WSOP Main Event: A Conversation with Rob "Boilingfish" Berryman

by Wil Wheaton

Hi,

I just wanted to thank you for your reporting of Rob Berryman throughout the WSOP . . . After reading your reports Rob became my sentimental favourite to win and I was gutted when I found out he'd been eliminated. He seems like a nice guy and I'm glad he did so well. Thanks for letting me hear his story.

K. (via e-mail)

I met Rob Berryman and his dad in the PokerStars suite shortly after he cashed out yesterday. We sat down on the fine Corinthian leather couches, and I struggled to find a question.

What I wanted to say was, "You don't know me at all, but I've watched you closely and talked with your dad for the last few days, and you're the guy I wanted to win this whole thing, because you're not a jerk." I wanted to say, "You don't know me at all, but I'm really proud of you, kid."

I didn't want to pester him with lots of questions, because I knew there were plenty of other writers lining up to do that. So when we sat on the couch, and his dad brought us a couple of sodas, I just said, "Well, that sucked."

Rob didn't agree with me. He told me that he wanted to win. He was happy to take a big risk, even though it didn't pay off, and he knew that he was ahead when all the money went in.

"I knew Thorsson didn't have anything," he said, "and I figured that I was ahead of Einhorn. I figured I could get them to lay down their hands, and if I got called, I had a lot of outs to win."

"Yeah," I said, "we all figured you had 61 outs."

He wrinkled his brow and cocked his head at me. "You mean 30.5 outs twice?"

I laughed, "No, man. I mean that we figured you were ahead, with a ton of outs, and you should have won the hand."

"Oh," he said, and smiled.

We talked for about a half-hour, and during our conversation, I learned that he is a guy who is full of surprises. First of all, he's twenty-one years old, and unlike 98% of the young players I've met since I came here five weeks ago, he has his feet solidly on the ground, and his head on straight. I was surprised to learn that this was his first multi-day live tournament. I was surprised to learn that he hasn't studied a lot of poker books (He read Super/System a year or so ago, and tried to play accordingly. He says it wrecked his game for six months.) I was surprised to learn that he doesn't even play the large MTT tourneys on PokerStars very often. "I like the $11 Turbo MTTs," he said, "and I've qualified for the big Sunday tournament lots of times, but I usually sell the entries."

"Will you come play again next year?" I said.

"Only if I win a cheap seat," he said, but ten thousand dollars could be spent much more wisely. "I don't want to be a professional poker player, at all."

He took a deep drink from his soda and said, "Poker should just be a fun, recreational, enjoyable game. I couldn't have the life that these guys have. It's hard to be away from home for a long time and . . . well, I don't want to offend anyone, but I'm not real crazy about Vegas."

I didn't tell Rob how, over the last five weeks, we on Team Blog have taken turns talking each other off the ledge, as the weight of Vegas oscillates between unbearable and insufferable. Instead, I asked Rob if he played any sports when he was a kid. He told me that he played all the regular games that high schoolers play, including football and basketball.

"How does this compare?" I said. "Did you have some of the same emotions in the World Series that you had in school sports?"

He thought for a minute and said, "I guess it's sort of like making it to game three of the state championship playoffs. You played hard, you played your best, but you didn't go all the way, so it's a little disappointing."

While we talked, I felt like Rob and his dad were disappointed that he didn't finish deeper, but they were grateful for the entire experience, and accepted the result with the pride and serenity that comes from knowing that Rob absolutely did his best. I wanted to put my notebook away, and take them out for a beer, (probably not to the Tilted Kilt, but maybe to Buzio's) but Rob's phone rang again, and he couldn't keep the reporters at bay any longer.

"I have to take this call," he said, as he walked out of the suite to do an interview.

My friend Ryan, who played with Rob on day two, gave him some coaching and advice at the end of that day (which, by the way, is extremely valuable. Ryan advised me during this year's WPT Invitational, and I finished 23rd) came into the suite while we talked, and when Rob an out to talk on the phone, he mentioned to Rob's dad how much he enjoyed playing with him, because he was a good kid. His dad smiled and said that ESPN talked with Rob for about thirty minutes earlier in the day, and the producer told him, "We don't like young punks, and your son is not a young punk."

Stop the world, people. ESPN and I agree on something.

His dad also told us that Rob's tight, smart, aggressive play -- as well as his humility and grace -- earned the respect and attention of professional player Jeffrey Lisandro, who spent time coaching him at the end of each day.

"That speaks volumes about your son's character," Ryan said, "because professional players don't just help a young kid out without a good reason."

Rob came back into the suite, and I told him that I knew he'd given me a lot of his time and attention, and I just wanted to know what he was doing next, now that this is all over.

"I just want to go fishing," Rob told me.

I knew he wasn't talking about poker -- though he easily could have been -- and I was happy for him.

I invited Rob to play in the Tuesday night WWdN Invitational (8:30 Eastern, password is monkey , entry is $10 +1) with us, because it is, like he said, "a fun, recreational, enjoyable game."

"I think you'll have a great time," I said.

"I'll see you there," he said.

We shook their hands, and I wished them well. When we walked out of the suite, they went left, toward the taxi stand and one step closer to the real world where Rob will finish his degree in finance later this year, and we went right, back down the hallway and toward the tournament room.

"I'm really depressed," I said to Ryan, as we walked.

"Don't be," Ryan said. "You know, he probably finished in exactly the right place for him. He has enough money from this event to take care of college, and he's got his head on right, so he'll invest the rest wisely. He'll be the king of his home game, and he'll be able to walk down the street without anyone bugging him. This will change his life just enough to be enjoyable, but not so much that it becomes a burden."

Ryan was right, of course, like he always is about anything involving poker. Maybe the poker gods really do know what they're doing.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker