WCOOP 2012: Meeting the winners
Sixty-five events, sixty-five champions and sixty-five stories to tell. WCOOP may be great for us to shout about the guarantee-obliterating $55,522,590 that was given out in prizes but to the individual winners playing from gas stations, residences, warehouses, farmhouses, hen houses, outhouses and doghouses around the world it means so much more. For some it's public confirmation of their talent, for others it's a once-in-a-lifetime swing and a hit at the big time, but for all of them it's a moment that they won't forget.
"To win a big WCOOP event is something every online poker player dreams of!! These huge tournaments with massive prize pools don't come around everyday... Even a lot of the elite players who you don't see online so much any more, will come out of hiding for these. That just shows you how much everyone wants to win one," said Tom 'Aln_The_Kid' Alner, winner of WCOOP-44 and $370,207.88.
"Making the final table is hard enough but to actually take one down just seems impossible. As you get deeper into the tournament things become so tense. The rush is the one of the reasons you play tournaments for a living," said Alner.
The young Brit has taken advantage of the fluidity afforded by being an online grinder and, like many others, moved to Thailand after meeting other players at the Macau Poker Cup, which he qualified for on PokerStars.
"Since then I have travelled to loads of different Asian countries and played a decent amount on the Asian poker circuit. I'm now living with a group of poker players in a shared house in Phuket, Thailand. I also met my girlfriend (also a poker player) at a tournament in Manila. We've been together for around a year. Since the Macau Poker Cup I've probably travelled to fifteen countries in total. I've been lucky to meet some truly great friends and had an amazing time these last two years. I'm thankful for winning that PokerStars satellite. It was the catalyst for all of it," said Alner.
WCOOP tournaments are bigger, richer and tougher than, well, pretty much anything else around. The thrill of the bracelet chase is like nothing else says Ned_bg, winner of WCOOP-54 for $66,453.88.
"The difference from regular tournaments was the level of emotion. It was great to finish first. I don't think that I dreamed about that before," said Nedelcho Karakolev, a 29-year-old Bulgarian pro player.
It's a feeling that some more experienced players, such as Greg 'FBT'* Mueller, know only too well.
"it is weird, but I just knew I was gonna get there somehow. Sometimes you just know," said Mueller, who won WCOOP-62 the $2,100 HORSE for $71,775.
Mueller, who learnt how to play poker on the back of buses travelling around Europe as a professional hockey player, has won $2,257,814 in live tournaments scoring two WSOP bracelets along the way. He can now add a WCOOP title to that after his tournament bink under the name babyjess28, which was inspired by the birth of his first niece.
*It stands for full-blown tilt.
Some learn on the back of buses, others learn out of necessity. Tamer ' youaremelon' Alkamli had his dream of becoming a professional football* player crushed after suffering two "brutal" knee injuries. The competitive drive had to be channelled somewhere and poker became that outlet but it wasn't without its difficulties.
"I would say being honest with yourself is very important. It's harder to do than you think, but it's certainly very important. Knowing when you are playing poorly and knowing when you've made a bad play instead of trying to rationalize any mistake you do is very important for growth as a player, and it is certainly something that I struggled with early on in my poker career," said Alkamli.
That honesty seems to have paid off. A record haul of $199,739.75 in WCOOP-55 will more than help to pay for any remaining school fees: he's currently finishing up a degree in computer science and cognitive science at the University of Toronto.
*That's soccer to anyone in North America.
"It's an extremely important achievement for me, my biggest one in poker so far. I'd already been on the final table of a WCOOP event this year (it was the final table of WCOOP-26), but busted out in seventh and felt pretty dissatisfied about that, So I was very happy to get another chance and did my best to use it.," said 'Vlad Radimov'.
Vlad Radimov - so named after the captain of the player's favourite football club, Zenit Saint-Petersburg - went on to win WCOOP-53 for $50,328 had obviously analysed what the win meant to him, the introspection perhaps fuelled by the final table just a week earlier.
For others, it was easier to sum up.
"It feels like WOW!!!" said Alexey 'Alexx Porter' Solovyev, winner of WCOOP-51 and $76,227.04.
Wow indeed. Some will return for another bracelet, chasing down the record four held by Dan 'djk123' Kelly. Others will have had their one shot. Join us for next year's WCOOP to find out or, better still, join the ranks of title holders.
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.