In the interview video I posted last week, when Amir is asked about the bright lights and the glory (and disappointment after busting out) of his November Nine status, he responds that he felt lucky to have gotten so far and, regardless, was focused on maximizing his “expectation.” A friend wrote and asked whether he meant purely mathematical expectation. While, I can’t speak for Amir, I feel safe in saying yes, I’m quite confident that was precisely what he meant. It’s also one of the elements that make Player X truly a professional in a world where many call themselves pros but only a select few live up to the term by making their living at poker for more than a year or so before “blowing up” or burning out, cutting their losses and going back to college or a previous straight job (Steve Gee, who nearly made the 11/9 the last two years in a row is the very odd example of someone who left the game and then returned, to great success, no less, years later.) All the psychological, mathematical, game-playing talent in the world have time and time again failed to translate into long-term success in poker for people who don’t have incredibly level heads as well.
Extremely long and odd working hours; the temptation to gamble hard-grinded (ground?) poker earnings on sports or table games (roulette, craps, “the pit,” as gamblers refer to it); and the beating one’s ego takes in the extreme variance of the game are among the elements that require almost unthinkable calmness, psychological stability, and focus on, yes, maximizing one’s expectation over the course of a grueling poker lifetime.
Amir has combined skill and luck and discipline, mixed with what seems an innate steadiness, to achieve what only the teensiest fraction of really great players can only hope for; in his first five years or so as a pro, he has become an extremely successful online tournament player, has a WSOP bracelet in a prestigious $10k event (Pot-limit Hold-em, 2011, among other WSOP and WPT final tables and cashes) and has fulfilled the second-to-last step of every tourney pro’s biggest dream by making the final table in (and taking third at) the Big One for a huge seven-figure payday. Expectation maximized. Ultimate fantasy perhaps not quite fulfilled, but all reasonable expectation absolutely maximized.
But the kind of expectations I had for the 2013 Main Event Final Table were something different altogether.
Before the trip, I thought a lot about what my own decidedly un-mathematical expectations were for my trip to Vegas. As November approached, it occurred to me that I was looking for what I look for all too often, and which are about as common as unicorns: what Spalding Gray (and, I’m sure, countless others) call “perfect moments.”
In the first posts for this blog, I wrote about fandom, about how I’ve always enjoyed being a fan of one kind of another. In anticipation of my Vegas trip, I’ve had a good look at the awkward space between fandom and friendship. Amir and I were somewhere in between friends and acquaintances before the Final Table, but certainly closer to the casual, online acquaintance. In deciding to write about him in this year’s WSOP, I was certainly acting as more of a fan than anything. But, in deciding to go to Vegas and root him on, I certainly tipped, at least from my perspective (I’m not sure about Amir’s, although he seemed happy from the git-go that I was making the trip) toward the friend side. In continuing to write and post about the experience, though, I was still very much the fan/observer. You get the idea.
On Saturday, November 2nd, as the plane touched down at McCarran, I was excited, but also anxious, as is my nature. I’d spent several months gearing up for this experience I was about to have, and now here I was, having the experience! My baggage was the first off the belt, the shuttle to the hotel was deadly slow in Saturday evening Vegas traffic, but it got me there. I was handed a WSOP bottle of water as I entered the Rio, I checked in, and headed up to my room . . . the experiences, the moments were piling up faster than I could appreciate them. It was all just fine . . . but far from perfect.
Once I got settled into my room as best I could with all those images of Penn Jillette staring me down from table tents and fliers on my desk and night table, I texted Amir that I had arrived, and we made a plan for me to stop by his room and pick up my tickets to the big show on Monday. A few minutes later, Amir ushered me into a room where his wife, baby boy, mother, father, sister, and he were hanging out. Amir’s mom didn’t say much, but his father and I exchanged a few words; Player X, Sr., definitely had an accent, I’m not sure what, but one of the many “Florida” accents from my youth. The Lehavots have been in the States for decades, and Amir is listed as Israeli/American and plays under the Israeli flag, but Israelis, of course, come from all over the world. Amir’s dad reminded me of my grandfather and his brother, Uncle Sol – Russians – and of that first poker game back in Ft. Lauderdale.
(next: Mom, Jews, results)