The week of my life, Part 2
Editor's note: This is Part 2 of Bernard Lee's column on his week of a lifetime. Check out Part 1 here.
Day 7: Wednesday, July 13
I slept eight whole hours and I feel great. My cell phone buzzed with nine new messages -- all were from family and friends across the country congratulating me on making it to the next day. It was heartening to know that many people back at home were following my progress via the Internet. I would start the day with 377,000 in chips, which was once again about 40 percent of the average chip stack. I would begin 52nd out of the remaining 58 players. However, my table draw was fairly good. Even with my short stack, I was not the lowest chip stack at the table, and two others had chips within 100,000 of me.
I repeated my mantra that I have proclaimed since the beginning: "My goal is to get out of each day." In my pretournament thoughts, my third and final goal was to make it to Binion's (the final 27 players) since 2005 would be last year the WSOP would be held at this historic casino. If I made it out of today, I would accomplish that goal.
Before I left for the day, I called my wife. "Honey, tell the kids I love them. This week has been incredible. Thank you for giving me the chance to live out my dream. I told you that this could happen one day and that day is now." She told me how proud and happy she was for me and wished me good luck.
I drove to the Rio to meet a gentleman named Matt for my interview with ESPN. As Matt escorted me into the interview room, I saw that they were setting up the cameras, a poker table and chips. When I sat down and saw my face on one of the television monitors, the surreal-o-meter went off the charts. I can't believe that the TV show that I had watched repeatedly over the last couple of years was going to interview me. This was unbelievable. Originally, I was worried that this interview would not allow me to concentrate on the task at hand. However, after the fact, I realized that it helped distract me from any potential nervousness.
As play began, I definitely had some work to do. I needed some luck, and my good luck charm came by just as we were about to begin. ESPN's Norman Chad came by and stuck out his arm. "This is the best jacket I have," Norman joked. To me, it did not matter which jacket he had on. As I had done all yesterday, I rubbed his jacket sleeve for good luck. And once again, I was rewarded.
Less than an hour into the first level of the day (blinds were 8,000 and 16,000, ante 2,000), I caught K-K (again) in middle position. If you saw the ESPN coverage, this was my first televised hand. A player in early position raised to 50,000. "I'm all-in," I proclaimed. With no hesitation, one of the big stacks to my left called me. Uh-oh! He called so fast. Did he have aces? Everyone folded to the original raiser, who thought about it for a couple of minutes, but eventually folded. I flipped over my kings, anxiously awaiting the big stack's hand and I was very relieved to see 4-4. However, it's far from over -- anything could still happen. So, as I had done all week, I got up with my pictures and watched the flop intently. However, the flop was huge for me: K-Q-3. I let out a scream that could be heard throughout the room. I knew with no flush or straight draws, he needed runner-runner 4s, and when the turn brought a 3, I pumped my fist and celebrated away from the table. I didn't even see the river. I had doubled up early again and had approximately 700,000 in chips. The original raiser had J-J and would have tripled me up had he called. Oh well!
After stacking my chips, I stepped away from the table to answer a friend's call. "Nice double up, buddy." How did he know? Was he here?
"I'm following on the blogs," he said.
Technology is amazing. Everyone who called had just read my double up on the blogs and almost instantaneously called to congratulate me. Unbelievable.
I called my wife at the break to tell her that things were going well. She answered the phone and exclaimed, "I know how you're doing. We are all here following you on the Web. Keep it up, honey!" Wow, even my wife is getting into this by reading the blogs. This is phenomenal.
Regarding my cards, the rest of the day was fairly uneventful. I did knock out a short stack using J-J vs. 9-9 and maxed out my chip stack at around 1.1 million around 6 p.m. The tournament's decision was to continue onward and not stop for dinner. I'm glad that we didn't have to take an hour-plus break just to eliminate three to four players.
When the final player was eliminated at 9:40 p.m., my chip stack had dwindled to 770,000 in chips. But who cares? I was ecstatic. I was going to Binion's. Goal No. 3: Check.
The ESPN cameras came over and asked me for a final sound bite. Begrudgingly, I agreed. I looked into the camera with my family pictures telling my kids that Daddy was not coming home just yet (this was the ending to episode No. 8). I had a little more work to do. It's announced that we will start tomorrow at 3 p.m. I can't believe it! I'm going to Binion's tomorrow! I just can't believe it!
As I'm bagging up my chips, my cell phone starts to ring nonstop. One of the calls I immediately recognized -- it was my father. We had not spoken all week about the tournament because he and my mother had disapproved of me leaving my wife at home so soon after surgery to go play in a poker tournament. But he told me that he had been following me on the Internet and was very proud of me. To my surprise, he told me that he and my brother Ken would be flying out first thing in the morning and would arrive in Vegas around 11:30 a.m. Additionally, two work colleagues, one of my local poker game buddies and my college roommate would all also be flying in tomorrow morning. Wow! This was so cool. Not only am I going to Binion's, but I'm also going to have six people cheering me on.
I called home and my wife answered -- it was 1:15 a.m. in Massachusetts and she was awake, breast-feeding our baby girl, "You made it. Congratulations! Do you know that several people are coming out to see you?" Yes I do. I can't wait for tomorrow.
Day 8: Thursday, July 14
I went to sleep fairly early and awoke after about seven hours. Although I probably should have tried to get more sleep, I was incredibly anxious to not only play Day 8, but also see my family and friends. Before everyone arrived, I did some interviews with some Boston reporters.
After my interviews, my younger brother Ken called. He and my dad were in a taxi near the hotel. I went down and met them in the lobby. As I arrived downstairs, I could see my brother and dad walk into the lobby. I high-fived Ken, then gave my dad a huge hug. "Thanks for coming Dad. It means a lot to me." My dad responded, "I'm so proud of you son. But don't worry about us. You just stay focused on your job at hand." I won't bore you with the sappy details, but sons and fathers around the world understand -- you can only imagine the emotion. By 11:30 a.m., everyone had arrived. I felt so happy seeing my family and friends who had journeyed all the way from Boston, N.Y. and Los Angeles. I did not want to let them down! And heck, we were going to Binion's.
Before we left, I called my wife and kids. Katie asked if I had gotten enough sleep, was I drinking enough water and eating enough vegetables? (When you are married to a doctor, you get these questions fairly regularly.) Noah told me about the little construction trucks at work in his sandbox, while Maya cooed in the background. I can't wait to get home to give my entire family a huge hug. But I had to tell them again, "Daddy's got a little more work to do. I'll be home soon. I love you!" Katie assured me that she would follow along on the blogs and Noah told me, "I love you Daddy."
My 770,000 in chips was 22nd out of 27 players left and, ironically, approximately 40 percent the average chip stack. This position and strategy was familiar by now -- I still had more than 20 times the big blind, so I'm not too short stacked. I need a good break within the first few hours for me to survive. Strangely enough, it gave me confidence that I was once again only about 40 percent of the average stack again. Because I survived the last two days starting with a short stack, I truly felt I could do it again. Upon arriving at Binion's, we headed upstairs to the tournament room. I was one of the first people to arrive at the room. One by one, the others entered the room. But instead of an antagonistic atmosphere, it was extremely collegial, almost like a fraternity (a co-ed one with Tiffany Williamson). We were the final 27 players in the world still competing in the main event. I shook hands and wished good luck to practically everyone.
As play was about to begin, I went over to my friends and family for one last round of high fives and fist pounds. I also noticed that my "lucky" cameraman was at my table -- Adam from ESPN -- as he gave me a final "lucky" fist pound. Lastly, as I prepared to sit down, my genie lamp/good luck charm appeared: Norman Chad. After posing in a quick picture with him, I rubbed his jacket for good luck. Let's get it on!
The day began with blinds at 20,000 and 40,000, antes 5,000. As play began, I caught a few cards early. I reraised with J-J (the other player folded) and took the blinds with A-K. That was all I got during the first level. The large blinds and antes were eating away at my stack. I ended that level with exactly the same number of chips I had started the day with. Entering the next round (blinds were 30,000 and 60,000, ante 5,000), I caught a couple of small hands (A-Q and Q-Q) before the hand that set the stage for a classic showdown between Shahram "Sean" Sheikhan and myself, as seen on ESPN. First, let's give Sean a lot of credit because he started the day with the shortest stack at 210,000 and built his chip stack to over 2 million. In this fateful hand, Sean raised to about 250,000 in early position. When I looked down, I saw the dream hand: aces. After a moment, I announced "All-in," pushing all of my remaining 825,000 chips in front of me. Once everyone folded around, the showdown began. Sean asked me if I wanted him to call or fold and kept calling out my name. For almost two to three minutes, he tried to get a tell on me, whether or not to call. During the entire time, I just kept staring straight ahead and at the picture of my kids. Although you would think I would be very nervous, I was very serene. I thought if I lose with the best hand possible, I can go home to my family in peace and not second-guess myself. After what seemed like an eternity, Sean announced the words that I was hoping for: "I call." Ecstatically, I jumped out of my seat, flipped over my aces, as he begrudgingly showed his Queens. I picked up my pictures, began to rub them for good luck and said to myself, "No queen! No queen!" It came down J-J-9. So far, so good. "No queen! No queen!" The turn 3. "No queen! No queen!" The river 2. Yes!! I jumped high in excitement and ran over to my cheering section for hugs and high fives after I doubled up, pushing my chip stack near 2 million. Once again, I had doubled up early in the day, which was similar to the last two days. I was determined to make it through the day. The round ended shortly thereafter and I went to dinner break with almost 1.8 million in chips and only 18 players remaining.
I felt a bit restless at dinner. When we all returned to the room, we redrew for seats at the final two tables. This round started with the blinds at 25,000 and 50,000 and the antes were 10,000. I picked up a black 10,000 chip in my hand and showed everyone at the table. "This is what we started our first day with -- pretty cool huh?" This put the whole week in perspective.
As for me, I started out the level with a slightly bad break. After I called one of the short stacks' all-in bet with Ad-Qd, a 10 hit on the flop and his 10-8 took away about 550,000 of my chips. My stack decreased to 1.2 million, but I was still in decent shape. However, with the blinds and antes so high, I was down to around 800,000 at the end of this level -- very short stacked. But I still believed. I had to do what I had done all week -- hold on and survive.
When play resumed, I still could not find a hand. For almost an hour, the cards were nowhere to be found. Then, a slight rush occurred. Two hands -- 5-5 and 9-9 -- allowed me to pick up the blinds and antes. Finally, an unusual hand developed. I had Kc-7h in the big blind and three large stacks just limped into the pot. I checked my option. It was the first hand all day where so many people had limped into the pot. The flop came down Ks-6c-3d. Not bad, but I was worried that one of them had a king and a better kicker, so I checked. When the next two checked as well, Aaron Kanter pushed in 200,000. I guessed Aaron was trying to steal the pot. "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be," I exclaimed as I pushed all-in with my final 660,000 chips. The other two quickly folded and Aaron began to think. As he kept contemplating, I knew I had him beat after the flop. If Aaron had a king, he wouldn't have thought twice and called the extra 460,000 because since he was the chip leader at the time (between 7 million and 8 million). Thus, I knew he had a 6 (or maybe a 3) with a decent kicker in his hand. Finally, he called and flipped over Qc-6s. He had only five outs. With my family pictures in hand, I watched the turn Jh. I actually jumped prematurely because I originally thought it was a king. I must have upset the poker gods with that premature jump, because the river was a 6d! It was over. I turned around, bent over for a second, hands on knees, sad, not because of the bad beat (although what a bad beat at this stage of the tournament, as I was about a 90 percent favorite going to the river), but because I would no longer be playing in the 2005 WSOP main event. I was having so much fun and I was sad that it was over. Nonetheless, I was extremely proud of my showing. Oh well, the poker gods determined that it was my time to go. Before I exited the area, I turned one last time to the crowd to thank them for all their support. I was somewhat embarrassed by their applause, but happy that I had made a few more friends.
