If you ain't first, you're last, a popular movie character once said.
That may not quite be true in the World Series of Poker Main Event, considering last place walks away with nothing but a story, while second place banks a massive, possibly life-changing pay day.
However, some would also say that second place in the Main Event is the biggest bubble in poker. It's not just the huge difference between first and second place money that's such a big deal, but the added value of becoming Main Event champion is hard to quantify. Lucrative sponsorship opportunities, become a poker immortal in one of the most select clubs in the game's history, and the chance to become a star in the industry are just some of the side benefits that come with winning the Main Event.
Josh Beckley, who finished second to Joe McKeehen in the 2015 Main Event, is in attendance and grinding on Day 1b of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. As he tells it, thoughts of missed opportunity don't cross his mind, and he's plenty happy with how things went down.
"I'm content with what happened," he said, adding that the book on his poker story is far from written since he could still win big tournaments down the road. "I'm very confident that I played the best I possibly could."
Indeed, results-wise, it's hard to find fault with what Beckley accomplished. Even before factoring in that he navigated through a minefield of 6,420 players to reach the biggest final table in poker, what Beckley did once he got there was commendable. He went into the November Nine in seventh place with under 30 big blinds and managed to ladder his way to a $4,470,896 payout as accomplished players who started with more chips like Max Steinberg and Pierre Neuville fell before him.
As far as what went down on the felt, though, plenty of critics emerged in the wake of Beckley's run. The poker Twitterverse was abuzz with debate about some of Beckley's play. In particular, Beckley's decision to preserve his second-place stack and fold jacks four-handed in a blind-versus-button battle against eventual champ McKeehen raised some eyebrows. The fold proved correct in the sense that McKeehen did indeed hold queens, with many lauding the laydown. However, just as many asserted that it was results-oriented praise and the fold was a long-term mistake.
Beckley let such criticisms roll of his shoulders though, as he pointed out that those players weren't in his shoes and he has a unique perspective.
"I'm the person at the table," he said. "I can sense how everything's going. So, I'm making decisions based off that and not just math."
Those decisions proved lucrative for Beckley, and he's now adjusting to a new reality with a new bankroll. However, like his heads-up conqueror, with whom Beckley said he keeps in touch via Twitter and text, life hasn't changed much at all for the New Jersey native. He said the only major difference is he bought a new place in West Palm Beach, and his tournament grind will be a little more prestigious.
"I'm definitely going to dial it back," Beckley said of his volume. "I've been playing almost every day for like 10 years. I won't be playing $300 tournaments and stuff like that."
He added that he's interested in dipping his toe in some deeper tournament waters, trying out things like $25,000 high rollers for the experience, if nothing else. Travel is also on the agenda, and Beckley has a goal in mind.
"I like to experience new places," he said. "I would definitely like to go to Asia, that would be cool. I'd like to visit every continent."
He laughed as he corrected himself.