Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Bryan's Song

As I mentioned previously, it was quite a surprise to see Bryan Clark at the BCC this weekend. For those of you who don't know him, Bryan is a life-member and former president of the Boylston Chess Club. Several years ago he announced that he was giving up the 9 to 5 grind for life in Las Vegas as a professional poker player. I hadn't seen him since, though I knew he was still alive since he has made an occasional comment on this blog. On Saturday, Bryan shared with me the story of his adventures in the City of Sin and gave me permission to repost it here.
Bryan Clark (center)
Bryan Clark (center)

It has been three years since I embarked on my career as a professional poker player. On Thursday, May 10, 2001, I arrived in Las Vegas with two suitcases of clothing, a garment bag with four business suits which I've worn only once at most, a gym bag of miscellaneous items, and a cashier's check which was going to provide everything else I was going to need.

I've met many 2+2ers over the last few years and often the topic turns to my decision to play for a living. But, I don't think I've ever told the story on the forum and certainly haven't given out all the details.

The story probably starts a little more than a year earlier. In March of 2000, I was working as an accountant at Investors Bank & Trust in Boston. I had been an employee there for four and half years. It was the only job I held since graduation from college in 1995. But, after being very enthusiastic about my work for the first couple years, I became very disillusioned. Simply put, I couldn't find any joy in the 9-5 workforce.

One day, Human Resources asked all employees to sign some form which stated that after leaving IBT, no employee would try to recruit from IBT. It's a standard practice. However, there was something about being asked to sign the form which made me feel trapped in the job. It was as if signing the form meant I was going to be stuck there forever. So, I refused and my employment at IBT was abruptly over.

For more than a year, I considered different ways of making a living while using my savings to pay the bills. In the fall of 2000, I resigned myself to returning to accounting and had several job interviews the day after the Presidential election (after staying up to 4:00am watching the drama unfold). I had bought four new suits for the interviews and eventual job. I bought new shoes. I bought new shirts. I bought new everything. It probably cost me about $1,500-$2,000. I got a couple job offers and turned them down. I couldn't go back. The money was wasted.

The only source of income I had (and it was miniscule) was running chess tournaments. Chess, like so many games before it, was something which I could immerse myself in. I started playing actively in chess tournaments a few years earlier, about the same time I became disillusioned in my job. Strategy games have always been my favorite hobbies. Whether it was chess, rotisserie baseball, a dice-based wrestling game, I always got more joy out of strategy games than anything else.

On Easter weekend of 2001, more than a year after leaving my job, I went to Foxwoods to play in the 3rd Annual Foxwoods Chess Open. I had been there the previous two years and it had become my favorite chess tournament. It was a four-day tournament with two games per day on the final three days. That allowed some time during the day to play in the casino.

I thought gambling was rather stupid. I enjoyed walking through the casino and watching the games but I had no intentions of playing much. The first year I was there, 1999, I gave myself a budget of $20 and used it to spend some time playing quarter slot machines just for the hell of it. At some point, I hit a good-sized win on a Triple Triple Diamond machine and that become my favorite. I think I broke even on the machines that year. The second year, 2000, I lost the $20. The poker room also intrigued me but I couldn't muster up the courage to actually play.

When I went to Foxwoods in April of 2001 to play in the chess tournament, I decided I was going to give the poker room a try. On my first day, I noticed a practice table but it didn't have a dealer. I made a mental note to go back to that spot in between chess games and see if I could get some lessons. On the second day, a dealer was there and I sat down. There was a player who had busted out of his stud game but decided to stick around and play at the training table for a while. He gave me some basic advice on strategy for 1-3 stud: "Play pairs, three flushes, and three straights. Fold everything else." It made sense and I followed it. That stranger was the first influence on my poker career.

I have a vague memory of playing poker with my parents once when I was about 7 years old. That wasn't for money. In college, two friends and I played draw poker for quarters for a few hours. Other than those two occasions, I had no experience whatsoever. On the afternoon of Saturday, April 14, 2001, I played casino poker for the first time. I bought in for $60 in a 1-3, no ante, 7-card stud game. I booked a small win and was more anxious to play poker again than I was to finish the chess tournament.

While playing 1-3 stud, I remember thinking how big the 1-5 stud game looked. "Wow. That game is played with a $0.50 ante rather than no ante." Those stakes seemed intimidating.

In between chess games on Sunday, I played for two hours and lost my entire $60 buy-in. It was a little disheartening but I came back that night after my final chess game and played an all-night session. In total, I logged 19 hours at the 1-3 stud tables and won something like $80.

I returned home after the weekend chess/poker getaway. I had been looking for a new apartment because I had to leave the one I had while some kind of repairs were being done. Things came together.

There I was - unemployed, looking for a new home, disillusioned with the 9-5 workforce, and knowing the one thing I truly loved doing was playing games. So, I made probably the biggest leap of faith of my life to date. With experience of only 19 hours of 1-3 stud, I packed a few bags and flew to Las Vegas with the intention of making myself a professional poker play.

It's interesting to look back and see how little I knew about poker and the poker world. Here are a couple examples:

1. I had never heard the word "hold 'em". I had noticed that at some of the poker tables at Foxwoods, the players only got two cards. But, that hardly seemed like poker to me. After all, how can you play poker when you are only dealt two cards? It seemed silly. I didn't intend to get involved with that game at all. I thought 7-card stud was a real poker game where you got all your own cards

2. I had no appreciation of how many places you could play poker. I knew there were casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Connecticut. But, I had never heard that poker was legal in California. "Poker in casinos in California? How strange." I certainly didn't know anything about online play.

In the 25 days between leaving Foxwoods and arriving in Las Vegas, I arranged for an apartment. I took a taxi from the airport to my new unknown home and signed a lease without even looking at the apartment.

On my first day in Las Vegas, I had dinner at a nearby casino buffet, bought a few groceries at the supermarket, and then walked one mile to the west to get my first look at the famous Las Vegas Strip. It was impressive. My new backyard was an interesting place. I spent my first night sleeping on the floor of my completely empty apartment using a jacket as a blanket.

I managed to get my couch and some other furniture delivered by mid-afternoon the next day. Other furniture came in the next few days and so I decided to start my new career.

I had learned through scouting all the Strip casinos that my preferred 1-3 stud wasn't played in Las Vegas. So, I was immediately going to have to jump into the big 1-5 stud games. On Sunday, May 13, 2001, at 8:45 pm, I officially became a professional poker player. I bought into the Flamingo's 1-5 stud game and booked a $72.50 win in 4.25 hours of play. It was a good start.

Before I arrived in Las Vegas, I had purchased a copy of Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players. It was probably a very good sign that I recognized 7CSFAP wasn't the right strategy book for my games. Within a week of arriving in Vegas, I discovered the Gambler's Book Shop- an incredible store with books on any form of gambling you could want. I started my poker library with Roy West's 7 Card Stud Book and added more than a dozen more over the next half year.

I spent the summer of 2001 exclusively playing 1-5 stud. When I wasn't playing, I was reading my newly bought library. I also came to appreciate that 7-card stud was not the ideal way to make a living. I knew I was going to have to learn that strange two card poker game called hold 'em. So, I started by playing in play money no-limit tournaments on pokerpages.com. I enjoyed it a lot and even managed to finish first in one tournament which had about 200 entrants

As the summer ended, I decided to make my first jump in limits. On Friday, 8/31, I played 4-8 stud at the Bellagio. On the following Saturday and Sunday, I played 5-10 stud at the Mirage. The following Tuesday, I played 4-8 hold 'em for the first time at the Monte Carlo. I won $40.50 in five hours of play. I was on my way up.


In late August, I discovered the twoplustwo.com forums. My first posts weren't much different than everybody else's. In the stud forum, I asked a question along the lines of "What do you do when somebody always raises with an Ace doorcard?" In the small stakes hold 'em forum, I asked, "How do you play when you make a small flush with 76s?" Right from the start, I was a prolific and opinionated poster and that got the attention of a couple Vegas locals who had been terrorizing the Mirage 6-12 hold 'em game for a while.

I got an e-mail from Dave Clark who you all know as Clarkmeister. He and his friend, Derek Andrew, wanted to meet up. I had been planning to make another trip to the Gambler's Book Store so I decided I'd meet these guys before heading there.

On Tuesday, October 23, 2001, Dynasty and Clarkmeister met face-to-face for the first time. Has the world been the same since? Dave and Derek left their 6-12 game and we chatted for a bit in the Mirage Sports Bar. I'm sure Dave was his usual chatty self and I sat there mostly quiet, occasionally making a comment or two.

