WSOP 2015: What are 1,000 FPPs worth? A career.
If you went to the PokerStars VIP Store right now with 1,000 Frequent Player Points, it would buy you two small foam stress toys in the shape of sharks. Don't get me wrong. It's a good buy. You can throw those sharks against a computer screen all day and never worry about damaging even a pixel.
But you could do better.
To understand how, you have to look at a man that many people think of as poker's most famous 13th-place WSOP finisher, a guy who burned 1,000 FPPs in a freeroll a decade ago and has turned the result into a ten-year career.
That man was Bernard Lee, an Ivy League guy from New England, a senior marketing manager in a Fortune 500 company, a poker enthusiast who'd been playing cards for more than a decade. One night while watching a 2002 WSOP broadcast, he saw Russell Rosenblum call a guy's hand.
"I was so stunned that he could predict it that well that I literally said to myself, 'You know what? You're really not that good at this game. You think you are, but you're not,'" Lee said this week.
Lee started studying, and by the time Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP, Lee was ready to start his campaign to get to the Main Event. Though he tried time and again, he failed to make it in 2004.
When PokerStars opened satellites for the 2005 Series, Lee was ready. On a Monday night, he went to tennis practice, came home, and found a 1,000-FPP satellite. The plan was to practice for a big qualifier on Sunday. Instead, he won it. His wife found him crying in the kitchen at 7am.
"I made it," he said. "I can't believe it. I made it."
One picture, one dream
There was never any doubt that Lee was a marketing man. The year 2005 was one of those heady years where character was still king and sponsorship money fell from the rafters. Lee knew the value of a good story. What's more, he had one.
In the weeks leading up to the Main Event, it looked as if his trip would be over before he got to the airport. His wife looked as if she might have been very ill following a surgery. Lee started emailing PokerStars asking to defer his entry. By that point, it wasn't possible. The good thing was, it also wasn't necessary. It turned out his wife was fine.
When Lee arrived, he set a photo of his children on the rail in front of him and looked to it for inspiration. Over the course of the next several days, the cameras hovered, and Lee became the WSOP's Everyday Family Man.
On this day in 2005, Lee was doing all he could to make it to the final 27 players. Only that lucky group would be part of the history-making day when the final three tables went to Binion's for the last time.
He made it, sealing his part in poker's history.
The result was a 13th-place finish. It paid him $400,000.
While it was a huge score, it wasn't the kind of money he could use to retire. The problem was, he immediately had the bug.
"You want to get back to where you were," he said. "It's an incredible feeling."
His wife, however, didn't see it quite the same way.
"You can't believe this is going to happen every time," she said.
So they came to an understanding. If Lee could find a way to create some revenue streams outside of tournament play, he could leave his job at the Fortune 500 company.
What few people might have been able to predict is that Lee would do just that.
Lee almost immediately landed a column in the Boston Herald. He started a radio show and sold advertising. He picked up a couple of small sponsorships. What's more, before the end of 2006, he'd won the World Poker Finals for another $300,000.
"In '07, I decided I was going for it," he said.
The result was more than he ever could've dreamed. He hasn't had to look hard for more work. He's commentated for ESPN and the WSOP Circuit, been spokesperson for Foxwoods Casino, and hosted Inside Deal on ESPN.
"I don't work. I'm retired. That's how I think about it," he said. "Somebody gives me a check every once in a while, and I'm just amazed. Sometimes I play in the biggest tournaments in the world and do well, and they give me more money."
Over the course of his career, he's won several events, including one that earned him a WSOP Circuit ring. In total, he has more than $2 million in career tourney earnings. What's more, he's still earning money outside of his play. He has other sponsors and business interests in his relationships with RunGood Gear and Blue Shark Optics. He also hooked up with a company called Blaycations (short for Bucket List Vacations) thats brings people in for WSOP events, introduces them to the big players, and gives them the poker trip of a lifetime.
"I'm doing it because I love what I do," he said. "I feel ridiculously fortunate."
As a result, he and his family have turned to charitable efforts. Together they work to provide tens of thousands of dollars worth of Christmas gifts to New England families during the holidays.
There is nothing to say Lee couldn't have come this far if he'd busted out of that freeroll ten years ago. His drive and ambition are unparalleled. He dreams of being in the Poker Hall of Fame. He it likely would've made it this far no matter what path he took.
Nevertheless, it's more than a little fun to look back and see how Lee turned a PokerStars FPP pittance into millions and a career than has now lasted a decade.
"It's amazing to me that I'm still in this industry ten years later," he said. "In 2002 and 2003, I was a fan. Now I'm a professional player."
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Photography by PokerPhotoArchive.com