A perfect marriage
Some marriages of man and livelihood are destined. While most of the world toils at the jobs they're qualified for rather than the ones they dream of, there are a lucky few who find their calling and succeed at it. The benefits of those unions are usually reflected in the fruit they produce.
This Tuesday night on ESPN's broadcast of the main event of the 2008 World Series of Poker, you're going to see coverage of one man who's found himself a part of one such coupling. Before finding his way into professional poker, Scott Montgomery only knew what he didn't want to be doing with his life.
"I hope I win," the 26-year old Montgomery said of the main event. "I'd like to keep playing for a living, I just love playing poker. I don't plan on stopping. I don't want a 9 to 5 job anytime soon."
It may seem like an obvious statement. After all, most of us don't associate playing poker with work, no matter how many times we hear that poker is "a hard way to make an easy living." For Montgomery, though, all signs point toward the fact he seems to be doing what he was meant to do.
"I'm pretty organized about stuff," said the two-year professional. "My whole life has always been planned out -- what I'm going to do next, how to manage my risks. It goes so well into poker. So many players are pure gamblers at heart and have trouble with bankroll management and dealing with the swings involved. That's always been second nature to me.
"When I first saw poker on TV, I realized there was a job where I could play cards, travel the world and make millions of dollars," Montgomery recalled with a smile. "I thought 'My god, this is what I have to do with my life'. Apparently it worked out."
Born in Perth, Ontario, Montgomery spent most of his adult life doing an assortment of ill-fitting jobs.
"I've had a lot of jobs over the years and I've hated them all," Montgomery said. "I've had a lot of computer-related jobs over the years. Tech support, programming -- that kind of stuff. I've had some others too, like a karate instructor. I've had a lot of strange jobs. I have a hard time settling in one place for too long and that always kept me in new kinds of work. I knew some people who'd taught in Japan and they told me how fun it was, so I used it as an excuse to travel. It was a good opportunity to see the world and have some fun."
It was while in Japan that Montgomery started to earn a living from poker. Bringing home the paychecks he earned there as an English teacher, he invested some of his earnings in online play and found success. When he returned to North America, professional poker was the next logical step.
"The worst that could happen was I lose all of my money and have to get a real job," Montgomery said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "I moved to Vegas, started full-time but didn't go crazy by putting my roll on the line or anything. I started grinding in $1/$2 cash games and it went from there."
Where it went from there was a final table appearance at his first $10,000 event, the World Poker Tour's 2008 LA Poker Classic. It was a final table Montgomery shared with Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey and Nam Le. Easy lineup? Far from it. Once there, the nerves got to the young Canadian.
"That table was just so weird," Montgomery said. "Everything was just so strange to me. I ended up playing for three straight days with Ivey and Hellmuth. I thought that was what playing the big tournaments was like, playing with a couple of the best in the world all the time. I figured out pretty quickly you couldn't let yourself be intimidated by those guys. I've never been impressed with celebrity, so I wasn't asking for autographs or anything like that, but it was fun playing with guys I'd seen on TV."
Unfortunately for Montgomery, the table itself became something of a nightmare. Going into the TV taping second in chips, he found himself overwhelmed by the pressures provided by the lights and cameras. In the end, on tilt by his own admission, he shoved his stack in the middle without thinking and paid the ultimate poker price, finishing fifth.
"The cameras definitely affected me," Montgomery admitted. "I was nervous. I pretty much wish there were never any cameras around. I think the first time on a big stage you have to be nervous. I'm glad I got it out of the way and hopefully it prepared me for the next one."
While the end of the LAPC may have been a disappointment, the $296,860 he scored boosted his bankroll to the point that he could start taking live tournament play to the next level, making his way to the tables for the start of the WSOP.
"I decided to go to Vegas and play as many tournaments as I could," said Montgomery. "The WSOP is great because of all the little tournaments, which gave me some experience on the tournament scene. My first two tournaments were events number four and number seven and I got 17th and 29th in those two tournaments. I was like 'wow, this is easy stuff!' I didn't do as well after that, but those two early successes gave me a lot of confidence going forward."
That confidence translated into success in the main event.
"Day 1 started badly," Montgomery said. "I was down to like $16,000 at the dinner break, and I thought 'man, this isn't going so well' but then I went crazy, building up to $100,000 in the last two levels of the day. For me, starting with a big stack made things a lot easier for the rest of the tournament. I was never amongst the chip leaders, but I always had a good stack. I was always above average up until I had some problems on Day 6."
Those problems were only another obstacle that Montgomery would have to overcome and, gaining confidence, he proved that he had not only the ability, but the focus to come through.
"Confidence is everything," said Montgomery of his odyssey through the main event. "It's hard to have [confidence] all of the time -- especially on the losing streaks, but you realize after a while that if you sit at the table and you're not feeling good, you're not going to win. You have to have confidence in your game. You have to believe you're the best player at the tournament and your opponents have no chance to win. That's got to be your attitude."
With that outlook in tow, with the perfect temperament and bankroll management, with success, experience, a love of the game and no desire to be doing anything else for a living, Montgomery seems to have found his soul mate in poker. It's a solitary pursuit, but that suits this man who still considers himself an outsider despite the Full Tilt Poker patch he wears that seems to suggest he's a part of something bigger. Solitary is OK, though; poker's always been a solitary pursuit.
In the end, it's about one player against the world. In this case, Montgomery may be the one player who prevails. Tune in to the coverage of the main event Tuesday night to see if he can.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. You can read more of his thoughts on poker in his blog at www.wisehandpoker.net.
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