It's not every day that a superstar athlete takes his or her talents to the poker table, but when it does happen it's surely a treat. At this year's World Series of Poker, Paul Pierce, future NBA Hall of Famer and current free agent, did just that, diving into Main Event waters for the second time in his career.
Many NBA players have been in Las Vegas for the Summer League or for free-agency meetings, but Pierce had his sights set on earning millions away from his standard profession — and with a $10 million guaranteed first-place prize, the WSOP Main Event is the one tournament a year you want to take a shot it.
"I really enjoy the game of poker," Pierce stated in a recent PokerNews and GPI Google Hangout. "I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the thrill of the chase. I enjoy the mental warfare. It’s a beautiful game. It’s one that’s tough to master."
Tough to master it is, and that statement couldn't have become truer than on Day 3 when Pierce busted short of the money toward the end of the day. Here's a recap of Pierce's 2014 WSOP Main Event with highlights from his three days on the felt.
Right off the bat, Pierce was involved in a big hand during the first level of play. Each player begins the tournament with a stack of 30,000 in chips and the blinds are 50/100. Pierce, though, lost over half of that on one of the first hands he played.
On the flop, Pierce check-called a bet of 1,000 to see the hit the turn. Pierce checked again, and his opponent bet another 1,000. Pierce fired back with a check-raise to 4,000, and his opponent called to see the land on the river. This is where Pierce ever so casually tossed out a bet of 10,000 — quite the wager for this point in the tournament. His opponent was strong to the test and made the call with the for a Broadway straight. Pierce showed the for trip queens and lost the pot.
After losing over half of his starting stack very early, Pierce fought back and eventually doubled up to nearly 40,000 in chips thanks to the following hand.
On the flop during the same level, Ariel Celestino checked, and Pierce bet 350. Celestino check-raised to 1,250, and Pierce made the call to see the land on the turn. Celestino led with a bet of 2,000, and Pierce called.
The paired the board on the river, and Celestino bet 6,000. Pierce stood from the table, gave some table chatter, and moved all in for 15,575. At the time he claimed, "I guess it's time to go home."
Celestino let out a chuckle, thought for a bit, then made the call. Pierce showed the for a full house, and Celestino mucked his hand.
For the remainder of the day, Pierce stayed fairly active. He eventually finished out the day with an impressive 60,400 in chips and ducked out a few minutes early to beat the rush with over double the starting stack.
Pierce's Day 2 began with him chipping up to well over 100,000, but he then ran into pocket kings to fall back under the century mark.
During Level 8 with the blinds at 400/800 with a 100 ante, Pierce reraised to 5,000 after a player made it 1,900 to go. The original raiser then reraised to 16,900, and Pierce moved all in. His opponent called to put himself at risk for 26,300 total with the and saw that he was in dominating position against Pierce, who had the . The flop, turn, and river ran out , and Pierce was left with 81,200 in chips.
From there, the sliding continued as Pierce just couldn't "make a bucket," as they'd say on the court. In Level 10 with the blinds at 600/1,200 with a 200 ante, Pierce dropped under 50,000 in chips for the first time since Day 1.
In action on the flop, Pierce called a bet of 6,000 from an opponent to see the land on the turn. Pierce check-called another 7,000 on fourth street, and then check-folded to a bet of 6,000 on the river after the fell.
Being the competitive athlete that he is and understanding how to work through adversity, Pierce stayed tough and lumbered on. He finished out the day with less than he began it with at 48,600, but nevertheless survived to see Day 3 — something he couldn't manage to pull off when he played the WSOP Main Event for the first time in 2012.
Pierce got out of the gate strong on Day 3, doubling in the first level to 81,600 through Gary Lent.
With the blinds at 800/1,600 with a 200 ante in Level 11, Lent raised to 3,600 from under the gun, and Pierce called from the next seat. The player in the cutoff seat called as well, and the three of them saw a flop. Lent bet 8,500, Pierce raised to 17,000, the next player folded, then Lent called.
On the turn, Lent checked, and Pierce moved all in for 16,300. Lent called with the , and Pierce had the . The river was the to keep Pierce in the lead, and he earned the double.
After falling short and doubling again, Pierce got a big boost in Level 13 with the blinds at 1,200/2,400 with a 400 ante. He was all in with the against an opponent's . The board ran out , and Pierce moved to approximately 160,000 in chips.
A short while later, Pierce moved over 200,000 in chips when he busted Dutch player Jorn Walthaus. On a board of with three spades, Walthaus triple-barrel bluffed off his stack to the NBA star with king high. Pierce had for a set of eights and saw his stack rise to 237,000.
The excitement around Pierce grew as Day 3 wore on and the players approached the end of the night and possibly the money bubble, but then it all came crashing down in the final level of the day — Level 15 with the blinds at 2,000/4,000 with a 500 ante.
Michael Binger, who final tabled the Main Event in 2006, raised to 9,000 from the hijack seat. Pierce called from the cutoff seat, and then WSOP.com qualifier Christopher Smith reraised on the button to 17,000. After the blinds folded, Binger folded, and then Pierce made the call.
After the flop came out , Pierce check-called a bet of 15,000 to see the land on the turn. Pierce checked again, and Smith bet 35,000. Pierce called, then the dealer completed the board with the . Pierce paused for a moment, and then announced that he was all in. Smith requested a count — 129,000 — and then went into the tank. Eventually, he made the call with the for top two pair, and that was good enough to beat Pierce's for a rivered worse two pair.
As Pierce shook hands with Smith, the rail chimed in with a few claps before Pierce added, "Good run!"
This summer marked the third time Pierce played at the WSOP. He participated in the 2012 Main Event and played the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship last year before getting himself back in action this year.
"I have grown to love the game over the last seven to eight years," Pierce told PokerNews a few days ago. "It is very competitive and mentally challenging. It helps with my patience, because in poker, you have to have a lot of patience, and that translates to the court where it helps me make the right decisions at the right time."
While Piece's run ended short of the money, the poker industry surely benefitted from having a mainstream sports star in the field for nearly full three days, and we all hope to see Pierce make a return to the WSOP in 2015.