EPT11 Deauville: Doctor Dan the space ace

It's oft said that if you're clever enough to make a lot of money at poker then you could probably use your smarts to make a more comfortable living outside of poker. In the last few years a number of high profile poker players have either quit the game entirely or reduced their time spent playing poker to pursue interests outside of the game. Think Sam MacDonald, Jonathan Aguiar and Jason Strasser to name just three.

So in that context it's strange to learn that there are those going the other way too, even more so in Dan Wilson's case. The Irishman holds a PhD in Astrophysics a pretty specialised field but says that he's glad of the break: "If you ask anyone who's done a PhD if they wanted to continue in their field after the PhD, the vast majority are going to say they wanted a break as it's very stressful, says Wilson. "The last year in particular is so stressful that you don't want anything to do with it for a while, you just want to step back and poker is a nice outlet to step back into, especially the live trips."


Poker - less stressful than astrophysics

Wilson's work for his PhD sounds like something out of a space movie - albeit one without any aliens. "I was working in radio astronomy. We were on the engineering side of things where we designed and tested certain designs of telescopes that might be later used in missions that look at various sources in space that emit radio waves and frequencies. There's a lot of stuff in space that emits radio frequencies so you have a lot to look at."

His work saw him involved on a mission for the European Space Agency. "The specific mission I had a part of was the Planck Mission - named after a famous scientist - which was looking at emissions from the very early universe from about 13 billion years ago. It's light that's been travelling to us since basically a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. In the timescale of the universe that's a very short amount of time. If the Big Bang until now is a marathon the radio waves we were looking at were one foot into the marathon. It required a lot of research and a lot of technical stuff to make your instruments sensitive enough to pick up these particles of radiation and to figure out information about them that can give you relevant information about the Big Bang. That was basically my PhD."

And Wilson's studying sometimes combined with poker, when the UKIPT came to Dublin in February 2014 he wasn't going to miss it. "This time last year I did my viva - which is an oral defence of your thesis. Once you submit your thesis it goes to an external examiner and he'll read through it, pick holes in it and then come and have a debate with you about the problems with your thesis and you have to defend it." He was studying for that whilst defending his big blind in the UKIPT.

Poker and physics had coexisted peacefully in Wilson's world for three to fours years at this point. "I guess I started playing poker during the fourth year of my undergraduate degree, just playing home games, €1 each, six of us," he tells the PokerStars Blog. "Just before my PhD started I began playing online and I won a €10 re-buy for about €8,500. I thought I was the bees knees and started playing online more. I wasn't very into the live poker scene at all though. I continued to play online throughout my PhD and travelled to the odd live event. Nottingham and Edinburgh was probably the furthest afield I went until I was winding up the PhD last year."


Wilson - a physics ace

He's here in Deauville with a friend who introduced him to the Dublin collective known as "The Firm. "I met Padraig O'Neill, who also studied at Maynooth, through a card club in Maynooth one night. I realised he was good, so we started chatting and he was staked by The Firm so that's how I got to know them. Padraig, James Noonan and I all lived together in Maynooth along with Liam O'Donoghue, who's a high stakes PLO regular. That was a great experience."

It was, you could say, Wilson's university of poker "I suppose we'd all been playing around the same level at that time, during my PhD I was always learning, always trying to get better. It wasn't just a spare time thing. I'd come home in the evenings and play online a few nights a week. It wasn't just recreational, I was making money from it whilst doing my PhD. At the same time I was learning from these guys, we were all talking hand histories so you just get better and better. Obviously I started taking it more seriously after I finished my PhD."

That increased level of seriousness hit pay dirt in Las Vegas this summer when he was the last standing Irishman in the WSOP Main Event, eventually busting in 65th for $103,025. "It was useful for me because like I said, I rarely play live events and I was the last Irishman in the Main Event. I had about 20 followers on twitter and suddenly lost of people started following me and trying to get updates on how I was doing, so it was great publicity for me."

You win six figures it's got to be good right? Wrong. "It hurt pretty badly for a while after. Obviously it's a great experience to go that deep but when you get that close it feels like an opportunity wasted. It's not like it's never going to happen again but it's once a year and you only have a finite number of years. It just feels like you're not going to go that deep that often."

But as an experience, Wilson loved it. "The adrenaline was incredible. I spiked a river on the last hand of Day 5 and that meant I had 40 big blinds instead of 20. The surge of adrenaline was amazing, I'd never felt that before. Obviously its huge equity right there in terms of dollars. You can't really beat that, it was an incredible feeling."

It was a feeling Wilson would experience again at EPT Prague where he took down a €1,000 side event winning almost $68,000. "You can never beat the feeling of winning, it's just a nice feeling to win a tournament. There's never any regrets, he says. "Whereas in Vegas I might have won more, but there was a feeling of 'oh god I could've won 10 million!"

Whilst he might not have won the 10 million he's doing well enough to see poker in is stars for a while yet. "For the foreseeable future I'll be playing poker. It's obviously getting tougher, if eventually it's gets too tough to beat it at a good enough rate to forgo a job that pays X amount per year I'll have to weigh that up but for now it's a profitable venture so I'll be looking to keep playing."


Wilson - deal him in for now

Coverage from the Main Event of EPT Deauville is on the Main Event page. And you can follow the action from Australia on the Aussie Millions page.

Nick Wright
@PokerStars in Main Event