Massachusetts limo driver carries memory of son with him to Main Event
8 July 2014
By Dan Podheiser
LAS VEGAS -- Fourteen years ago, disaster struck for Raffi Boyadjian. His son, Raffi Jr., passed away from a brain tumor.
On Tuesday, the Waltham, Mass. limousine driver played on Day 2B of the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in his son’s honor. Boyadjian earned his seat to the $10,000 buy-in event by winning a series of tournaments in his local poker league.
The final satellite tournament -- in which Boyadjian secured his spot in the Main Event -- was played the night before Father's Day.
"This was a gift from my son," Boyadjian said as he teared up during the first break of Day 2B. "That night driving home, I decided -- this was my Father's Day gift. So I gotta win."
Raffi Boyadjian, a limo driver from Waltham, Mass., plays on Day 2B of the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)
Thousands of amateur poker players make the pilgrimage to the WSOP
Main Event every year. For some, it's a bucket list item. For others, like Boyadjian, it's a calling. This year, he's one of 6,683 players vying for the $10 million first-place prize.
Back home in Waltham, a suburb just west of Boston, Boyadjian has been married to his wife, Sandy, for 29 years. He's owned Raffi's Limo Service for 28 years. And he says that 80 percent of his clients are his friends -- he has 3,500 friends on Facebook.
"If I didn't have any friends, I wouldn't have any work," Boyadjian said.
While he plays in the biggest poker tournament of the year, Boyadjian is constantly updating his progress to friends and fans (he says he's texting 30 or 40 people). And so far, he's only had good news to report. Boyadjian ended Day 1B with roughly 75,000 chips, more than double the starting 30,000 chip
stack. By the end of the first level of Day 2B, he had chipped up to about 110,000.
But unlike many of his fellow amateurs, this is not Boyadjian's introduction to the Main Event. He made his first trip to the Rio in 2012, buying into the event as a 50th birthday present to himself.
"I walked in here (the) last time and I was in awe," Boyadjian said. "I'm not in awe anymore."
Boyadjian busted shortly before the dinner break on Day 2 his last time in the tournament. He had chipped up to 43,000 early on Day 1, but when he moved to a new table late in the day, he said he lost patience and played some pots he shouldn't have entered.
This time around, he's taken a more sound approach.
"I've been very patient, and I've been catching the right cards at the right time," Boyadjian said.
Boyadjian began Day 1B with two-time WSOP bracelet winner Eli Elezra to his immediate left. They played together for the first eight hours of the tournament, and bonded over their Middle Eastern heritage.
"It was fun, because he was born in Jerusalem in November of 1960, and I was born in Beirut, Lebanon in October of 1961," Boyadjian said.
And even though having a top pro to your left can be daunting for many players, Boyadjian said Elezra gave him the confidence he needed to play his best.
"He gave me some good advice," Boyadjian said. "And he told me I only made one mistake during those eight hours. So, actually hearing that gave me even more confidence."
Boyadjian doesn't look like an amateur when he plays poker. His mountain of chips on Day 2B made him one of the leaders at his table. And in a span of four hands shortly before the first break, he added about 20,000 chips to his stack.
With the blinds at 250/500/50, Boyadjian called a middle position
player's pre-flop raise to 1,200 chips on the button
. The two players checked a 3-5-6 flop, and when his opponent checked after a 9 fell on the turn, Boyadjian took down the pot with a bet of 1,600.
A few hands later, Boyadjian raised to 1,300 from middle position and received callers from the button
and big blind
. Both opponents checked a J-J-6 flop, and Boyadjian's 2,500-chip bet netted him another win.
On both hands, the "amateur" had Ace high.
"Every move I've been making is working," Boyadjian said. "I won seven out of 10 hands (on Day 1B) and since then everyone has been afraid to play against me."
But no matter how much the other players may fear him at the tables right now, Boyadjian doesn't plan to quit his day job, even if he wins the Main Event.
"If I win the $10 million, I'll probably still drive," Boyadjian said. "I'll just drive the people that I know, because that's my social life."
And whether it's his business, his poker game or his personal relationships, Boyadjian always keeps the memory of "Little Raffi," as he calls him, in the back of his mind.
"The reason I keep going is because he was so strong," Boyadjian said before returning to his table at the end of the break.