The Shark was a fish once too
These days I am known as The Shark in the poker world but it wasn't always that way. 27 years ago I may have thought I was The Shark, but a trip to Las Vegas taught me I was just a big fish!
It was the first trip to Vegas I ever took. My friends and I didn't even intend to play poker because we didn't know that Vegas had poker. One guy liked to play baccarat but otherwise we didn't have a particular game in mind. We were there to gamble and have a good time.
We stumbled across the poker room at the Horseshoe during the World Series of Poker and thought we were in heaven. It was great! There were tournaments and also plenty of cash games filled with tourists. Instead of gambling in the pits, we'd fleece the tourists to ensure a big profit for our trip.
The first day, all three of us lost money. That was unusual. In Costa Rica we didn't often have a day where all three of us lost but we figured it was just bad luck.
The second day the same thing happened - all three of us lost. We were surprised but thought that things would have to turn around the next day. None of us had ever had three losing days in a row. It would be impossible for all three of us to have three losing days in a row at the same time.
Yet on the third day we lost again. We were frustrated and a little embarrassed. How could these tourists keep beating us like this? We decided that maybe we weren't as good as we thought we were. As strange as it sounded, maybe these tourists were better than us. Of course I know now that most of the other players at the 1986 WSOP weren't tourists at all!
On Day 4 we didn't play. Instead we asked several of the players who we'd played against on earlier days for tips on how to improve. Several of them mentioned Doyle Brunson's book Super/System. I bought a copy at the Gambler's Book Shop and brought it home with me.
The next year I returned to Las Vegas for the WSOP. My inner shark was awake and was very hungry! I bought into the $10,000 Main Event and finished in 14th place. That would be a great result today but in 1986 14th place only paid $12,500. I would study more and practice more.
I tried again in 1988. It was a better result - I finished in 4th place and won $77,000. That was the year that Johnny Chan defended his title by beating Erik Seidel heads-up. It was also the final table that launched my poker career, the one that taught me that I can play with the world's best.
Nowadays I have winning streaks and losing streaks like everyone else, but if you see me at your table you'd better watch out. I may have been the fish who got fleeced in 1986, but I've been The Shark ever since!
Humberto Brenes is a member of Team PokerStars Pro