WSOP 2012: Zen & the art of being Marcel Luske

wsop-130x100.pngAt 11:58am, Marcel Luske's WSOP ammunition sits in a bag of orange and yellow chips. He should be in the nine-seat of Table 416, but he's absent. The dealer dumps out the chips and leaves the mess on the felt. The WSOP Main Event is just 54 players away from the money and it's going to be the biggest day so far. The Flying Dutchman is in the wind.

A floorman rearranges the stanchions with frustration in his eyes. Anxiety has vaporized. It's airborne. It's breathable. This is the most tense day yet at the 2012 World Series of Poker.

"This is not a rail," the floorman says to no one in particular. He grabs the nylon barrier and makes it disappear. He points to the area behind Luske's seat. "No spectators here."

And no Luske either. He has two minutes until the cards go in the air.

Like a yogi appearing on the mountain, Luske materializes in the middle of the room. His face is calm as his eyes scan the room for his table. They finally light in the right place. He brings a couple of bags with him and puts them on the table next to the chips.

"I got sick. I've got a sore throat, so I have a lot of medicine with me," he says by way of explanation.

That's seemingly bad news. Luske has double the average chip stack. While he's had a great career over the past ten years, the last time he cashed in the Main Event was 2004 when he bubbled the final table. Now, he has the stack to make another deep run. And he's sick.

"It's alright. I know what to do," he says.

Luske is a pro, but there is still a temptation to wonder if he's not too ill to play. His face is a little flushed. There are a few beads of sweat on his upper lip.

"I was in the gym," he said. "I worked out."

This is Marcel Luske. He didn't oversleep. He didn't dally on his way to the Amazon Room. Even though he's sick, he took the time to get in a workout before a 13-hour day of poker.

"I feel strong," he says.

And that's when one might realize Luske isn't just some poker player who made the money today. He's Marcel Luske. He's a zen master. He's a Jedi.

"I don't feel any fear," he says. It's unsolicited, but completely welcome, because it's at this moment that it's clear Luske is so deep in the zone, its residents have declared him mayor.


Luske, Zone Mayor

This doesn't happen without some forethought and planning. Just like the trip the gym, Luske is working to keep his head in shape, too. Though it cuts into an active Twitter schedule, Luske has left his mobile phone behind. No calls. No e-mails. No people haranguing him with bad beat stories.

"I just need to focus on the game," he says. "It's worked until now. Why change it?'"

The chips, meanwhile, remain in a pile. Luske is getting his head straight before he even sits down. He's found a willing ear.

"Poker is very delicate," he says. "One moment you're the king, the next moment you're dead."

While a student of the delicate pursuit, Luske didn't get where he is on zen alone. He's man who tasted blood before most of today's poker kids had hair under their arms. The game has changed around him. The kids are aggressive. In the old days, a Luske raise would take down the pot uncontested. These days, the kids three-bet with air and think the can shove the old guy around. This year they have learned the hard way, Luske only talks softly. And sometimes he doesn't even do that.

"You step on my toes, I'll step on your head," he says.

He sits down, stacks his chips, and begins to play. Less than two hours later, he's in the money at the WSOP Main Event for the first time in eight years.



Jason Mercier: "Busto. Shoved 38k with T9s from hijack. C/o calls with A8 and flops an A. Dead on turn. Happy that I cashed, was handicapped whole tourney."


This year's WSOP co-bubble-boys will play a single table satellite for next year's Main Event seat. That hasn't happened since 2006.


Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker