A $333,000 kick in the teeth
The 2006 World Series of Poker is the tournament series that finally convinced me to become a poker pro. It also is one of the most frustrating moments of my entire career.
Back then I was working for a Hungarian IT company, doing the 9-to-5 thing while I played poker at night. I was making decent money from poker but I didn't want to risk my whole life on the game. Still, I was doing well enough that I decided to go to Las Vegas for the WSOP.
These days I travel to every EPT stop with anywhere from three to five friends, but back then I didn't have any Hungarian poker friends. I travelled to Vegas alone, arriving just after midnight on a Tuesday. Despite being exhausted and jet-lagged, I couldn't wait to get to the Rio. When I walked into the Amazon Room, I was star-struck. There was Doyle Brunson. There was Phil Ivey. My jaw was on the floor as I walked around and soaked it all in.
I started my first-ever WSOP event the next day at noon. I think I played pretty badly compared to my knowledge now. I wasn't an established pro back then but at the end of the day I finished with an average stack.
At that time I wrote a small blog on the biggest Hungarian poker site. I kept them updated as to how I was doing. Everybody back in Hungary got so excited when I told them I was in the money. Their constant messages of support really pumped me up.
On Day 2 I was running great. By the time we stopped for the night with only nine players remaining, I was 3rd in chips.
Remember this was my first-ever event! A week before this event I was dreaming about Vegas, dreaming about playing with all the big pros, and dreaming a crazy dream about a WSOP bracelet. Now I was living my dream. It was shocking and amazing.
The final table on Day 3 was crazy. I made some mistakes that I'm sure caused people to think I was a novice. But I managed to get to three-handed play and then I busted Padraig Parkinson in 3rd place. I was heads-up for the bracelet, with a 2-to-1 chip lead.
When they brought the bracelet to the table every part of my body was shaking. Two days after arriving in Vegas, I was playing for a WSOP bracelet, heads-up, with the chip lead. I wanted that bracelet more than anything else in my life.
My opponent was an excellent Swedish player. He leveled the stacks and then offered me $100,000 for the bracelet. First place was $655,000. 2nd place was $333,000. It was a huge amount of money that he offered but I said no immediately. I didn't think you could compare a bracelet to money, not even $100,000.
And then I lost.
I called my mom as soon as it was over. She told me how proud my family was that I came in 2nd and won $333,000. I replied, "Mom, you don't understand. I lost. I lost the bracelet."
I didn't care about the money. I couldn't even think about the money, even though it was life-changing money that, ultimately, would allow me to turn pro. All I could think about was the bracelet that slipped out of my grasp.
For the next two nights I laid in bed, staring at the walls, thinking over and over about all the hands I played at the final table. In a 2,100-player field, it's a rare occasion when you can get heads-up and play for the bracelet, especially with the chip lead.
It was one of the greatest - and one of the worst - experiences of my career.
Richard Toth is a member of Team PokerStars Pro