(Editor/Writer’s Note: Well, this one sort of got away from me in length. I considered making massive cuts and edits to make it more “readable”, but figured I’d leave it as is. Considering that only the most loyal of Jeff Platt and/or Dave Consolazio fans will make it all the way to the end, just had two quick things to get in: 1) Skip ahead to “Day 4” if you are the type of reader that likes to get straight to the “action”; that and the sections following it are the “meat” of this article. 2) If you found this article via an internet search of Jeff Platt, welcome! Make sure to follow him on Twitter at @jeffplatt before you go. Without further ado, here goes!)
The Redemption Trip
We were calling it our “redemption trip”.
The first Las Vegas poker trip of the summer did not go according to plan as we met up for the weekend of May 30th and couldn’t find a single tournament cash between us. We’d had a blast that weekend, as Jeff and I always do in Vegas, but our good times were found in the sportsbook and on the blackjack and craps tables, not on the poker tables we’d centered the trip around.
So why not return for the week of the $1500 WSOP Monster Stack on June 26? It was a brilliantly structured tournament offering hour-long levels and an unprecedented 15,000 chip starting stack. Short of the Main Event (which had a $10,000 buy-in far above our bankroll), this looked to be the crown jewel of poker tournaments.
We would set out to find redemption for our poor performance last time around. We set the game plan to avoid non-poker gambling and alcohol and focus all of our energy on poker, most specifically this tournament. This was our shot.
Jeff and I are both extremely optimistic people by nature, and felt that in a tournament with this structure we were virtual locks to make Day 2, barring any major coolers. A cooler, in poker terms, is a hand in which the deck seems set up as both players have huge hands and the player with the worst of it is destined to lose a big pot.
I ran into about five or six of them. I had a king-high flush lose to an ace-high flush, pocket queens lose to 67 on a rivered straight, a flopped straight flush draw miss everything on the turn and river, AK lose to QK on a rivered queen, and I got my last 4000 chips in as an 84% favorite against a flush draw on the turn. A river diamond brought my tournament to a disappointing end.
I’d assumed that my story would be the sad one between us. Instead, Jeff managed to top it. Calling a raise pre-flop and going three-ways to the flop with 55, Jeff flopped gin on a Q 5 3 board. All three players got all the chips in the middle on this flop, and Jeff was way ahead of his opponents’ AQ and KK. A turned blank meant that AQ was drawing dead, and Jeff was a 95% favorite heading to the river needing only to fade a king to triple up his chip stack.
The river? A king.
I read all of this via text message and was sick to my stomach. Suddenly, my “run bad” didn’t seem so bad at all. I tried consoling him, but he didn’t really need consoling. The trip was still young, in his eyes.
When I blanked a tournament at Planet Hollywood the following Friday morning, frustration started to set in. Do I just suck at poker? I don’t think so, and in re-analyzing hands I don’t see any glaring mistakes. But when the losses keep stacking up, how do you not start to second guess yourself? I texted something along these lines to Jeff.
Jeff, who’d been running just as bad (or arguably worse) than I have, had every right to join me in venting. To dive into feeling sorry about how unlucky we are, how much better we deserve, how cruel of a game poker can be. His response?
“Don’t worry about it man! Things WILL turn around! If we keep working at it we will succeed. Even Phil Ivey just went through a huge slump before this last bracelet. Keep at it, we’ll get there, I promise!”
Isn’t this the guy that just got two-outed on the river to get knocked out of a $1500 event less than 18 hours ago?
That’s Jeff Platt in a nutshell. The guy who deserves to be the one getting cheered up is the one making sure to uplift everyone else.
That Fateful Sunday
Another failed poker tournament on Saturday meant that it was time to give up and go home. I’d carpooled out to Vegas with my parents, and the three of us were on the 15 South making our way out of the city to return home to Los Angeles.
Reminiscing on the trip, I couldn’t help but think about Jeff’s words of positivity and encouragement. Feelings of defeat and surrender started to turn back to hope and excitement. I asked my parents to turn the car around; we were going to stick around for one more day. Take one more shot.
Jeff had moved on to Day 2 of a freeroll tournament at Planet Hollywood and was set to play in that on Sunday. I decided to take my final stand in a Wynn daily tournament at noon.
Jeff’s Day 2 ended in the “run bad” fashion we’d grown so accustomed to; gets it all-in on one of the first hands of the tournament with AJ vs. A9 on an A J 9 board. The turn brings a 9, dealing another fatal two-outer blow. Jeff laughed it off and told me he was heading to the Rio to play in the 3pm Rio Deepstack.
I finally ended my slump that night, finishing 4th out of 196 entrants for a $4,209 cash. Meanwhile, Jeff was still alive over at the Rio fighting for his tournament life. My tournament had ended at around midnight, and I got to the Rio at around 1 AM.
I wouldn’t get back to my hotel room until after 7 AM. Jeff’s excellent play had put him in position to make a deep run, and he finally got some of that “run good” he so obviously deserved, winning a few flips and having the best hand actually hold up from time to time. He winded up finishing in second place out of a field of 1619 for a $31,893 payday.
What a night! The highlight of the summer! We’d done it! No topping two Top 4 finishes on the same night, right?
So, so wrong.
We both returned home on Monday, me to Los Angeles and Jeff to Dallas. It didn’t take long for us to be back online mapping out our THIRD Las Vegas poker trip of the summer. Why the hell not? A couple of optimists like us had dreams of playing our way into the WSOP Main Event by winning some satellites or smaller buy-in tournaments. And even if we failed, who cares? We were only bringing back a small portion of our winnings and taking a shot. We’d have fun regardless, win or lose. No pressure.
On Saturday, our first day in Las Vegas, we received some amazing news; Jeff was being offered an excellent staking deal into the Main Event through a family friend! The original stake of $5000 was graciously bumped up to $7000, meaning that Jeff only had to come up with $3000 to buy in to the greatest tournament in the world. After selling off some of his action and using his winnings from the Rio Deepstack for the rest, it was official; Jeff Platt would be playing in the Main Event! He was entering the Sunday flight.
I didn’t spend much time on the rail on Day 1. Our mutual good friend Marcelo, who had taken the drive up to Las Vegas with me Saturday morning, was leaving Sunday night. After I had spent the day on Saturday trying (and failing) to play my way into the Main Event, I decided to spend Sunday having fun with Marcelo and watching Jeff play.
As it turned out, Jeff was never really in a good spot to watch him in. With thousands of players playing in the Main Event, only so many tables are close to the “rail”, or the area that non-players are allowed to hang out in. If the player you want to watch is not close to this boundary, your view is completely blocked off, making watching less than ideal. Marcelo and I bet on horses, watched sports and played table games while anxiously clutching our phones awaiting every update Jeff had time to send us.
Jeff being the ridiculously good friend that he is decided to treat Marcelo and I to a steak dinner at the Gold Nugget during his dinner break. An absurd and unnecessary gesture, but hey, I’m not one to turn down a good steak. The three of us talked about the experience so far and the strategy he had for the last few levels before he headed back to the Rio.
Marcelo and I stayed at the Golden Nugget for a bit, where Marcelo proceeded to go on one of the most impressive craps rolls I’ve ever seen, hitting five separate points in a row. Good times. Meanwhile, Jeff was keeping us posted that he was sticking to his plan to play conservatively and was slowly building up his stack.
Marcelo and I headed over to the Rio to take in the last hour or so of the day, despite the fact that we couldn’t see all that well. When Level 5 came to an end, Jeff was still alive with 41,250 in chips, over 10,000 more than he started the day with.
After a low key day off on Monday, Jeff’s action picked back up on Tuesday.
Jeff went downstairs to work out in the hotel gym, and followed that up with a trip to Subway. I was up in the room working on some sports articles, and he called up and asked what I wanted from there. He’d bring the sandwiches up to the room, and we’d get to work on studying his table draw.
This was a really fun process. As we ate our (not the freshest in the world) Subway sandwiches, we searched each player that was sitting at Jeff’s table through various poker databases, reporting sites, and on YouTube. Using player histories and YouTube videos of hands and interviews, we were able to put together some educated guesses on what their playing styles might be and who he should look out for. Jeff took a taxi over to the Rio while I finished up my writing.
Imagine how excited I was when one of my first update texts was from Jeff about how our research process had helped him win a big pot. We’d seen a player show aggression in a pot but fold when put to the test despite having a strong holding, suggesting that he was willing to throw his weight around but likely to avoid big pots. Holding just A-2 on a 2 3 4 flop, Jeff had bet out 1500 and was raised to 4200. While he would usually fold in this spot in a vacuum, he trusted his research and read and re-raised to 9500, prompting a fold to scoop him up a nice pot!
