There is no need to be bashful. You can all admit to it, and I do not believe any of your fellow poker players will give you a hard time. We have all dreamed of playing in a huge No Limit Hold 'Em tournament. We have all dreamed of sitting at a table with a pro such as Gus Hansen and winning a pot he was involved in. We have dreamed of pushing all-in while staring at the pro across the table as he tries to put you on a hand. The professional players who have lived this moment still dream of it happening again. For them, it is imminent reality. For the rest of us, it is still a far-away dream, viewed through that misty haziness that tends to accompany wishful thinking.
Kurt Lester was dreaming the same dream a couple months ago. Now, he is viewing the same image as memory in reality, instead of a dream for the future.
Kurt deposited money on Poker Mountain, a site endorsed by the likes of Daniel Negreanu and TJ Cloutier. For depositing with the new site, he was given an entry into a 'Road to Bellagio Sit 'n' Go. He won his respective Sit 'n' Go, which awarded him the opportunity to play in the $200 Final qualifier for the World Poker Tour Championship. After falling low in chips mid-tournament, he made a comeback to find himself heads-up for the trip with a 2 to 1 chip disadvantage.
Of course, Kurt is a member of FullContactPoker.com, so he made the smooth comeback to win the whole thing. For his efforts, he received a trip for both him and his girlfriend to Las Vegas, as well as hotel accommodations, and dinner with none other than TJ Cloutier and Daniel Negreanu. The two pros would of course be giving him a few pointers heading into the tournament.
Kurt has lived the dream, and spent none of his own money doing it. Thankfully, even after playing in one of the two largest and most prestigious tournaments in the world of poker, he still found time in his day to chat a bit with me about himself and his experience as a big timer.
PokerNews: First of all, please tell us a bit about yourself. Also, how long have you been playing poker seriously and what's your favorite game and limits?
Well, I'm 23 and live in Chicago. There is not a ton to really tell about myself. I have only gone to college for a little bit, but hopefully get back there, unless somehow I hit it big playing poker. I have a girlfriend named Brigette of about 2 1/2 years now.
I have been playing for only about 7 months right now. Up to that point I hadn't done anything more than just watched some on TV. But I started to look into it online and got hooked. I read as much as I could find, and started to play a little bit on party poker. I eventually convinced my girlfriend to let me put a little real money in there, and started playing. She played a bit as well at that point and got a bit hooked herself. I read a ton before and after that point, and still try to soak up as much information as I can.
PN: Here is a summarized recap of Kurt's adventure in the World Poker Tour Championship event (in Kurt's own words, of course):
I woke up Monday morning feeling good, but also pretty nervous. I still wasn't sure who was at my table and could only imagine who it might be. We had breakfast and I made my way over to the tournament. Finally got into my seat after exchanging some good luck's with TJ and only half the table was there. A few showed up late and it ended up being a pretty tough table. The first reconizable face was David Oppenheim, who was on my immediate left. Talk about a bad draw. Then Mickey Appleman was sitting 2 to my right. Alan Boston sat down a minute later on his right, and across the table was Robert Mizrachi, the brother of "The Grinder", Michael Mizrachi, both of whom are great new up and coming players. This was a tough enough table as it was, then walks in Gus Hansen. What a table. Definitely exciting though.
The tournament started out pretty well though. I won a few hands early and got in the positive and was over my 50k starting point, which is all I could hope for. Then just before the 2nd break I took a nice pot off Gus and one other player when I turned a full house. I missed a bet on the river, but it was still a pretty nice pot. Put me just over 60k and I was feeling real good. Then David Oppenheim came along. He took two pretty large pots off of me, once I had AQ, flopped top pair Queens and he was holding KK. The other he check-raised me on nothing but a flush draw, and hit it on the river. Took me down near 20k in chips going into level 4. Ante's and blinds were starting to get a little damaging to my stack, and I figured once I was down to 18k, I needed to find a good hand and try to double up somewhere.
Then I found it. I picked up J10 in the big blind. A middle position player limped in, as did Boston behind him, the small blind folded and I checked to see a flop. The flop was QKA rainbow. Talk about a good spot!! I couldn't have wished for a much better flop. I was first to act so I checked, as did the 2nd player, and Boston bet out about 1200. I called as did the other player. No need to push them off a hand at this point. The turn is another Ace though. Now this card is good and bad. I am quite sure they don't have AK or AQ. Either one would have raised from the position they are in preflop with those hands. But I check again to see what happens. Boston bets it again, this time a little over 3000. He seemed a little confused why we checked again, and didn't seem to want to play his hand slow, which made it pretty apparent it wasn't a full house. I decided I didn't want to risk him improving his hand any more, so I pushed all in for my last 16,500. The second player quickly folded, and Boston thought about it for awhile. I knew I had the best hand at this point and didn't want to mess around with it anymore. Finally he makes a call, and David Oppenheim asks me if I have the straight, which I did and I turned it over. Boston turns over A9 for trip aces, and needs help on the river. Well the river brings another King, and he fills his boat. Knocking me out of the tournament in the process. Definitely not what I was hoping to see... to say the least.
