- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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Most professionals in any industry follow a straightforward path to success. It starts with getting a foot in the door to get the job then working as hard as possible, doing great work and finally, getting rewarded financially for your time and effort.
Andy Frankenberger followed that path and, for 14 years, worked intensely on Wall Street as a successful derivatives trader for JP Morgan and BNP Paribas. He enjoyed his job but left it behind him in March 2009, looking for the next step, whatever that may be. He didn't leave Wall Street to go play poker, but in the back of his mind he knew that if he had more time, it would be something he'd like to explore just a little bit more.
Fast forward to May 2011 and the rookie Frankenberger has been awarded the title of World Poker Tour Season IX Player of the Year. It's been one incredible run for someone the poker world is just starting to get to know and a mere coincidence that he's involved in the game at all.
A few years ago, Frankenberger was nowhere near a poker player. He always enjoyed the game and played sporadically online in low buy-in tournaments, but he preferred to spend his effort on the highly profitable decisions during his day job instead of getting encompassed in the world of poker. In 2008, he played in a tournament simply as a way to try to get in good with his new boss. The tournament was only open to traders, and putting on a respectable showing in the event was extremely valuable for Frankenberger, who not only believed it was a way to make a big impression on his new superior but also show his colleagues he had a little game. Bragging rights on Wall Street are invaluable.
"There were only like 100 players and the prize was a seat in the main event," he said. "I ended up making the final table and winning. Second prize was a flat screen and [at that time] I almost wanted to trade prizes."
The victory landed him in the 2008 World Series of Poker main event and an eventual elimination on Day 3, just short of the money. "I was very pleased with getting that far," he said. "It put the taste in my mouth. I really enjoyed the atmosphere."
The WSOP experience didn't persuade him to leave his job, neither did the participation in the occasional cash game in New York with the likes of rising pro Olivier Busquet. It was simply a matter of timing and it was time for him to look for the next step. Part of that process was to take some trips abroad, but there was a small window in 2009 in which he could head to Vegas and play in three events in the WSOP. Returning cashless for the second year in a row, it didn't dissuade him.
"I really enjoyed the first experience in 2008," he said. "I just had a great time and I always planned on getting back out there when I had more time."
In 2010, he had that time, and more determined than ever, he made it count. He started off with a small cash at the Borgata in January then cashed twice at the WSOP Circuit stop at Atlantic City, N.J., in March. His first WSOP cash came in the $5,000 no-limit hold 'em event in which he finished 34th. His sights then headed down the Strip to the Venetian, and a $2,000 investment turned into $162,110 and a Venetian Deep Stack title. He was hooked.
"Timing is everything," Frankenberger said. "If I didn't have instant success, I wouldn't have kept doing it. Even though I was financially secure, the idea of throwing about $5,000 here, $10,000 here [wasn't ideal]. For me to continue to do it, I need to believe I have an edge and it's a wise investment. With the success, I decided to pursue it. I never really pictured achieving this type of success. I just enjoyed the experience of it. I was at the point of my life where I was looking for the next step and it all came into place at the time."
From the WSOP he headed to the World Poker Tour and started his player of the year run at the Legends of Poker. His first major title came in the $5,000 buy-in event in which he defeated a field of 462 players to earn the top prize of $750,000. He was the talk of Wall Street, as one of their fellow traders had made it big in the poker world. Now the pressure was really on.
He made his second WPT final table two months later at Festa Al Lago but fell short of a second title, finishing in fifth for $161,200. A 16th-place result at the Five Diamond added another $33,785 to his pocket and capped off an incredible run on the WPT. He had made $1 million in eight months on the circuit. His third WPT cash was enough to secure the player of the year honors, but that didn't mean he didn't have a sweat during the final event of the season, the World Poker Tour Championship.
Frankenberger was eliminated short of the money (and player of the year points) in 46th place. Meanwhile, at the time of his elimination, there were nearly a half-dozen players who could overtake him for the title. When Day 4 concluded, only 15 players remained, and three of the 15 could beat him and didn't even need to win. Shannon Shorr and Sam El Sayed needed a fifth-place finish to tie or fourth place or better to steal the title away from Frankenberger. On Day 5, Steven Kelly finished in 13th and Shorr went out in eighth, which meant El Sayed was the only one left in Frankenberger's way of the title. The problem was, El Sayed was the chip leader by a large margin.
"With eight players left, his lead was so extraordinary," Frankenberger said. "I did everything not to focus on it. I went to the spa, went on the treadmill and every hour it just went from worse to worse."
Then, surprisingly, El Sayed began to implode. His once-monstrous stack dwindled to only a few big blinds, and he was finally eliminated by eventual third-place finisher Galen Hall. The sweat was over and Frankenberger had claimed the title, the trophy and an automatic entry into the National Heads-Up Poker Championships in 2012.
"This is my first full year away from Wall Street," said Frankenberger, reflecting on his accomplishment. "I'm a pretty competitive person. To be able to say that this is what I did with my year -- it's not like I just messed around and played poker. To be player of the year is personally very satisfying."
Throughout his run, Frankenberger felt he was doing something different to keep an edge and that his experience in the market was a great background for this new adventure.
"Trading is similar to poker -- you never have that one home run year," he said. "As a trader it's all about risk management. You never are smarter than the market in trading. You might have an opinion that the market is going up or a stock is going to perform well, but you never know. You have to balance your opinion with the reality that the market is out of your control. It's taking calculated risks. When you feel confident in your risks, you bet big and when you're not, you bet small. When a trade isn't going well you have to swallow your pride and admit you are wrong. You had a view and the view was wrong. So many traders let those losses run and when they go well, they take their profit. They refuse to give up on a trade.
"In poker, you have a view your hand is the best. The difference is that in poker you can get the best, the nuts. When there is any uncertainty out there, you have to not only manage your view and how much you believe in your hand, but also consider what the other players have. You have a strong opinion about the players and what they've done in the past, but the only thing you know for sure is what you have in your hand. It's really about quantifying how deep you want to go with a hand or a trade and I feel I've always been very disciplined as a player and a trader."
The discipline has resulted in immediate success and recognition from others on the felt. Frankenberger, however, remains adamant that "you can't let ego drive your game." It's been a surreal experience for the Wall Street veteran, and his journey into poker is not a trade he's going to trade away anytime soon.
"Poker a long-term thing," he said. "When I left Wall Street, I didn't know what I wanted to do other than something new. Now that I found poker, it really is a great thing for me to do. It brings together so many interests of mine. I enjoy the travel and meeting people and plan on doing it for the foreseeable future."
With the WSOP just around the corner, Frankenberger is going to be in Vegas renting an apartment, finally giving himself the time to focus on poker at the game's biggest stage.
"I'm super close to [qualifying for] FS&G, and I'm trying to qualify for that. I'm only $29,315 out. That would be really cool. Who knows? At this point, I'd like to say I want to play as many WSOP events as I can. It's a grind, and you have to be mentally ready to play patient poker."
All things considered, Frankenberger has been ready to play since he first sat down at the poker table. He's had a career year to begin his journey, and now that he has been crowned the WPT Player of the Year all eyes will be on him in the future, just wondering if his stock will continue to rise.