After I got my writing done, I headed over to the Rio where I was planning on watching Jeff until 3pm when I’d head over to the Venetian to play in a satellite tournament. The rail spot waiting for me on Day 2 was sensational. The table right in front of Jeff’s featured Phil Galfond, one of the best high-stakes cash game players in the world and one of my personal favorites in all of poker. Two seats to his left was Kevin Pollak, the hilarious actor and poker enthusiast that always makes his table fun.
Behind Jeff’s table was 1995 WSOP Champion Dan Harrington, who I give a ton of credit in helping mold me into the poker player I am today with his incredible books on no limit hold’em tournament strategy. If there was any doubt that THIS was the MAIN EVENT, seeing one of my best friends directly in front of and behind some of these big names helped put it in perspective.
Not much happened while I was watching, as was sort of the plan as Jeff had gone into the day with the plan of playing generally tight (being selective with his starting hands). I did get to see Phil Galfond take down a nice pot with a big hand, which led to a pretty cool moment at the break.
I was joining Jeff on his routine trip to the gift shop for an energy drink when he stopped in the restroom along the way. Phil Galfond and a friend of his came up the hall and Phil’s buddy went in the restroom, leaving me standing there next to one of my poker idols. “Nice hand on the KQ, got max value there I think.”
Now Phil could have just said “thanks!” or nodded, but instead he responds “ehh, I might have left a bit of value out there checking the turn.” Then we actually talk over the hand a bit! This is the equivalent of telling Aaron Rodgers he made a nice throw and him taking the time to talk throwing power, accuracy and trajectory with you. Just too cool.
I would eventually leave Jeff to go fail in my own tournament, as you’ll find was a running theme on this trip. We kept each other updated with text updates, including this super cruel one by Jeff:
Text 1: Made a call for almost all of my chips with QQ. Thought the guy didn’t want a call. . He had AK.
Text 2: Flop 8h-3s-2cl… he gets up and says “nice hand”.
Text 3: Turn 7d… he taps the table.
Text 4: River…………………………………………….6!
Scared me half to death with the slow reveal and the damn jinxes this guy was putting out there, but justice prevailed. Up to 96,100 and in business!
Later in the evening, Jeff made a big call with just king-high that turned out to be wrong, but we talked it out and agreed that it wasn’t a bad idea at all. He stayed positive and didn’t let the lost pot bother him, and the poker gods rewarded his even keel play with pocket aces and flopped four of a kind shortly thereafter.
I made my way back over to the Rio with about an hour and a half left in the final level. As of Jeff’s last update, he was at around 120,000 in chips. He had been moved to a table that I couldn’t see at all, so I grabbed a poker magazine and sat outside the room reading and waiting. At the end of the night, he emerged.
“Guess how much I have” he said with a grin.
I could have gone with the “100K? 120K? 140K?” to give him the chance to say “higher”, but I’d been re-reading the same articles for an hour by this point. Cut right to the chase and guessed “200,000 in chips”.
He still had the chance to say higher. 254,600 in chips! The dream is becoming a reality.
Jeff got another day off at the end of Day 2, which was awesome. We grabbed Hash House a Go Go in the morning where two miracles took place; I beat Jeff Platt at credit card roulette for a second straight time (after starting my career against him off at 0-7), and I was served this monstrosity when I ordered chicken and waffles:
We also saw Absinthe, which is an excellent show that you should absolutely see next time you are in Vegas, assuming you aren’t easily offended. On to Day 3…
Same morning routine; Jeff goes down for gym and Subway, we eat together and then research Jeff’s table. This process was jaw-dropping heading into Day 3; without fail, every single player we researched was a high-stakes internet poker wizard. In a field full of amateurs, pros and everything in between, Jeff had drawn a table full of brilliant internet pros.
We took to calling it the “Table of Death”.
On the bright side, the Table of Death had a perfect spot to rail Jeff from, and I was able to get some pretty damn good pictures. The table broke fairly quickly after I arrived, which was good news from a poker perspective (getting away from these wizards, though Jeff did hold his own) but not so good from a rail perspective because they put Jeff deep into a corner that I couldn’t possibly see him in. So much for railing.
