A Quarter Century of Poker: Barry "Wipeout" Wilson Revisited
When I was a freshman in high school, my buddy Barry introduced me to some senior friends of his who played poker on a regular basis, for money. Now Barry was a fearless sort, and around the neighborhood he was willing to ride his bike over, under, or through just about anything. More than once I had seen Barry's bike stop suddenly (after hitting a parked car, bush or retaining wall) while he continued over the handlebars in that familiar Superman position until gravity brought his body abruptly back to earth. Each of those episodes found him rising slowly from the ground, battered and bleeding, but always smiling. No Fear.
It was the same in our poker games as Wipeout Wilson barged into nearly every pot, chips blazing. Sometimes he flew like Superman, but more often by the river he could be seen flopping in his chair like a newly landed fish, hook still sharply embedded in his lip, while another player raked his pot.
Barry's play improved, but not until after one of the older guys in the game got him a job at the local pizza parlor so he could pay off his markers, and I credit my friend with teaching me to wait patently for quality starting hands. But that lesson turned out to be a two-edged sword.
Years later while living in Las Vegas I ran into a player who's name was also Barry Wilson. As you may have guessed, I came to call him Wipeout too, because this fellow was also fearless, and he seemed to play way too many pots. Weeks passed like kidney stones as I waited impatiently for the second coming of Barry to stop getting lucky and start giving me back some of the money he had been raking off the tables each night. As dense as I was at the time it eventually hit me that I could wait until the second coming of Christ if I wanted, but this cat wasn't going to start spewing chips. He was a human card rack, and it wasn't because he was lucky.
At this point I decided to adhere to the old adage, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and I asked Barry if he wanted to go have some dinner. After our first chance to talk I really began to understand his style of play. "I don't care about going through my whole stack in a good game. In a bad game, with no action, yes, but in a good game, no. I know I'm going to have some ups and downs, but I'll lean on the small stacks all night if I have to until they crack."
Barry was raised in Pismo Beach, California and played baseball in high school. He was a pitcher and spent countless hours throwing baseballs, footballs and Frisbees along the white sandy beaches near home. He also enjoyed riding horses with his high school sweetheart (and now wife) Jan, and they rode motorcycles along the sand dunes. "Well, if a Honda 50cc counts as a motorcycle," Barry says.
His grandmother Sheila raised him, and when he was a senior in high school she got very sick. "I took to missing school, hot-wired a few cars and stole gas from cars in the neighborhood, you know, mostly petty stuff, but when Sheila died, I just lost all direction."
"Jan kept working on me to go to college, but I didn't care about school anymore, and even baseball seemed like work. I'd drive or hitch to LA to play poker, and if I lost, I found some way to get a few bucks together and start playing again."
Barry was a loose cannon, on and off the poker tables, and he continued pushing his luck and the people around him until they pushed back. "I had a few scrapes, and I learned to be nice because you get back from people what you give them, but not at poker. At poker you push until you go bust or get all the chips. At first I went bust a lot, but eventually I learned to play better after the flop."
What Mr. Wilson has going for him is a willingness to accept variance and a great ability to execute well after the flop based on his player reading skills. He doesn't play any tournaments, just cash games in Las Vegas and sometimes at the Commerce Club or the Bike in Los Angeles. He's comfortable at $100-$200 or a little higher, and after nearly 15 years of playing for a living, Jan is anything but worried about their income. "It's the last thing on her mind," says Barry, "chips are just tools, they don't represent anything at the table, you have to have that detachment."
He plays detached and relaxed, except when I see him in a poker room and say, "Wiillllsoooon," like Tom Hanks did in the movie Castaway. The thing is, I can't call him Wipeout because he just doesn't do it very often. He's too good.
I've learned from Mr. Wilson that if you can't embrace variance, you can't earn anywhere close to your potential. And if you want to really earn, you have to risk going over the handlebars once in a while. Now if I could start doing it as rarely as Barry does I'd be all set.