WSOP Event #39 No-Limit Texas Hold'Em: Silencing the Voice of Self-doubt

I sat down here in my hotel room about four hours ago, and I worked on a story about how anxious and nervous I was about playing tomorrow. I had all these parallels drawn up between the acting world and the tournament poker world, and I talked about how I haven't felt this worked up about anything since I transitioned from full-time actor to full-time writer five years ago.

I was working on this description of the sunset -- the first one I've seen in two weeks, because I wasn't in the Rio when it sank beneath the mountains West of here -- when my phone rang. It turns out that I forgot I was supposed to go to the PokerStars booth in the Poker Expo at the Rio, so I closed up my Powerbook and drove back over there to appear in the booth.

When I got there, I wasn't surprised that nobody was breathlessly waiting in line to see me, because -- let's be honest here -- on Team PokerStars, I'm a bench player at best. Well, unless we're writing stuff; in that case, I'm probably a number two starting pitcher. I should make one thing absolutely clear: I am entirely okay with this.

So I signed one T-shirt for a woman who is here for some dentist's convention, and when I thanked her for stopping by, she looked at my signature and said, "Now, who are you?"

Ah, nothing like a nice kick in the junk after I drove all the way back to the Rio -- and stopped writing to do it -- from this nice lady.

I walked around the booth for a minute, feeling kind of like an ass, when I noticed that there were two seats open at the Battleship counter (Battleship was created at the PCA, and it's where we play heads-up matches on laptops that face each other. It's very, very fun.)

Anyone can come play a PokerStars.net battleship match, for free, and the winner gets to pull from the Magic Deck of Exciting Prizes. Holy crap, are they exciting: iPod Nanos, huge gift cards to the iTunes Music Store and various retail places that I probably shouldn't mention by name, copies of Ace on the River, and an opportunity to play me heads-up for a shot at the seat in the next PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

Shortly before I asked about an open seat, a guy won a chance to play a match against me. Since I was already in the booth, we planned to face off about an hour later. While I waited for him to return, I played several matches against some of my PokerStars family, going 2-0, 0-1, 1-1, and 1-0 before the winner came back.

It was incredibly fun to play against my friends, because the only thing on the line was bragging rights, so I just relaxed and played my best game of heads-up poker, ending up a total of 4-2, which wasn't bad at all . . . except I lost a very big prop bet which involves me answering to "Wesley Crusher" for a day . . . more on that later, if at all.

The guy I was playing came back, and introduced himself. I'll call him Dan S., though PokerStars players may know him as "Restart." He played very well, and I got very lucky to put the hurt on him. I pushed him off a made hand by dropping The Hammer, though, and he came back from 200 chips with a vengeance to crush me, and win a trip to the Bahamas for the 2007 PCA!

"Why are you in town?" I said.

"I won my seat in the Main Event on PokerStars," he told me.

"Awesome," I said. His story is great, and hope we can profile him for the blog before too long.

I played one more match, where I got this lady down to 800, lost a race with 88 vs. AK, and ended up running a pair of jacks into a pair of kings for the loss. Oops. 4-4, so I have a shot at the wild card, at least.

The expo was officially closed, so I said my goodbyes and prepared to go back to my hotel, where I could eat dinner, finish my post for the blog, and get a good night's sleep before playing the Main Event tomorrow . . . but I got a text message from my friend Ryan that Otis was at the final two tables of the media event. There was no way I was going to miss that, so I turned around, and walked back into the Amazon room where I sweated him from the rail.

Otis played great poker, making tough-but-correct decisions that worked once, didn't work twice, but eventually got him to the final table, where he made a move against a guy who wasn't smart enough to fold and busted him.

Otis was on severe tilt, and no amount of Keno crayons could cheer him up, so I bid him and the rest of my friends goodnight, drove back to my hotel, and ordered dinner. I opened up my Powerbook, and nothing happened.

Uh-oh.

I closed it, opened it again, and waited a second. The screen flickered, came back to life, and everything seemed to be okay again, until it went black and shut down while I was answering an e-mail. I tried several times to get it to come back on, and after a few panic-stricken minutes, it finally did. (Oh, incidentally, my digital camera broke while I was at the Rio, too. This is the last picture I took with it before it crashed. I've taken some bad beats tonight with electronics, to be sure.)

When it came back up, I noticed that the post I was writing was gone. I also noticed that my anxiety was gone, as well, because I had a ton of fun playing on PokerStars.net at the Rio, and I had a ton of fun watching my friend make a final table. "There are going to be a lot of tough players out there tomorrow," I thought, "and they're all going to be trying to beat me. I certainly don't need to give them any help by beating myself. This is a huge opportunity that a lot of people would do just about anything to have, so I should just do my best, and have fun. Remember when I told Greg to have fun? Yeah, I should just do that."

There are countless parallels between acting and poker tournaments, and there are a lot of feelings that come with them both that I'm not crazy about, but there's also this thing that I've had to learn to do my best in auditions: I prepare as much as I can, and have to just let everything else go. All that stuff I have to prove to myself and other people? Just let it go and do the best I can do, without regard to results. The enormous pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Sure, I'd like to get it, but it's a long journey to get there, and I'd hate to waste the walk because I'm overly focused on the destination.

As a writer, I'm always looking for the story; I'm also always looking for symbolism and meaning where it may not always be obvious to anyone else. When I got back here and saw that 800 words of anxiety and self doubt were all gone, I found my story, and I found my "A" game, too.

I'll get to try it out in about 12 hours.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker