What a Long, Strange Pokertrip it's Been

by Wil Wheaton

Sometimes the lights are all shining on me, other times I can barely see.

--Truckin', The Grateful Dead

Though I'm 33, I look remarkably similar to how I looked when I was a teenager. Well, maybe a little fatter, but thanks for not calling attention to that.

I haven't been on television or in any movies in any real meaningful way for a few years, so when people see me, they frequently think that I went to high school with them. It's pretty common: they've seen my face in a lot of places, but not for a long time, so they automatically assume I must have gone to their high school.

A couple of days ago, I was on the other side of this assumption when a guy walked into the PokerStars hospitality suite, and I thought, "Hey, I think I worked with that guy on Star Trek."

While I tried to figure out what episode he'd worked on, and started a background mental process working on remembering his name, I noticed that he was wearing a WSOP bracelet.

"Ah!," I thought, "I've played with this guy. That's why I think I know him."

He was wearing a PokerStars shirt, so I thought I'd go ahead and introduce myself to him. See, divining who he was had become, as my wife likes to say, "a thing."

"Hi," I said, "I'm Wil Wheaton."

He looked a little wary, and said, "Uh. Hi."

I extended my hand and said, "Have we played together before?"

"I don't think so," he said. He shook my hand, and I realized that he was wearing a World Series of Poker bracelet. I instantly knew who he was, and why I thought I knew him.

"Oh my god. You're Jon Friedberg." I said.

He glanced away for a moment, and said, "Yeah, I am."

"I play for Team PokerStars, and I write for our blog," I said. "Do you mind if I take a picture of your bracelet?"

He chuckled a bit, and held it up for me. "I feel a little weird wearing this," he said, "it's like I'm showing off or something."

As we talked for the next few minutes, it became clear to me that Jon is one of the very few people in the world who could earn a bracelet in the World Series of Poker, and feel embarrassed about wearing it, at the World Series of Poker, no less.

"Dude," I said, "you earned that bracelet. If you can't wear it here, where can you wear it?"

He seemed to relax a little bit, and he laughed again. "I guess you're right," he said.

I took a couple of pictures, took out my pen, and asked him a bunch of really stupid questions that I'm sure he's been asked a hundred times since he won event seventeen a few days ago, and I began to see a lot of myself in him; not because I'm such a great poker player, but because I, like him, went from relatively anonymous to not-so-anonymous very quickly, too. It's a weird thing when that happens: suddenly, everyone wants to take your picture, and some jerk wants to ask you stupid questions you've already answered a hundred times. It feels like everyone wants a piece of you, and you suddenly don't know who you can and can't trust. It's an exciting time, but it can also be very, very uncomfortable . . . and a little scary.

"Hey," I said, "I'm sure you don't know a thing about me, but I was a big deal actor about a million years ago, and I think I know what you're going through: everyone wants a piece of you now, right? Suddenly you have a ton of new best friends who won't leave you alone, and all these people you don't know suddenly think they know you, right?"

He immediately softened, and smiled the first real relaxed smile I'd seen since we began to talk.

"Yeah," he said. "It's exactly like that."

"I'm only going to ask you two questions," I said, "and then I'll get out of your way."


"Who did you call when you won?" I know it's the dumbest question in the world, and I'd already decided I wasn't going to ask it, but it was out of my mouth before I could take it back.

"I called my mom," he said, and I could see how great that made him feel.

I asked him if she was proud of him, and it was clear from his reply that she is, like my mom is of me, always proud of him.

"The really funny thing," he said, "was how much my phone started to ring once the update about me winning went out on the Internet."

When I talk with our Team PokerStars players, I always try to find some common ground, even if it's pushing it a little bit, so I can make a personal connection with them and write about the experience (and share it with you) through my own lens. When Jon talked about his phone ringing, the first thing I thought of was when I was busted from the 2005 WPT Champtionship at Bellagio, and how my phone rang so much with so many calls, my voicemail (at the time it was limited to seven messages) filled up in about two minutes. Somehow, though, my woeful tale of busting out just didn't seem to be appropriate to tell Jon, so I just said, "Yeah, I know how that feels."

"Have you been able to fully process the reality that you have half a million dollars and a World Series bracelet?" I said.

"It comes in waves," he said, "and each one is different."

"I totally get that," I said. "It's like one wave comes in and you think . . ."

". . . this is so cool!" he said.

We laughed together. "Yeah," I said. "Exactly like that."

He became animated, and said, "but then the next wave is different. The next wave hits and I think, 'ohmygoshIhaveabracelet!' and then the next wave hits and I think 'ohmygoshIhavefivehundredthousanddollars!' and then I think, 'ohmygoshIcantakeatrip!'"

He was really smiling now, no doubt being hit by a brand new wave as he described all the others.

We talked for a few more minutes, and Jon told me that he doesn't feel any pressure to repeat his bracelet, or even a final table. Of course, he told me, it would be nice, but now he can just relax and have fun for the rest of the World Series.

We only talked for a few minutes, but I found some common ground with Jon -- in an unexpected place, no less -- and I though I want him to do well for everyone at PokerStars, I really want him to relax, have fun, and show off the bracelet.

He's earned it.

Today's reading:
Being Barry Greenstein
WSOP Event #30: $5,000 NL Hold'em Short-Handed (Mercier crippled by Fossilman)
What a Long, Strange Poketrip It's Been (Jon Friedberg)
David Sklansky to speak in PokerStars suite
WSOP Event #29: PokerStars stars make day 2

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker