Brokos: Hello, and goodbye
I'm sad to say that I won't be staying on as a member of PokerStars Team Online in 2012. It was a great honor and a great experience to be a member of the team, but so much has changed since I joined the team last year. Now that I'm unable to play online from my home country, I'm simply not able to commit to logging the kind of volume befitting a member of Team Online. It's a shame that I only recently, at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, got to meet the other members of the team. They were a fascinating bunch of people, and I loved spending the week with them. My greatest disappointment is that I will no longer be able to call them my teammates. The following is my homage to this extraordinary group of poker players:
I know that there is zero chance of herding fifteen online poker pros into a conference room by 10AM, I tell myself that this is true and that I need not rush, but nevertheless I am there for our PokerStars Team Online meeting at 9:51. I just can't help being early. This gives me nearly an hour to chat with the other "early" arrivers before we finally begin.
They are a formidable crowd. Shane Schleger was already an online MTT hero six years ago, when I was just starting to grind my way up. Today is January 6th, and he has already final tabled the Sunday Million this year. Mickey Peterson, on the other hand, arrived much later than I to the tournament scene but has already put up results that surpass both Shane's and mine.
In 2009, Kevin Thurman set a record by earning 3,055,385 VPPs. That same year, I was down to the wire getting the last few VPPs I needed to cross the 100,000 mark and make Supernova. It boggles my mind that people manage to earn 1,000,000 in a year to make Supernova Elite, let alone that Kevin accumulated thirty times as many VPPs as I did.
Bjorn Schneider, sitting to Kevin's immediate left, broke that record last month. The two of them just met this morning, though apparently they were on the same flight to the Bahamas. Bjorn was sitting immediately behind Kevin and listening to him tell his seatmate about "the guy who just broke my record".
The two players at the table who are more my speed are Adrienne Rowsome and Richard Veenman, both of whom are, like me, mere Supernovas who play about twenty hours a week. Unlike me, however, they both have jobs outside of poker. We later learn that they are the only two working stiffs out of the fifteen of us.
Perhaps the most intimidating character at the table, however, is Anders Berg. Anders has a PhD in Pure Mathematics and three WCOOP bracelets. He also finished second in an event in last year's WCOOP, narrowly missing a record-setting fourth bracelet. Anders is the oldest player in the room, but also one of the most fit. When he introduces himself, he rattles off numerous feats of athleticism alongside his academic qualifications. Though quiet and humble, he gives the distinct impression of having never done anything badly in his life.
Anders is hardly alone in this. The room is full of people who have excelled in other competitive venues besides poker. Andre Coimbra won the Magic: The Gathering world championships in 2009. Randy Lew was a nationally competitive video gamer before taking up poker. Several members of Team Online have a background in high-level chess, and no one is surprised when Anders Berg adds his name to this list.
Despite their geeky interests, these aren't your stereotypical pasty internet nerds. Shane Schleger, Richard Veenman, Tyler Frost, and Diego Brunelli quickly find a common interest in tennis and arrange a doubles match for the next morning. In what sounds an awful lot like a hustle to me, Richard claims to be a beginner but admits to practicing tennis two and a half hours every day. Jorge Limon races rally cars, which he later tells me entails off-roading with modified street cars and which sounds pretty damn dangerous. Adrienne Rowsome is a serious yoga practitioner and plays slo-pitch softball, though her league seems to emphasize drinking more than any other aspect of the game.
I am struck by what a great job Pokerstars has done of selecting individuals who are serious about online poker but also well-rounded and interesting people. I am looking forward to seeing as much of them as possible during the week we're about to spend together at the Atlantis resort (though I would have preferred not to have them sitting next to me in the main event, which is where both Bjoern and Jorge end up).
They are good players, to be sure, but they are not necessarily the best or the most famous on the site. This is the moment when the meaning of Team Online crystallizes for me: these folks are workhorses. They are driven, and they log serious volume online without putting the rest of their lives on hold.
Barry Greenstein and Daniel Negreanu fill an entirely different niche. They are superheroes, impossibly successful professionals to whom the average PokerStars player can look up but probably can't relate. This isn't to say that Greenstein and his fellow Team Pro members don't work hard. I'm sure they do. I just think that they also possess some innate talent that separates them qualitatively from the vast majority of poker players, no matter how dedicated.
Every Batman needs a Robin. With a few exceptions (cough, Randy Lew, cough), most Team Online players represent attainable goals. They make good money, to be sure, but for most it has more to do with hard work than superhuman talent. Players who saw the red spade on my avatar sometimes told me, in accusatory fashion, that they'd never heard of me. I'm realizing that was kind of the point. Your average Team Online member is an ordinary person who's had extraordinary outcomes by taking advantage of the game selection and VIP rewards available on PokerStars.
Spending a week with these extraordinary poker players is both intimidating and inspiring. On the one hand, their passion for poker is contagious. Each of them represents a unique twist on what's possible with hard work and dedication. Then again, the shear amount of hard work and dedication required by some of their more impressive feats (Kevin Thurman tells me he played 24 tables, 10+ hours a day, 7 days a week for an entire year to set his record) is enough to make you run screaming for the nearest lazy river.
Thankfully the Atlantis has a great one of those, and my teammates do find time to float and enjoy the beautiful weather in the Bahamas. More than a few are anxious about falling behind Supernova Elite pace so early in the year, and swapping intelligence about where to get the best wireless signal during VPP Happy Hour is a popular topic of conversation. You can take the player out of the game, but you can't take the game out of the player, and this bunch are players through and through. It was an honor to play alongside them, even if I didn't meet them in person until our time together was nearly up.