WSOP Main Event: Pre-Game Interview with Wil Wheaton

By Dr. Pauly

I had a chance to chat with Wil Wheaton a few minutes before the start of Day 1A in the media room. I frequently play poker with Wil especially in his weekly WWdN tournaments at PokerStars. He's developed into a skilled NL tournament player and has been working on his PLO game. Wil looked a little tired after a restless night and vacillated between calmness and severe anxiety.

Pauly: On a scale of 1 to 10, how nervous are you?

Wil: I bounce around. My baseline is basically a 5. Occasionally I spike up to 11, then I drop back down. I have the same series of emotions and same physiological response right before I play a part in a movie or if I'm ready to go on stage for the first time when we're opening up a show. I know what to do. I've done it before. But I'm always excited. I'm always anxious. And I'm always nervous. I want to do my best. The real challenge for me is to get out of my own way and have fun. When I have fun, everything else comes together.

Pauly: Do you have any last longer bets with any of the other members from Team PokerStars?

Wil: I didn't make any last longers with anyone else. I'm pretty sure I'd be taking the bad end of that. They'd have to give me odds if we did any last longers. Like 16-1 just to break even.

Pauly: Out of everyone on Team PokerStars, who has the best shot of winning the main event?

Wil: Isabelle Mercier wants it the most. It's impossible to deny Greg Raymer's phenomenal, phenomenal ability against large fields. And Joe Hachem has really been on a tear. He's been running hot and playing well. When it takes two bad beats to knock you off a final table, you're doing something right. I would have to go with Isabelle because she wants it so badly.

Pauly: How about Bill Chen?

Wil: Bill Chen is scary smart. He's terrifyingly smart. His ability to understand game theory is unparalleled. Only a couple of people can do that as well like Howard Lederer or Paul Phillips who get game theory as much as Bill does. Not accounting for that weird land mine X-factor that we experience in large field tournaments, I like Bill's chances as well.

Pauly: He's got two bracelets this year. He's been dominating.

Wil: He has been. And he's probably the one guy in the room who is a bigger geek than me. And I always put my money on the geeks.

Pauly: PokerStars has roughly 1,600 players who qualified to the main event. About two players at every starting table is from PokerStars. What are the chances of a regular guy from PokerStars who won a satellite going all the way like Chris Moneymaker or Greg Raymer did?

Wil: Mathematically we're in a very good position to put someone deep into this tournament. Some of the best players in the world are members of Team PokerStars so you can't count them out. From a strict odds point of view, we have a great shot this year.

Pauly: What's the biggest difference in your poker ability and approach at the game from last year compared to this year?

Wil: The thing that is fundamentally different from this year to last year is that I have a strategic plan going into the tournament. Last year I just sat down to play cards. I have a plan for a deep stack tournament. I'm a better player this year and I have much more experience that last year. Instead of trying to psyche myself up and give myself the rather unrealistic goal of making the final table, I'm not going to assign myself arbitrary goals like... "Make it to the end of the day," because I don't think that's any good and might cause you to make poor decisions. I'm definitely playing for the money. And if I make it to the money, I'll play to try to make it deep. It's not like the preliminary events when I was trying to make the final table. I'm definitely playing for the money. I know what my goals are this year and what my strategy is. All I can do is my best.

Pauly: Greg Raymer told me that tournament poker is about making good decisions at any given time. How has your decision making changed over the last year?

Wil: I've become decision-oriented instead of results-oriented. I approach it the same way as I approach auditions. The similarities between auditions and tournament poker are stunning. When I go to an audition I can't think, "I have to get this job." Because then I get nervous and mess up. I have to think that I prepared myself for this. I know who this character is. I put in my time studying. I've logged hours on the set of other things to gain this experience. This is how I'm going to do it. I'm going to go in and give it a good performance, whether I get the role or not. When I played in the $1,000 NL event I felt happy until the point where I got blinded down because I was afraid to make a move. I've added making a move to my game plan after talking to Barry Tannenbaum and Barry Greenstein. I'm excited about that. I was very unhappy about how I played in the $2,000 event. I talked myself into making a bad call that I should not have made. Since I'm focused on making good decisions and playing smart, the results don't matter. If I'm not playing poker then I can come back and write with you guys.

Pauly: But Wil, we'd rather be playing in the main event, then sitting on the sideline. Any closing thoughts?

Wil: I have the biggest one in four counties.

Editor's Note: At 3:45pm, Wil was eliminated from the main event. He built his stack up to 14K early on, then ran into a set when he had top pair. He slipped down to 6K shortly before the break. He busted out when he found Kh-Jh from the big blind and called a small raise. He flopped a pair on a King high flop and his opponent rivered a set with 8-8. Wil will post his recap shortly.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker