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Taking my Grandmother’s Game to World Series of Poker

My almost three decade career in the military provided me tremendous opportunity in terms of being a forthright and morale leader. It also provided an almost unlimited capacity for service and volunteerism and on the surface was absolutely dichotomous to my passion for playing organized tournament poker. As a commander and senior officer I often held my hobby closely and my vacation time private. My direct superiors and a few close friends always knew of my plans, but that was the extent of my sharing. My time at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) became so important to me that I sacrificed and saved all year for the entry fees to enter a few select tournaments and looked forward to them with the anticipation of a school boy. So in my first year at Amazon I embrace my hobby fully, but will apply the personal discipline that I utilized in the military to limit my foray into the world of professional poker tournaments to a few short weeks per year. Two of those weeks start today….!

When people do find out that I play poker either through word of mouth or an internet search they often ask the genesis story. “Where did you learn to play?” If I am running short on time I say that I am a self-taught experienced amateur, but if I have a few minutes I proudly tell them that my Grandmother Verna Lee Lewis taught me the game. She specifically taught me 5-Card stud, a derivative of No-Limit Holdem with the exact same hand combinations. She also taught me Spades, Gin and Bridge. In fact, I spent all of my formative summers battling my sister, my cousins and my Grandmother in games of strategy, collecting cans and going to bingo. To say that I grew up a little competitive is an understatement akin to saying that my German wife sort of likes beer. I absolutely loved competing and I have grown to love the WSOP as an outlet for summers long past.

Common questions for non-poker enthusiasts are will you be on TV, isn’t it just that one tournament and how much can you win? The fact is that at any given time there are 6000 to 10000 “runners,” poker term for players, at the Rio Casino and Resort in Las Vegas playing everything from tournaments, to live cash games and satellites (turbo tournaments meant to provide opportunities to win entry fees to major tournaments). As a matter of fact this year the tournament hosted the largest field in the history of organized poker when 28,000 entrants played a $500 entry game called the The Big 50 creating over $13.5 million dollars in prize money. Although the most popular game is No Limit Holdem there are numerous game variations that are played during the series which afford players to win a coveted bracelet and life changing money. There are literally 70+ bracelet tournaments, but hundreds more non bracelet events that are played between the end of May and first week in July.

Last year as a present for my 50th my wife sponsored me into the Main Event. The Main Event is generally the show that people often see televised and where the winner takes home in excess of $10,000,000. The Main Event has been played since 1970, but was popularized in 2003 by Chris Moneymaker, the first amateur to win the tournament and who is often credited with the current poker boom. This year I am playing in the Seniors, eligible to 50 years and older players, and two other No Limit games. I will also play in several 1-day tournaments called Deepstacks and maybe a satellite or two.

I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to play a game where it is not readily discernible the difference between me and a pro - although I personally know the difference. I am lucky to have the means play, to have learned the game at such a young age and to have the support and indulgence of my family. Frankly, I could not play without the love and support from my wife Michelle and daughter Shareice who have spent countless vacations casino hopping, watching shows and shopping while I spend 10-12 hours a day at the tables. For those of you that know me remind me to tell you about the year that I booked our flight a day early.

This article is an affirmation of my hobby that I no longer feel obliged to conceal now that I work for Amazon, it also pays homage to my Grandmother that taught me a game that has given me a life-long passion and desire to succeed and win. As I sit in my hotel room in Las Vegas just two short hours before the start of my first game and the anticipation builds I can’t wait to join the runners and fast friends that I always make at the tables. It’s June and that means it’s time for the World Series of Poker..! No luck needed I am already the luckiest man in the world - at least on this day.


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