, Erik Seidel, in the $5,000 2-7 no-limit event. I feel pretty confident in saying in that heads-up match I actually played better. I made some key bluffs and played many hands well, and ended up taking a 2-to-1 chip lead. Eventually I had Erik all in three different times to win. Two of the three times I was a 2-to-1 favorite, and the third time we were flipping (each time going to the draw).
Again, if you worked out the odds on that, it’s in my favor to win, but it didn’t work out that way. Chance is part of the game. Indeed, there’s so much short-term luck involved in poker that it is conceivable that some really good poker players may never win a WSOP bracelet.
While some fans of poker might want to give the bracelet the same kind of weight as, say, sports fans might give to a player winning a championship, it isn’t really a good way to define a poker player’s career. After all, really good poker players know that just because someone wins a bracelet, that doesn’t make that person a really good poker player.
For me personally, if I don’t win one, I know it won’t define my career. But that’s not to say it isn’t important to me! So I’ll be trying my best this summer once again.
Chad Brown is a member of Team PokerStars Pro