What does it take to play poker at the highest level for six or seven weeks without a break? How do you prepare for a week after week of cards and bets and beats and pockets eights? What goes on inside the heads and hearts and guts of poker players who are facing the monstrous task that is the 2006 World Series of Poker?
This is what I am going to attempt to discover over the next month and a half. You are invited to come along on the journey. Here is our game plan. I have been in contact with five or six players, who have agreed to share their thoughts on all things WSOP. These will be our "spotlight" players. As I introduce them over this first week, you will discover how they have prepared for the Series, how they are feeling about their game, and how they plan to attack all or most or some of the 39 bracelet events and the side action both at the Rio and around Las Vegas. I will be asking them about "down time" and bad beats. They will be sharing with us some of the "turning point" hands from their tournament play. I will be talking with them away from the Rio tournament room as much as possibly so we can discover what it really takes to play the World Series on the ground and what it takes out of a player to attempt this arduous schedule.
Gavin Smith is our first "spotlight" player. For the next six or seven weeks I will keep you up to date on Gavin's WSOP entries and results and what goes on inside the mind of Mr. Smith and all things poker. I sat down with last year's WPT Player of the Year at his home in Las Vegas two days before the first World Series event. OK, he sat and I wandered the house looking at some of the great sports memorabilia Gavin had just acquired at a charity auction the day before. Gavin remained seated because he was deep into an online Hold'em event that was paying $200K+ for first place. Alas, I cannot report his taking down the first place cash but I did get to talk about poker as I watched Gavin play. I asked if his online game was much different from his live game, unlike many amateur players Gavin plays about the same live or online with the only big difference being the limited reads you can make online. When Gavin was done with the event we got to my standard opening questions, which with Gavin did not get standard answers.
Tim: "So, Gavin, have you done any special preparation for the Series?"
Gavin: "Well, I am playing online poker and drinking heavily."
T: "So, pretty much the same preparation you do for every event."
G: "Yeah, standard operating procedure."
T:"You can really approach the Series like any other event?"
G: "Not if you want to win. I am going to stop drinking during the Series. At least for the first few weeks, we'll see how that goes."
T: "Are you going to play all the events?"
G: "That's the plan, play everything. Hey, with the radio show, I can even play the media event and try to take your money."
T: "So no off days? How about cash games on any early bustout days?"
G: "Nope no cash games. No matter what anyone says the World Series is a long, hard grind. I am going to take the down time when and where it comes."
"So less clubbing, partying, or whatever."
G: "Oh, I might go out and shoot some pool but I intend to come home when I am out of an event and take it easy. You have to pace yourself."
Gavin has taking calls and text messaging during most of our conversation and I was walking around the house. I don't do a formal interview, particularly not with someone like Gavin, who I consider a friend and not just an interview. So we talked about lots of things, including the next two days leading up to the $1500 NLHE event on Tuesday June 27th. This is the first open event for the 2006 WSOP. Between our talk and Gavin's first event he will have done a FullTilt photo shoot Sunday evening; flown to Portland, Oregon on Monday morning aboard a private jet with several other poker players and friends to attend a wedding on Monday; then they will fly back early Tuesday morning, bringing the groom with them, to play in the Tuesday event. How's that for tournament prep! Yes, I will bring you a conversation with the mystery groom after he plays the event and his head stops spinning.
Also included in our rambling conversation was a tour of the newly acquired sports memorabilia I mentioned, which includes: two signed John Elway jerseys, one Denver Broncos and one Stanford Cardinals; a great Magic Johnson and Larry Bird photo, a unique Tiger Woods composite photograph, you just have to see to appreciate; and my personal favorite, the flag off the 18th green at St. Andrews from the 1995 British Open, autographed by Arnold Palmer.
Poker did come up again, we talked about last year's Series and Gavin told me that he had played the 'his' three days of the main event last year with no sleep, which led to his third day exit on a 'dumb ass play.' Yet another reason for approaching this year's Series with more focus and being on top of his game. At one point, Gavin looked up from a text message with the groom-to-be in Oregon and said: "You know I should win it all this year."
As I write this the plane is in the air and very soon the cards will be too and we all begin the march to the 2006 World Series of Poker Championship. Who will it be with that ultimate bracelet? Are they also telling people today, seven weeks in advance, that they are ready and are going to be there on the final day?
Ed Note: Gavin is part of Team Full Tilt Join the Team today.