PN: Was this your first trip to Vegas? If so, what were your first impressions (outside of the tournament atmosphere you experienced)?
It was my first trip. And I thought it was pretty nice. I loved the weather. I really like the whole desert weather, up to this point Arizona was one of my favorites. But Vegas is all the benefits of the desert with much more to do. It was definitely an experience though. Even coming from a big city like Chicago, it was still a change. What with the mexican's peddling hookers every 15 feet on the street. (The little flyers ya know?)
Also the fact you have to walk through a casino everywhere you go is pretty different. I'd love to see what other parts of the city are like, but I have heard some of it you don't really want to see. But i'm sure some of the area's are pretty nice, and it's the fastest growing city in the country. If somehow I started really making money playing poker, I could see myself living there... although all the flashiness might get old, who knows?
PN: Any chance I could get you to divulge some of the pointers given to
you by TJ and Daniel? Daniel didn't tell you to always play T7o, did
Honestly, there wasn't a whole lot. He geared some tips more towards me, being an amateur in a tournament full of pro's. Things like having to define the other players' hands by making bigger raises than normal.
Example: If a pro limps in, or makes a standard raise and I have a good hand I would want to raise with... instead of raising a normal amount... go bigger. That way if they call, you have a better idea whether they have a hand or not... If they do, it would only cost as much as I raised, instead of losing money later in the hand trying to figure it out. That was Daniel's main point really. TJ got there late and we didn't talk much strategy really, but it was still a ton of fun.
PN: Any good stories from or about any of the pros you sat with?
Hmm... If I tried to remember them, I'd forget something or mess it up. We talked a bit about Bill Fillmaff and how funny that was. Daniel loves it and couldn't believe nobody else besides him and I had seen it. As well as some stories about some people in the poker world, but I'm not sure if I should get into all of that. Not that it's anything secretive, but they probably have a little more info on some guys than your casual player. Took a couple shots at Sklansky of course... you know Daniel, lol.
PN: What was the atmosphere like at the tournament?
That's kind of a tough one. Especially having it been my first real live tournament. I was in the Fontana Bar, which was a separated area from the main poker room, and it was nice and away from all the business of the casino. Only because it's a separate room, but it's different than the people who played in the poker room, having slots all around and players walking by the rail all the time. Lots of pro's all over the place, and Annie Duke kept walking around schmoozing with people. Who knows why she wasn't sitting in her seat playing, lol. They had camera's walking around as well. Mainly going from table to table filming the poker pro's for a few seconds before they moved on. A few internet reporters looking for notable chipstacks and things like that. I was pretty focused on the game and my table, but it was very well run and a great atmosphere as far as I'm concerned, I just wish I could have been there longer to enjoy it more.
PN: Did you get a chance to talk to any other pros not at your table?
Nah, not really... I kept pretty quiet and just paid attention during the game. Talked a little bit with a player or two who wasn't a pro at the table, but the pro's pretty much talked with each other. They know each other already, so I'm sure it comes easier. Gus didn't say a whole lot until someone talked to him either. Most of them didn't actually... Just Alan Boston was talking the whole time, so whoever he talked to would be the one talking, lol.
PN: Do you think this tournament has helped your own play and growth as a player?
Yeah, definitely. It gave me a new insight into what it's like to play on the highest level. It made me realize some of the things that work against amateurs but won't work with top competition. Not necessarily plays, but types of hands you can succeed with. If I'm in an online tournament with mostly bad players, I can safely get TPTK and probably double up with it. Not the same with these guys, if you have top pair and they're calling you, you are probably beat already. If not, they are drawing at something to beat you. You have to be much less attached to hands to play at a top level, and really think things through. Realize when you might be beat. And on the flip side, try and figure out when they're just making a play on you and you're way ahead. It's a whole other level.
PN: What is the biggest thing you will take away from this experience?
Well, a lot of it is what I mentioned in the previous question. But mainly it's just the memory. To know I played in the WPT Championship with all the best players in the world. It gave me a desire to want to be in the same position they are in. Definitely intensifies the poker bug as you might say. But now I can say, I played with the best, and I think I actually played well... a pro gave me a bad beat, and I didn't make it, but it's not to say I couldn't do it next time around. I realize I'm not at that level right now, but now I can see what it takes.
The Hero suffered a tough break in a hand that could be analyzed until all participants are completely exhausted and have long since passed the color blue in the face (which certainly has been done). If the rest of you are like me, that hand will make your stomach turn a bit every time you read it.
All things said and done, it seems Kurt had a great time in Las Vegas. He certainly had the experience of a lifetime. One of which most of us only dream...
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