Da Warsaw on 10 years of professional poker - the beginning
It was 2003 and I had just finished law school with a master degree in international public law, with my thesis on the legal status of the Palestinian Authority under international law. One year later I'd finished an extra year of studies, this time with a thesis on the American war on terrorism in the light of international law.
In the meantime, I'd started working for a company that was responsible for translating all of the European Union documents into Polish - this was at a time when my country was joining the EU. Given my education, I was sitting there comfortably and enjoying my time translating documents on things like the illegal traffic of diamonds from Africa to Europe, and on sanctions against known members of Al-Qaeda.
Fast forward ten years and now I'm in the middle of my fifth year as a proud member of PokerStars Team Online, playing six-handed low stakes cash games professionally. Is there anything wrong with this picture? Well, I find it a little bit funny, that's all. It's incredible how different someone's life can go from what was planned.
Back to 2004. During my studies I spent a lot of my time in the bowling alley and was even making some nice money from bowling tournaments. The reason was simple - I was one of the first bowlers in my country and bowling centers were trying to promote themselves by giving away attractive prizes. I was practicing a lot and even went to play a few tournaments outside Poland.
Bowling tournaments usually start early in the morning and finish in late afternoon. They are actually very similar to poker tournaments. Everyone starts from scratch and round by round players are eliminated until we have a final. But when you are eliminated, or after the day finishes, you still need to do something with yourself. Those who advance to the next rounds usually act professionally and don't drink and go to bed early - again, just like in poker. But those who are already out kill the time in different ways. For some of us, that was a small game of poker.
We started with 5-card draw, and sometime later we gave Texas Hold'em a try - just limit poker for some time, and finally no-limit. For some reason I was a consistent winner in those games. To my delight, we started playing regularly in my hometown of Warsaw. We didn't need bowling tournaments to start poker games anymore. With my first big win I bought my girlfriend a nice piece of jewelry.
In early 2004 my company decided to expand and move to Krakow. They were doing the translation work for all the new EU countries and decided that it would be better to have the headquarters in the south of Poland. They gave us the option to move to Krakow and get a better salary and helped us with renting apartments. After some deliberation, I decided to go: I'd just split with my girlfriend and thought I could try something new.
As those of us who moved from Warsaw were already experienced workers we had plenty of free time while in Krakow, waiting while the new employees learned the basics of our job. I was just hanging out with my friends, watching movies and killing the time on the internet. So I was really excited when I found out that there was be a Texas hold'em no-limit tournament in a nearby city of Katowice, just one hour by train from Krakow. What was even better was that it was just couple weeks away!
A group of friends had been running the event for some time already so it was very professionally organized. The buy-in was around $15 and there were re-buys, but not many people were actually taking advantage of that.
Twenty-nine players showed up for the event and it was the most in this tournament's history. I don't remember much about how I played, but I do remember I folded a set of kings versus a rivered flush in a monster pot, which was discussed a lot during the tournament
I was following in the footsteps of my PokerStars Teammate Chris Moneymaker, also winning the first tournament I ever played. For some reason, he got $2.5 million for that and all I won was around 400 bucks! Still, I loved everything about it and decided to go for the next tournament a month later. I won that one too! The tournaments director was so impressed by my play that for the next tournament, in my hometown, he prepared a very nice cup for the first player to win three tournaments in a row - lol. Obviously, I got really cocky and busted long before final table.
Anyway, other players were still impressed and told me to try my luck online. They didn't have to tell me twice and I soon registered with PokerStars and deposited $500. I was working 9-to-5 then going back home to eat, rest a little, and then play either the $55 tournament at 3pm EST or the $11 with re-buys at 4pm. Yes, for me those tournaments have more than a ten-year tradition!
Within the first month I'd made a couple final tables and many other times finished in the money. I was cashing out everything over my initial $500. Finally, somewhere at the end of May 2004, I won the $11 re-buy tournament, good for $5,200. The feeling was amazing, I finished playing at around 5-6am and could not sleep before I had to go to work. Again, I cashed out everything over $500 (this will be my nightmare later on) and took my new girlfriend for a week in Paris.
Just a couple months later, at the end of the summer 2004, I decided to move back to Warsaw and start playing poker professionally. More on that in my next blog!
Grzegorz "Da Warsaw" Mikielewicz is a member of PokerStars Team Online.