Poker professionals spend a lot of time on the road; the World Series of Poker is just one stop of many in a yearlong tournament schedule. The seven-week event is tough for everyone, especially because of the time spent away from family. For many, this is tilt waiting to happen. But for others, being on the road can be the closest thing to home.
When you have no family, and your previous poker career includes hitchhiking to Vancouver to risk entire paychecks in underground card clubs, this life may suit you well. When your home game was once played inside a tiny shack where the temperature dipped to 40-below, the comfortable confines of a Las Vegas poker room is a welcome relief. For one man, living in Las Vegas for a year helped him build his bankroll, find confidence, and even rediscover his family back home.
Fourteen months ago, Brad "Yukon" Booth packed up his bankroll and headed south to Sin City for the 2005 WSOP.
"It's just incredible how my life has changed; this last year has really been about development for me," Booth says. He has not returned to Canada's Yukon Territory for more than 50 days.
Booth sits in his home, which is currently a two-room suite on the 19th floor of the Rio, as he speaks about his amazing year in Vegas.
"This is a pretty sick setup," Booth tells me as he gives the grand tour. He has everything a young guy could want, including two flat-screen televisions, a dining table, a mini-fridge, and a couch. There is a Jacuzzi in the bathroom and 24-hour room service, as well as maid and laundry service.
"It's pretty cool, now that I'm actually sitting here talking about it," he says with a chuckle and a smile. "For me it's been great. I really enjoy the hotel life, because I'm single and I don't have a cat or a dog or a wife in that order."
He also enjoys it when his friends from the Great White North come to visit.
"The nicest thing for me is when I have friends in from out of town and I get to be the host," he said.
He does stick to his poker guns, though, and avoids some of the well-known Vegas pitfalls.
"When you're here, you know you can go out every single night and every single day if you want to party," he said. "I might go out once a week, so it's nothing major."
The best feature of his suite is the online poker setup, which is displayed on a huge, flat-screen television that dominates a wall in his bedroom. Between live and online cash games, he plays poker up to 16 hours a day. Booth tells me about his daily routine, while sitting in a $50-$100 pot-limit Omaha game and proceeding to win $17,000 in just over 20 minutes of heads-up play.
"What makes it for me is the convenience of just being able to go downstairs and play, take a break, go upstairs, maybe take a shower, play online just those quick little sessions to just try and build that bankroll," he said.
"My focus isn't to make myself a big-name player. It's just to live life day-to-day."
That optimistic outlook is echoed in his screen name online, "LFISGD." Booth is both outgoing and personable; talking with him was just like chatting with a poker buddy back home. He speaks in a particularly Canadian mode of speech, with a quick pace. His youth sneaks into the conversation with every "so sick" and "you know" that jumps off his tongue. This sociable personality follows Brad to the poker table and has made him a crowd favorite.
For Brad, poker is a game of people.
"My favorite part about poker is the social part. It's really being able to hang out," he said. "In the old days, you played poker with a lot of sketchy people, and nowadays in Vegas -- you know what? -- there are a lot of truly genuine, great people at the table."
He also enjoys the level playing field the felt provides for the vast collection of people who cross paths in poker.
"It's like we're all equals at the table," he said.
After the online session, Brad gazes out his window at the heart of the Strip, toward the world-famous Bellagio. He called that hotel home for over a year and has to admit it's not a bad place to live. It wasn't cheap, though.
"What my expenses were to live in the Bellagio, to play at the Bellagio, to eat at the Bellagio, to tip and stay there cost me between $22,000 and $26,000 a month. It's so expensive," he said.
At the Bellagio, he increased his bankroll, beginning at $25/$50 no-limit hold 'em and progressing to the highest stakes around, as featured on Season 2 of the Game Show Network's High Stakes Poker.
"I would love to play with those guys every day, all day. They're all very respectful and I'm respectful back, so it's real comfortable," he says of the popular show.
Many pros share the sentiment expressed by Phil Hellmuth that Booth is "the best unknown player in the world." Brad is very humble when discussing this "big" statement, but he does admit, "It's pretty cool that I'm the known-unknown."
Brad estimates that he has kept up his regimen of 16-hour poker days for about four years now.
"It's pretty monotonous; it's just kind of the same thing every day," he says.
He credits his hard work ethic in poker to growing up in Canada and has an interesting analogy to offer on the subject: "For me, poker is like back home we have a lot of people who go into mining camps. They go to mining camps for two months straight. They run 14 hours a day for two months. Then, after those two months, they get a month off and they go on holidays or invest their money or decide what to do; and it's kind of like that for me. It's just been a year and a half in a gold mine."
