At the Main Event, amateurs take different approaches to playing with pros
9 July 2014
By Dan Podheiser
LAS VEGAS -- One of the great things that distinguishes poker tournaments from other sports is a recreational player can pony up the entry fee and sit down right next to a professional.
Thousands of amateurs flock to the World Series of Poker Main Event every year viewing this element of the game as a perk. Sure, they're playing for the multi-million-dollar prizes. But they're also in it for the experience, and part of that is the opportunity to say they played with (and hopefully beat) the best in the game.
But when these home game heroes actually sit down with the pros, reality sets in fast. They've risked $10,000 of their cold, hard cash, and they're getting bullied by guys with gold bracelets on their wrists.
David Dixon, an amateur playing his second Main Event, showed up for Day 2A on Tuesday only to find reigning champion Ryan Riess at his table.
"I thought, 'Oh, crap,'" said Dixon, a Las Vegas transplant by way of West Virginia. "It wasn't a fun thought, seeing how he plays, knowing he's a very aggressive and intelligent player. He's a talented poker player who never gives you easy decisions, and that's not fun."
Dixon said his strategy against Riess was to keep the pot small until he was sure he was ahead, playing only premium starting hands. At one point, the amateur and the world champ were all-in preflop -- and they both turned over pocket Kings.
"That was nerve-wracking, because I had no idea what he would have," Dixon said.
Twenty yards away from Riess's table in the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, 2013 Main Event runner-up Jay Farber was holding court as one of the chip leaders at his table. And caught right in the middle of it was Brian Elzer, a Cincinnati native who, like many amateurs at the WSOP, earned his trip to Las Vegas by winning his local poker league.
2013 World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up Jay Farber plays at one of the ESPN secondary featured tables in the Amazon Room on Day 2B of the 2014 Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)
"He seems to beat me, over and over and over," Elzer, an IT professional, said of Farber. "But I've beaten him some."
Though Elzer admits to being a bit rattled at first to play with Farber, he said that after a while, Farber became just another poker player at the table.
Still, Elzer can't help but raise an eyebrow whenever he plays a pot with the multi-millionaire to his left.
"I might look at his bets a little harder, especially if he raises me, to try to decide if he's just trying to be a bully because he's got a bigger stack and he's got a name behind him," Elzer said.
Other players have taken a more positive approach to playing with the game's stars. Stephen Schubarth played Day 2A at an ESPN secondary featured table with pro Maria "Maridu" Mayrinck on his right and bracelet winner David Singer on his left.
"It's been a blast," said Schubarth, an oil and gas consultant from Houston. "I've enjoyed every minute of it. I can't say that I'm going to try to play their game; I try to just play my game."
Schubarth's strategy is to keep things simple, wait for premium hands and play them aggressively. He has no interest in trying to out-maneuver the more experienced players at the table.
"It's more of an 'I have absolutely no clue what they might have' kind of thing," Schubarth said. "They could be playing any two cards, whereas with most of the people you're playing against, you usually know where you stand."
Guys like Dixon, Elzer and Schubarth are in the Main Event for more reasons than bracelet chasing or to move up the world's poker rankings. They'd love the $10 million first-place prize, of course. But regardless, they're still receiving a once-in-a-lifetime experience that the pros are already immune to.
Schubarth had quadruple bypass surgery just seven weeks ago. He's already notched a major victory this summer.
"This whole thing is a freeroll
for me," he said with a smile.