I went to play in the Rio Deepstack at 3pm and actually made my deepest run of the trip, falling just short of cashing but playing very late into the evening. Jeff and I kept each other updated via text, which I found hilarious; being the friend that he is, Jeff was actually very engaged and interested in how I was doing in this sad little $235 tournament WHILE he is playing in the WSOP MAIN EVENT! I even said at one point I’d just update him on my breaks and he said “nah, keep them coming”. He even came over to rail me for a bit during his dinner break!
When I was eliminated from my tournament, I went to find Jeff and he was still in an awful railing spot. So I took to the same exact bench as I had at the end of Day 2 and grabbed the same exact magazine, hoping it would bring the same luck. In the end, we had survived Day 3 and were on to Day 4 with 206,500 in chips.
Little did we know what was waiting for us on Day 4.
Day 4 started the same as Day 2 and Day 3 had for Jeff Platt with, as you may have guessed, a trip to the gym and breakfast at Subway. Researching the table was a much more enjoyable process this time around as there were actually a few amateurs and simply “good” players at the table instead of a who’s who of internet mega-beasts.
Jeff headed over by cab, and I followed very shortly afterward. With 746 players remaining in the field and 693 players getting paid, Jeff Platt was just 53 eliminations away from CASHING his first Main Event ever! Neither of us ever celebrate or shoot for a min-cash as we are both more focused on winning the damn thing… but cashing the Main Event is pretty damn cool.
I took my spot on the rail close enough to see the big moment. Got to talking to two lovely ladies who were rooting on their husband and son, respectively. The mother was from Brazil and didn’t speak the best English, but we became fast friends thanks to the international languages of poker and money. We can all bond under such circumstances.
We eventually got down to the dreaded “hand for hand” play. To avoid players taking hours to make decisions waiting for someone else in the room to bust out of the tournament, big tournaments stop the action and make every single table go one hand at a time. So 78 tables had to wait until the last one was finished before a new hand was dealt, and then another hand wouldn’t be dealt until all 78 had finished this one. A grueling process, to say the least… almost as grueling as trying to explain this process to a woman who speaks English as a second language. But eventually she got it.
Her: “What do you say here when we all make money? Like party time?”
Me: “We say that we ‘are in the money!’, or we cashed!”
Her: “Hmm, no, my son says it. He says mom I make money in this tournament, I…”
Me: “Am in the money!”
Her: “Hmmm, I will know it when I hear it.”
A little while later, the money bubble burst and Jeff Platt had cashed the Main Event! After a brief golf clap, he was completely refocused and ready to go.
More than anything, Jeff was just happy to be done with hand-for-hand play. Look how happy he was waiting for hands around the room to finish!
Me and my Brazilian friend shared a big hug. She had the biggest smile on her face and was so excited she could cry.
Her: “We did it! We have won! We…”
Me: “…are in the money!”
Her: “YES! ‘In the money!’ That’s it!”
I guess she knew it when she heard it after all.
As per usual, Jeff got moved shortly afterward far into a corner that I couldn’t possibly see him in. I was actually planning on not playing in the Rio Deepstack that day and just spending the whole day on the rail since we were really in the heart of it now, but moving him into the boondocks to a table that wouldn’t be breaking for a while changed the strategy.
The poker gods were working in our favor on this day. I was playing well in my tournament and ran into a really tough spot. I had A8 of clubs and flopped top pair and the flush draw on an 8d 4c 2c flop. With a big bet and a call in front of me, I raised big and was called by one. The turn was a 7h, and my opponent went all-in. I called and he flipped over the 5c6c having just turned the straight. I was wishing for a club on the river, but it never came.
In hindsight, I’m so happy that it didn’t come. If it had, it would have robbed me from one of the coolest experiences of my life.
I headed back over to the Amazon room, where Jeff was but a speck off in the distance. Dinner break rolled around with Jeff sitting pretty with 465,000 in chips, having picked up a huge pot in a full house over full house hand earlier in the day. I was complaining that I couldn’t see anything, and Jeff informed me that that would change shortly as he was being moved to an ESPN feature table!
All through the dinner break we were just trying to keep our emotions in check, keep playing it down, talking about Jeff just focusing on playing his game and not getting caught up in the lights, figuratively and literally. We weren’t sure if it would be THE ESPN feature table or one of the three featured tables on the side, but either way I’d at least be able to see him well for a change.
We returned from the dinner break to the news that it was THE ESPN feature table.
A huge thanks to the beautiful, talented and friendly Maria Ho for making this possible. The table was Maria and a bunch of nobodies (all due respect, Jeff), but her star power as a great player and one of the only women remaining in the field earned this table the limelight.
I took my seat in the stands (the stands!), got some pictures, and was ready for action.
Naturally, Jeff would find himself card dead for the first hour or so, mostly just folding and not finding any hands that he could get involved in. When he did take down his first pot with a raise and a blind steal, I golf-clapped. A little while later, Jeff scooped his first post-flop pot, and I was getting a picture of it while lightly clapping.
At this point, Jeff changed everything. He looks right at me and says “come on man, what kind of rail is this? Let’s pick it up!”
It’s hard to describe why this was such a big deal, but what he had essentially done was broken the fourth wall.
When you are watching a poker table set on a stage surrounded by cameras and lights, it has the look and feel of a performance. I was never explicitly asked not to talk when I took my seat in the grandstand, but it sort of felt inferred. There was a production going on and the players were the stars of the show; in the audience, we were just supposed to watch and applaud when appropriate.
But Jeff was talking directly to me. He wasn’t an actor in a play or a performer on stage, he was my good friend jokingly giving me crap. So I responded in kind.
“I just thought that you might want a picture of your first big pot at the feature table. But fine, no more photos.”
Maria Ho scooped the next pot. I clapped for her.
“Some rail I’ve got,” Jeff quipped, “he cheers louder for you than he does for me.”
“I can go if you don’t like it!”
The people behind the cameras were laughing. One of them get a close-up of me, and they projected that out over all of the TV’s above the main stage. I just laughed and waved.
A few people on the other side of the stands were enjoying the sideshow, too. The usually boring event suddenly had a bit of personality and life. Jeff started picking up a few fans.
Unfortunately, he took a big hit right before the break. Holding top two pair with AJ on a board that ran out J-7-2-A-7, Jeff’s opponent held 75. We entered the break with 241,000 in chips, and with the blinds up to 5000/10000 ante 1000, Jeff would need to make a move soon. We talked about this over the break, and I told him I’d do my best to get some people in the crowd on our side.
I sat in a slightly different section when we got back for a better view of the action. A couple sat down to my right, and I asked them who they were there to watch. No one in particular; he had played in the Main Event and been eliminated after winning a seat from his poker league of friends in Chicago. We talked poker and the Kings Hawks series, and in short order they were firmly on Team Platt.
Another couple sat down behind me, I got to talking to them, and they like Jeff were from Dallas too! Two more fans. The couple behind them? From Jacksonville, Florida, also there just to see what was going on. Talked about how awful our football teams were, how Maurice Jones-Drew would do with the Raiders, and Jeff had two more fans.
Before the action started back up, Jeff came over to the section and I introduced him to everyone. Jeff did his thing and chatted everyone up and thanked them all for the support, and suddenly we had a legitimate fan club behind us.
It wasn’t long before the new fans were put to the test. Jeff saw a raise and two calls in front of him, and shoved all-in from the big blind. Juan Rodriguez also shoved all-in! This was the moment, as the cards were revealed with Jeff holding the Ace of spades and 5 of diamonds and Juan holding a pair of 8s. Me and all of my new friends started screaming for an ace. “Ace! Ace! Ace!”
We got the next best thing when the flop came K 2 5 all spades. Now any Ace, five, or spade would get the job done. “Ace! Five! Spade! Ace! Spade!!!!”
The turn brought the Jack of diamonds which didn’t help. Down to our last card. “SPADE! SPADE! SPAAAAAAAADE!”
The river card… the 7 of spades! And 10-12 people might as well have been 300 people because we went nuts. You’d have thought the people in the section with me were life-long fans!
Alec Martinez’s overtime winners against Chicago and New York brought me a joy that I didn’t think I’d have the chance to feel again for a long, long time. That seven of spades brought it right back. Jeff ran over to double fist pump me and high-five his new fan base. We were all high-fiving and hugging. Jeff tells me I screamed “THE MAIN BABY!”, which I hardly remember but sounds about right.
And that was just the start of the heater. Jeff started scooping pot after pot, each time to the thunderous applause of his new fan base. I told them all that Jeff would buy them all plane tickets back into town if he made the November Nine. They laughed, I told them I was not kidding. “You’d better make sure before you make such promises.”
“I know Jeff. I’m sure. And if I’m wrong, I’ll frigging fly you all out.”
When Jeff came over to visit in between hands, one of them told him about the promise I’d made.
“Oh obviously. That’s 100% happening. Give your information to Dave before you leave, he’s my rail coordinator. You’re all coming back.”
A family of four from Washington came into the stands and took a quick liking to Platt, thanks to all of the excitement and his charisma. I then got to have this hilarious conversation with one of them.
Her: “Excuse me, but does your friend do autographs?”
Me: “I don’t know, he seems nice but he’s actually kind of a huge jerk. It’s usually $10 each.”
Me: “Nah, I’m kidding. He’s great. It’s me who charges the $10. But tell you what, I’ll bump it down to $5 since you guys seem really sweet.”
They laughed. I told Jeff in between hands that he had an autograph request. He rolled his eyes a bit and laughed, assuming I was just making a joke. I said no, I’m actually serious. When he folded his hand he jogged over, signed her autograph book and gave her crap for giving him something that had already been signed. She loved it.
We rode the heater up to 991,000 in chips. Not only was the entire experience amazing, but Jeff was really in position to do some damage. We were on cloud nine heading into Day 5! And I got an exclusive interview, too.
Damn you, Day 5.
Trip to the gym, breakfast at Subway, and table research to start the day. Surprised?
Jeff talked to his parents in the morning and they were flying in to watch! So my rail would have some additional support.
I drove Jeff over this time as I was done with my writing and ready to spend the whole day on the rail. With only a couple of hundred players left, I figured there wouldn’t be a bad seat in the house! Jeff was at a secondary feature table this time around, likely in part due to the name he’d made for himself at the feature table the night before.
As Jeff was un-bagging his chips, I heard a couple of suits behind me talking about how great for the game it would be if Seat 2 (Mr. Jeff Platt) made a deep run. I received a tweet from Kara Scott asking me if I was in the Amazon room and if I would be available for an interview! How cool is that? She asked me a few background questions on Jeff and how the now infamous rail from yesterday had come to be.
Jeff took a hit in a strange pot that we both agreed he played fine. With pocket jacks, he faced an all-in from a guy that had raised Jeff’s original bet and was now re-raising all-in after Jeff had re-raised. From this player it looked and felt an awful lot like QQ, KK or AA, all hands that would have Jeff crushed. Unfortunately he showed AK, a hand we’d have loved to flip against. But no worries, still 800,000 in chips.
With no real personality outside of Jeff at this boring table, it wasn’t long before it was moved out of the “featured” spotlight. And, much to my frustration, the move was to a spot where I had no visibility of the table whatsoever. How this was even possible with so few tables left in the tournament was really frustrating.
Jeff and I had switched over rooms the night before, meaning we’d checked out of the room we’d been staying in and had all of our stuff in my car. I was going to head back and get the new room keys and put all our stuff upstairs during the dinner break of Day 5. But with Jeff now out of my sight and his parents coming in for dinner, what better time than now to run over to Bally’s and switch things over really quickly?
But alas, poker is a cruel game.
While I was at Bally’s, I got the text that he’d lost a huge pot on a really unlucky hand. With 99, the flop had come 9s 8s 4c; Jeff had the absolute best possible hand. The turn was the Ac and the river was the 5s. Jeff’s opponent held the AK of spades, rivering the flush to take down the big pot.
Despite the misfortune, it was actually incredibly lucky that Jeff was even still in the tournament, as all of the chips could have easily gone in on the flop or turn. With 490,000 there was still plenty of life left. We both felt this way and were still in high spirits, all things considered.
I got our stuff up to the room, was heading back downstairs to get my car, and then got one of the most brutal texts I’ve ever had to read.
I stared at my phone for about two minutes, waiting desperately for the “Haha, just kidding, up to 2 million!!” text that I knew wasn’t coming but was hoping like all hell would. I expressed my condolences and he told me to come down and meet his parents while he collected his winnings.
As fate would have it, his faithful rail coordinator wasn’t there with him when the final blow was dealt. And his parents walked in the door literally moments before Jeff made the call that ended his tournament.
When I entered the Rio conference center, Jeff’s parents and I found each other immediately. How difficult must it have been for them to find me; “big guy with a huge beard and a Kings hat”? We went back and forth on who’s fault it was that Jeff was knocked out, theirs for flying in and jinxing him or mine for bailing on him. We’ll never know.
I gave Jeff a hug and didn’t say “good run” or “great job” or anything of the sort. I just promised him that this wouldn’t be his deepest run. And it won’t be.
Needless to say, Jeff’s parents are as wonderful as you’d expect the two people that raised this awesome fellow to be. They were kind enough to invite me to a family dinner that was a celebration of Jeff’s accomplishment. Well, a celebration for everyone else; it was still just a sea of “what ifs” for the two of us.
Later that night, I got the final interview.
Why Poker Needs Guys Like Jeff Platt
Ask a random person to describe a poker player to you. You are likely to get some variation of one of two answers;
1) The Shady Veteran – This unsavory fellow comes in many shapes and sizes, but his characteristics usually include but aren’t limited to being a degenerate gambler, a liar or a cheat. Poker is a game in which lying reigns supreme, and no one is less trustworthy or a bigger gambler than a guy that plays cards for a living.
2) The Internet Kid – Watch poker on TV over the last few years or hop into a tournament last time you were in Vegas? Then you know this guy well. Often seen wearing a hoodie, sunglasses and large headphones, this guy is here to do one thing and one thing only; play poker. He’s not here to make friends or to have fun. He won’t say a word to you unless you do something mathematically incorrect, in which case he’ll be happy to break down exactly how stupid you are and why. “He” is becoming more and more common at every poker table.
These types of players do no favors to the image of poker, yet they are seen front and center in every televized poker tournament. Guys like Jeff could not be more different from the “average” player, and in turn could not be a more necessary infusion into the game.
Vibrant. Friendly. Talkative. Genuinely loving the game. And not playing the part of a nice guy for the cameras or to lull his opponents into a false sense of security (even if that may be a happy side-effect); but a genuinely nice guy. Someone you can root for. Someone you want to play at the same table with. Someone fun.
As he signed an autograph for his newly acquired fan and took the time to personally thank each member of his rail for their support, I couldn’t help but think of Daniel Negreanu, one of my poker heroes and one of the most respected players in the game today. Casual poker fans may know Negreanu for his uncanny hand-reading abilities as shown on ESPN over the years, but those in the poker community know him as an excellent ambassador to the game that always makes time for the media, the poker community and most importantly, his fans.
This isn’t an accident, either. Sure, Daniel may be a great guy away from the table too, but he makes a concerted effort to be at his best and most social every time he enters a tournament. He cares a lot about his image and using it to help poker grow as a game, and has spoken at lengths about the importance of being affable at the table to help make newcomers and casual players feel welcome.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that knows us that Jeff and I have spoken a lot about this topic and feel very strongly about it as well. We love the game, not only as a means to make money but as the incredible experience that it is. Poker is a beautiful game that manages to intertwine high-level thinking, game theory, logic, puzzle-solving, mathematics, social elements and good old fashioned luck into one entity. As the old adage goes, poker takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.
We care a lot about poker, and try and do our part every time we sit down at a table too. What these internet kids don’t understand is that casual players and newcomers aren’t going to stick around if they aren’t having fun. A table full of boring or mean people isn’t going to help a player fall in love with the game, and will often do the opposite in driving players away.
Jeff and I try to make the table fun. When we take a bad beat, we don’t berate the dealer (or worse, the player); we laugh it off and say “nice hand”. Of course, this sort of thing is easy to do in a small tournament off in Los Angeles or Choctaw. But on the feature table, with all of the lights shining down and the cameras rolling, Jeff rose to the occasion and was a brilliant ambassador for the game we love. In other words, he was just himself. He was exactly that right down to his final hand of the tournament.
To the amateurs and casual players that see him on TV, Jeff Platt will make people want to give poker a try. They’ll want to see if they can turn a dream into a big pay day, and maybe have the chance to play with some friendly people and have some fun along the way.
To the everyday players and pros that see him on TV, Jeff Platt should serve as a reminder that poker is supposed to be fun. It’s easy to get lost in the grind of it all, but seeing this guy pouring his heart into the game he loves with a big smile on his face should serve as a reminder as to why they got into the game in the first place.
As For Me…
The entire experience is one that I’ll never forget. It is one that I believe will make me a much better poker player, and hopefully a much more productive person as well.
I told Jeff at the end of Day 4 that I’d had an epiphany; Jeff was a better poker player than me. It is never easy to admit that someone is better than you in any category, but it is especially difficult when it is in a category that you hold so near and dear to your heart as I do poker.
It wasn’t an issue of love of the game or the passion to continue to study it and improve. In that category, I’d say we are on very even grounds.
It also wasn’t an issue of poker ability or poker knowledge, ability to read hands or situations, or anything of that nature. Once again, I’d say this is a wash as well. Our games vary a bit, but overall, we approach the game in a very similar fashion strategically.
I believe that we are on the same level, certainly a few tiers above average and a few tiers below the elite. But we strive towards that elite status and talk strategy and hand history every chance we get. When both of us are playing at our absolute best, I believe we are very, very close.
So what made me tell him that he was a better player than me that night?
Because I realized that he plays at his best more often than I do. And that makes all of the difference in the world. Even if my level of play dips only 1% of the time more often than his, that’s 1% of the time that I’m prone to making a mistake that Jeff wouldn’t make.
I’m great about not going on “tilt”, a condition that plagues almost all poker players. While some players will get super upset and start playing poorly when a frustrating hand occurs, this is almost never a problem for me or Jeff. With our optimistic natures and our understanding that “that’s poker”, we leave tough hands behind us pretty quickly.
But there are other things besides tilt that can cause a player to play at less than 100%, and Jeff’s WSOP run helped me pinpoint two of them in my game.
1. Diet and Exercise – Two of my least favorite words in the English language. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life, but never really considered how it might affect my poker game until now.
Jeff’s meticulous system of exercising every morning and eating healthy, small meals and drinking plenty of water throughout the day undoubtedly played a roll in keeping him feeling awake, alert and energized at the table at all times. I don’t notice any issues with fatigue at the table, but it is impossible to deny that a healthier lifestyle would lead to a more optimal playing state.
2. Fearing My “Run Bad” – I run bad in tournament poker. That is a fact. Luck plays a role in poker, and when you understand the game well, you can tell the difference between when you are outplayed or when you get unlucky. I get unlucky more often than I get lucky, and I state this as a fact with no personal bias and with no expectation of pity. It is what it is.
In poker, as is the case in the life, we can and should only focus on what we can control. We can control the way we play, assess situations, and make strong educated decisions. We can’t control how the cards fall, and in turn we shouldn’t waste any energy worrying about it.
By and large, I’d say I’m pretty good about this, and I don’t often let it effect my game. But Jeff’s play has proved to me that I can be a lot better. He’s had his share of bad luck true, but he truly does leave it at the door every time he enters the tournament. I was only partially doing so.
For the vast majority of the time I was playing tournaments in Vegas, I’d play optimally, and even if I got unlucky it wouldn’t bother me. But there are occasional lapses in this triggered by the knowledge of how bad I run. Maybe I’ll call a river raise when I know I’m beat just because I have to “see how unlucky I got”. Maybe I’ll chose to gamble in a marginal spot because I’m “due to get lucky”.
Elite players don’t slip up like this. Jeff certainly doesn’t.
Fortunately for me, both of these mistakes are correctable. I can get healthier, and I can get more focused on the table and catch myself when I’m talking myself into bad decisions. The first step in overcoming a problem is identifying it. Thanks to Jeff’s run, I have.
203rd Only the Beginning
Finishing in the top 4% of the World Series of Poker Main Event is one hell of an accomplishment. But for Jeff and I, it only serves as another bar that has been raised that we need to surpass.
I reiterated what I told Jeff at the end of his run again on gmail chat a few days later. I told him that if someone was willing to bet against one of the two of us finishing in the Top 200 of the Main Event over the next 10 years, I’d happily take that bet.
His response wasn’t too surprising. “Hell yes! So would I. All-in, in fact!”
Betting against me, with my flaws isolated and in the process of being corrected, with a new hunger to not only experience what Jeff did but to surpass the mark that he set as well?
An interesting choice.
But betting against Jeff Platt, one of the best human beings and poker players that I’ve ever met, that will only continue to get better and learn and grow from this incredible experience?
Well, now you are just throwing money away.
Thanks for reading! Remember to follow Jeff at @JeffPlatt on Twitter, and read his first-hand recollection of the event in his WSOP Main Event Trip Report!