Dave learned a few things about me that day. I mentioned that I was planning to go to the Gambler's Book Store - to walk there. Dave seemed appalled at the idea of making the four-or-so mile walk; especially knowing I'd be walking back too. But, he and Derek decided to go with me. Of course, we were taking his car. I bought "Inside the Poker Mind" which Dave recommended highly and we returned to the Mirage.

Dave then got a taste of my poker discipline when I simply refused to sit down in a hold 'em game. I had played six days in a row and that day was supposed to be a day off. Also, the Mirage was my stud room. I hadn't played a single hand of hold 'em there. The Monte Carlo and Mandalay Bay had become my hold 'em homes. However, I couldn't be outright rude. So, I said I'd play some 1-5 stud with them for an hour or two so we could play and chat.

Before Dave and Derek even got into the stud game, we all had the same idea. We decided to play a $15 satellite for the evening hold 'em tournament. I had never played in a real tournament and was intrigued by it. Dave was the first player eliminated. He got a free play in his big blind with something like 87o and the flop came 9,6,5 two-tone. He and another opponent went all-in on the flop. Unfortunately for Dave, the other guy had 87s for the same flopped straight and a flush draw to go with it. The flush came and Dave was out early. Maybe that's why he doesn't like tournaments. I finished in 4th place. Derek finished in 2nd.

Dave and I would occasionally see each other over the next few months when I would go to the Mirage to play 5-10 stud. In December, I moved up in stakes again and played in the Mirage 6-12 and Bellagio 8-16 hold 'em games so we bumped into each other a lot more and even played in the same games a few times. But, I'm not sure if we were actually friends. We were certainly friendly. If I saw him in the Mirage, I would always say hello and talk for a bit if we had the time. But, we never did anything else together.

Dave is an extremely extroverted and social person. Any 2+2er who has met him would surely say the same. I'm close to the exact opposite. I'm very introverted and a bit of a loner. I'm particularly quiet and distant when first meeting most people. So, if it were not for our common love of poker, it seems unlikely that anything else would have made us friends.

If there were a moment when our acquaintance became a true friendship, it would be our first poker road trip together to the Commerce. Dave, Derek, and I took the four-hour drive from Las Vegas to California and spent four days in the largest poker room in the country. Long drives and sharing a room sort of forced me to start talking and everything flowed easily after that.

When playing hold 'em at the Commerce I stayed mostly in the 6-12 games while Dave braved the 9-18 on the important-looking raised platform. I annoyed Derek a bit by getting a $229 share of the bad beat jackpot just hours after arriving.

On the third day of our trip, I made the next jump in stakes and played 10-20 stud on a whim and had good results. During the rest of the winter, I spent most of my time playing 10-20 stud at the Mirage and 15-30 stud at the Bellagio. When I played hold 'em, it was mostly 4-8.

In late March of 2002, I returned to Massachusetts for a week to visit my family and other things. I had been a professional poker player for 10 months but most of my time was spent playing small stakes. During this week off, I realized that I was simply going to have to make another leap of faith. If I wanted to make it as a player, I needed to have the confidence in myself and move up in limits. So, I resolved myself to move up see what happened. In April, I started playing the Mirage 10-20 and Bellagio 15-30 hold 'em games.

On April 5th, I had a big day. I even made a post about it. For the first time, I made $1,000 in a single day, thus paying my rent, and then some, with a single day's work. I played the 10-20 stud game in the afternoon and won $456. In the evening, I played the Bellagio 15-30 hold 'em game for the very first time. I booked a $596 win. $1,052 in one day! I was hopeful that it would always be so easy.

By June, I was a regular in the Mirage 20-40 hold 'em game despite actually having bad results in the 10-20 hold 'em game. Of course, having thirteen consecutive winning sessions in the 20-40 game and a winrate of 3.7 big bets/hour for the month of June meant I didn't give a damn what my 10-20 results were. I was crushing the 20-40 game.

For the past two years, I've been content in the 20-40 game. I've pretty much stayed there except when I thought the game was regularly bad for a stretch. I would move up to 30-60 if the Bellagio waiting lists weren't such a mess. I'll probably do it this summer anyway when I'm playing the graveyard shift.

Somewhere in one of Mason's books, he discusses that a lot of players who try to make a living at start off quickly but then burn out. He said that it should take three years before you should know whether you can make a living at this profession. My three years are up.

originally posted 5/10/04 on 2+2 Forums by Bryan Clark