Seated in the back of a red-lit, artificially smoky room at Box NYC, a combination boxing card and poker tournament held at the Roseland Ballroom, I had a chance to live every poker player's dream: play in a tournament where the winner received a ticket to the Main Event at the World Series of Poker.
I was sure I'd win, hop a flight to Vegas and get lucky early on, doubling and tripling up a few times on my way to becoming an unlikely chip leader.
I started running through catch phrases that I would introduce during my on-camera interview where I'd give the audience a look at the real me, the guy behind the guy.
I could hear the announcers telling my story: "Brandon Guarneri has been playing for the last eight years. Let's find out more about him." Cue the music, the close up, and the sponsored T-shirt. But as I sat down with a bunch of guys ordering stiff drinks, getting clarification on the rules, I started to realize that this wouldn't be what I thought it was.
My table happened to be positioned under a blown-out light bulb, so the dealer had to actually hold his cell phone up for the table to see the flop. And since we were in the same space as a boxing ring and a live DJ blasting music over the sound system, not only couldn't we see anything, we couldn't hear anything either. So with $3,000 in starting chips, and blinds up from $100-$200 every 15 minutes, you had a slow moving tournament with fast raising blinds — not exactly the ideal scenario I had planned out in my hand.
But still, all I had to do was outlast about 60 people and I'd have a ticket to the WSOP. And then, well, then I’d be clearly on my way to international fame and fortune. Just play smart and tight, I told myself.
Don't get shook by these guys. Everybody who buys in has the same chance to win. So why couldn't I? There are lots of reasons, the universe, for one. In one of the first hands I played, I picked up a J in early position, limped in, and got a few callers. After the flop came J 3 3, I've got top pair, top kicker, and I'm heads up with the guy next to me. We end up flipping our cards over. "Man, all I have is queens," he says, not knowing that he had the best hand. It was that kind of night. In another hand, a guy didn't realize he had the winning flush and tried to muck his hand face up, but the dealer game him the benefit of the doubt. Which was nice.
One guy got bored and got up to leave the table, but not before trying to give away his chips to his buddies. I had to explain to him why you can't share chips in a tournament. The whole "working in concert" thing for one. I feel like this bears repeating at this point: we were playing for a seat to the WSOP.
It's not like I played particularly poorly. I made some strong plays early and they didn't work out, and then I hung around as long as I could without getting blinded down too far. I was lucky enough to pick up pocket kings in a great spot, doubling up, but the blinds kept rising, and the music kept playing, and no one could hear, and I did the best I could. So on the button with about $6,000 in chips and blinds at $1,000-$2000, I picked up KQ and shoved, got called by two guys with aces and weak kickers, and the ace hit, so I was out. But hey, that's poker, right?