During my final interview with ESPN, Matt asked me how I felt. I truly felt at peace with myself. I went in with a solid hand after the flop and I simply got "rivered." I played my heart out -- there was nothing more I could have done. I said to Matt, "I may have had better single days in my life -- my wedding, the birth of my two kids -- but this has been the week of my life." What a ride! I called my wife to tell her the news. "Honey, I got knocked out. Tell the kids I'll be home soon." Katie told me how proud of me she was. She and the kids couldn't wait until I got home and would meet me at the airport. After signing the commemorative table, I received my money receipt for my winnings. I would need to go back to the Rio to pick up my winnings in either cash, check or wire transfer. When I looked down at the slip of paper, it hit me. I stared at the numbers: $400,000. Wow!
The trip back to the hotel was, of course, fairly somber. Everyone gathered in my room and we chatted about the day. I thanked everyone again for making the trip out to see me. I truly believe that I was blessed to have such a remarkable week. It was just sad that it was over.
Day 9: Friday, July 15
I rolled over in bed. The clock read 10:09 a.m. I had slept well for nine hours, my longest sleep of the week. I awoke with a sense of calmness that I had not felt for days. But I missed the tension, anxiety and anticipation that had driven me forward all week. This morning, my cell phone had over a dozen messages from family and friends congratulating me on my run at the main event.
Over the course of the day, I either saw or spoke to all my friends before they flew to their respective homes. My dad, brother and I would meet me in the afternoon so we could go to the Rio, collect my winnings and then enjoy a celebratory dinner. Walking into the casino, they flanked me like bodyguards. At the cage, the cashier told me I had a choice of cash, check or wire transfer. I chose to wire the money into my account at home. I pictured myself being rather paranoid and worried if I had to carry a $400,000 check all the way home (can you imagine me with a briefcase of cash?).
During dinner, my father, brother and I discussed whether we would go to see the final table action. Although I was disappointed that I had not made the final table myself, I was still first and foremost a big fan of poker. The day would be a historic one, the last day the WSOP would be played at the world-famous Binion's. We decided to go. When we arrived, the players were on dinner break. When play resumed, the action was slow to develop as the remaining players played cautiously. Who could blame them with $7.5 million at stake? At about 1 a.m., we left Binion's since I had an early flight in the morning. There were still five players remaining. My father, brother and I chatted for a little bit in my room, and then I finished packing and said good night to them. Have a safe flight. I'll see you again when I get back home.
Going Home: Saturday, July 16
I drove away from the hotel early in the morning to catch my 6:30 flight back to Boston. The dream week was ending. I was returning to real life. I assumed that I would slip back quickly to my previous world of anonymity. However, a couple of people recognized and congratulated me. One woman even told me how sad she was when I was eliminated. I was truly humbled that people I had never met before were rooting for me.
Emotionally and physically exhausted, I immediately fell asleep on the plane. I woke upon arrival in Boston. I turned on my cell phone to tell Katie I had landed and suddenly received a call from an unknown number: "Bernard, have you just landed? This is the Boston Herald. We are here to take a few pictures of your arrival back home." They took pictures of my wife, son, daughter and me at the baggage claim. Another new experience, to say the least.
Eleven days ago, I had flown out of Boston as an "unknown." In Las Vegas, I made a tiny ripple in the poker world. Now, I have come home to the open arms of my family. My unbelievable week was over. I hope you enjoyed the week as much as I did.
Bernard Lee finished 13th in the 2005 World Series of Poker and is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald.