$60 turns into priceless poker story

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By Jennifer Gay

Around the tables in the Southland Gaming and Racing poker room, there is a buzz about a local player’s recent success at the World Poker Open Main Event in Tunica, Miss. No, he didn’t bring home hundreds of thousands of dollars. He didn’t even make the final table. But what he did do was take $60 on a weeklong run that landed him alongside the pros in the big event as he brought back a wealth of knowledge and experience. What Scott Williams of Memphis accomplished is one of those rare success stories most hobby poker players aspire to: virtually freerolling to the big leagues.

Williams doesn’t aspire to be a professional poker player, despite the good-natured ribbing he endures now after his stint in Tunica. As the owner of Cinderella’s Horse & Carriage in downtown Memphis, the vast majority of his time is dedicated to maintaining his seasonally fluctuating business. When he does have a night off, you can usually find him around the poker table, but generally more for the social entertainment than the aspirations of riches and fame. During a short chat over dinner, he explained what he learned at the WPO, what he enjoyed and what he’ll never do again.

A group of regulars from his usual poker room decided to make the 45-minute drive to the WPO to catch a few one-table SNGs. Taking no more than a few hundred bucks each, the idea was to check out the big event and maybe play a few hands of $1-$3 no-limit between watching events.

“I’ve always been more of a cash player than a tournament player, but someone joked that I couldn’t make a final table, and I wanted to prove them wrong,” Williams said. It wasn’t exactly an unsafe bet that he’d flounder in a large tournament; he’d never played in an event with a buy-in of more than $60.

The key to rolling small amounts of money into a championship event seat is choosing your playing field and investing wisely. Williams did just that by playing a $60 one-table SNG, which paid two positions $250 each. After his victory he moved to the $125 one-table SNGs, which each pay two positions $550 each. After cashing there he continued to play the one-table SNGs until he made about $1,000. He didn’t win every one-table he played, but he cashed enough to keep his bankroll growing.

Now it was time to move to the bigger events. Rather than play a multitude of smaller tournaments, he decided the best investment was Gold Strike’s final mega-satellite into its main event, a $540 tournament that attracted 160 players and would award 14 seats.
“In this event, I was playing to survive. Not playing to win. The idea was just to hang on, outwit and outlast the other players,” he said.

And after almost nine hours he did exactly that.

In the championship event he found himself at a nightmare table right from the beginning. Seated with a handful of lesser-known pros and across from the magnetic Vanessa Rousso, he knew he was in for a long day.

“Probably in the back of my mind I knew they were all better than me,” he said. “But it really didn’t affect me. I was really comfortable at the table. The first day was actually a lot of fun. Day 2 was serious business. You really have to pay attention at that level of play. Get enough sleep. I didn’t do that. I won’t make that mistake again.”

Day 2 was a grind.

“At this point, toward the end of the day, I had about 80,000 in chips. The blinds were 800-1,600. There were 23 people left and I found myself in a position to make a move. I knew if I was successful, I’d be good for at least coasting through the bubble.”

He found himself with 7S-8S. After an early position minimum raise, he called and the board came 6-8-9 with two spades. Looking at a straight flush draw, flush draw, open-ended straight draw and a pair he decided this was the time. The min-raiser checked, Williams bet, the raiser called. The turn was insignificant. The min-raiser checked, and Williams made a pot-sized bet, hoping to take down the chips. The min-raiser came over the top all-in. Williams counted his outs and knew if he managed to hit, he’d be in solid position for the rest of the event. After several days of round-the-clock play, he wearily made the call. His opponent turned over A-9, showing top pair. The river came was a blank and Williams was out.

“All it takes is one mistake,” he said. “One mistake and you’re done. That’s what did me in, was one mistake. I could have just checked it down and still had a healthy chip stack.”

He said he’d been over the hand hundreds of times since he made the call.

“I did learn a lot. I feel like I’m a much better player after this experience. I know if I were in the same situation again, I’d do a lot better now that I’ve had time to absorb it all.”

His advice to anyone thinking about taking their game out of the local cardroom and into the big events: “It will be a great learning experience, and it will improve your game. If you’re not pot-committed, don’t put all your chips in on a draw. I really believe in that whole chip-and-a-chair thing. If I’d considered whether or not I was really pot-committed, and whether or not I thought I had the best hand, I could have folded and had enough chips left to double up later on. It’s a whole different level of play in the bigger events.”

At Southland, he’s not another nameless player to bust out of a big event. He’s a regular favorite who set a good example that any solid poker player, regardless of bankroll and previous experience, has a good shot to go up against the pros; and the worst case scenario is you’ll walk away with a stronger game and some great stories to share around the table.

— Jennifer Gay is a poker journalist, poker room supervisor and poker player local to the Mid-South region. She can be contacted at facebook.com/aceofjewels.