His year in the gold mines of Las Vegas has been about more than just poker for Brad, who has recognized a personal change as well. He's become good friends with Cirque De Soleil owner Guy Laliberté and poker legend Bobby Baldwin.
"This small-town kid is meeting all these big-time big, big-time people and being accepted into their group. That's been the craziest part for me," he says.
Brad acknowledges that the contacts and friends he has made here are an added bonus to his success on the felt.
"I established myself in the poker world and Vegas," he said. "You know, it's really built up my confidence as a person, as well."
The individual who has been the most instrumental in his transformation is Laliberté.
"When I was here, you know, I met Guy and I became good friends with Guy," Booth said. "He brought me out of my shell."
A big part of the balance that Brad has found in Vegas between poker and life has centered on enjoying shows, dinners, and spending time with his new friends.
The new life Brad discovered in Vegas encouraged him to find balance back home in Canada as well.
"For eight and a half years, after my mom passed away, I didn't talk to any of my family. I was so sad as a kid and, when I left, I moved up to this town of 650 people," says Brad.
He becomes a little more distant and his tone loses a bit of its casual edge now that we have turned to the subject of his family. This estrangement began when he discovered shortly after his mother's death that he was adopted.
"I was really sad. I felt lost, and like I had no family -- like I was just an individual on my own. Then it really clicked that I've got lots of family, these are the people who made me me," he said.
He knew it was time for a change.
So Brad traveled north to Canada, unannounced, and arrived on the doorstep of his aunt's house for Christmas Eve dinner. The holiday was shared with over 40 members of his family, including his brother, whom he flew in for the occasion, and his sister. He had not seen any of them in over eight years, so he gathered everyone together and told them, "Hey, I'm ready to accept that I have family again."
Brad returned once more to Canada this past year and invited his family to a neglected cabin at a lake for a weekend of barbecues and boating.
"It really made me truly recognize that there's more to life than just poker," he said. "After 14 years of playing poker -- and all I thought about was poker -- I really came to realize that life is about family and friends and then poker."
All good things do come to an end, and Brad does see his prolonged road trip coming to a close soon.
"It's probably a little unhealthy lifestyle, and that's why I think I'm going to get out in September," he said. "Just take a break back home and stay in a hotel six months out of the year, instead of all year."
He will sail to Italy with Laliberté, Baldwin and some other friends at the conclusion of this year's WSOP. Then it will be back to Vancouver, British Colombia, to purchase a home and spend some time with his family and friends, before he returns to the road with the World Poker Tour. He looks forward to the travel opportunities the WPT provides, as well as the lucrative cash games that accompany the tournaments. But henceforth he will balance life on the tour with life at home with his family. He will also host some charity poker events in Canada, beginning with All-In for Arthritis.
Brad offers this final reflection on his year in Vegas before I return downstairs to the tournament: "I was sort of like in hiding in the Yukon, and I finally just came out here, and, you know, I became friends with everybody here, and it built up my confidence. I guess I found myself in Vegas, of all places, and really kind of grew up in one year."
It is not without a touch of irony that this lost soul was able find himself in a town infamous for the number of dreams it has shattered. Sometimes you have to be taken out of your element in order to define yourself and those around you. Watching Brad play online in his suite and at the WSOP, one observes someone who knows exactly who he is. His outgoing friendliness and calm self-assurance are not only refreshing, but also confirm a journey of self-discovery, as well.
Post-script: Now a couple of months removed from his Las Vegas stay, Brad has recently settled down in Vancouver.
"I found a gorgeous condo overlooking the entire city. It's got a spectacular view. It's something I've been working for my entire life," he says.
He additionally purchased a summer cabin for his family. ("It's mainly for my nephews and nieces to enjoy.") He also jumped into charity work by participating in a charity golf tournament in October. Then he hosted the All-In for Arthritis charity poker game in November that benefited young children with the disease.
All of this was not before Brad enjoyed some rest and relaxation in August, during a private sailing trip in the Mediterranean. The trip also involved some serious, high-stakes, no-limit poker, and he says it was the experience of a lifetime.
"I swam and snorkeled in the Mediterranean Sea," he said. "Anything we wanted was available at the push of a button, whether it was lobster bisque or a peanut butter and jam sandwich."
Brad does remember the lessons he learned out on the road and is trying to spend less time on poker and more time with family and friends.
"Rather than sitting on the Internet playing online poker, I've been cooking and having everyone over for dinner," he said. "My pasta dish is almost perfect."
He has begun to search for answers about his past as well. He is trying to track down his biological mother by attempting to find the adoption papers.
Brad will spend Christmas with his family and continue to find balance between the two worlds that make up his life.
"I lived at the Bellagio for so long, and that was a lot of fun, but Vancouver is my home," he said.
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