by Wil Wheaton

One of the chief tasks of the writer is to share his emotions with the reader, so that the reader may be in the same place, emotionally as well as physically, as the writer.

If you’d like to be where I am right now, please stand up, and punch yourself in the stomach. Then, sit down, and do it again.

Rob “Boilingfish” Berryman was eliminated in 33rd place today, when he made a championship move — with his money ahead, no less — against two players who quite frankly had no business being in the hand. Hell, even I know that, and I suck at poker.

My family is in town today, stopping by on their way home from Arizona, where my older son looked at a couple of colleges. Since I haven’t seen my boys in over a month, I got permission from Otis to come in a little late this afternoon, so I could spend time with my family and recharge.

After breakfast together and a morning spent in the pool, I came into the Rio happier and more relaxed and at peace than I’ve felt since the day I got here. It was a nice feeling, and it lasted for all of fifteen minutes.

“How’s my guy doing?” I asked Pauly and Otis when I walked into the media room.

“He doubled up, then he took a little hit on a suckout,” Otis said, “but he’s doing fine.”

“Awesome,” I said. “I’m going to go in and check on him.”

The room feels smaller, and darker, now that all but four tables — one of them the featured table on the ESPN stage — remain. Rob’s table was near one corner, and to get there, I had to walk all the way around the perimeter of the tournament area. As I walked, I marveled at how much the room had compressed. Just a few days ago (or fifteen years, in Vegas time) there were over 8700 players with ten thousand chips, hoping to get here, hoping to be one of the remaining 33, with over a million chips.

Rob Berryman, who told me he has no desire to play poker in any non-recreational capacity, got there. He outlasted the largest field in history, and all but two serious poker professionals.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sorry about that, I’m a little emotional right now (again: fist + stomach or foot + junk, if that’s how you roll.)

When I got to Rob’s table, I turned around and said hello to his dad, who said to me, “See, Wil, you show up, and he plays a hand!” (Yesterday, it seemed like he was only in hands when I happened to drop by, and his dad said to me, “You’re his good luck charm.” My thoughts immediately went to CJ and Dmitri, and I said, “Oh man, I don’t want that!”)

Rob was in the big blind, David Einhorn had opened for 160K from middle position. William Thorsson called, and Rob called. The flop came Qs9c5c and Rob checked. Einhorn bet 400K, Thorsson raised to 1.3M, and Rob check-raised them both all-in.

Einhorn thought for .00094 seconds, and called for his last 900K. Thorsson, who I guess took some of my stupid pills this morning, went into the tank for almost five minutes, and also called. ESPN’s cameras swarmed around the table, and everything else in the room slowed to bullet time while the dealer counted out the main and side pots.

Rob looked anxious to turn over his cards. I turned to his dad and said, “He must have a set, nines or queens. Thorsson must be on a flush draw, and maybe Einhorn has aces or kings.”

We waited for an age, then we waited for another age while an ESPN cameraman loaded in a new tape (He politely barked at the table, “Hey! Don’t flip over your cards until I’m ready!” Real classy, those ESPN guys.)

Finally, we saw their cards: Rob turned up 7c8c, for the straight flush draw, Einhorn showed AsQc for top pair (brilliant!) and Thorsson showed . . . KsJs for the 22-1 longshot that he called getting 6-1 (genius!)

“Rob’s slightly ahead,” I said to his dad, “and these other guys are morons for calling.”

The turn was the ace of hearts, and suddenly one of those morons seemed pretty smart. You can start punching yourself in the stomach now, if you’d like to follow along with me at home.

“Come on, just one club. Just put one club out there,” I said. “I’ll never ask for anything again, I promise.”

The dealer knocked the table, and slid one card off the top of the deck underneath the largest pile of poker chips I’ve ever seen in my life, and I held my breath as the river card came off the top of the deck.

I can see it perfectly in my memory: I’m leaning to my left, catching a glimpse between the tape-changing camera guy and the player in the two seat who stood up to watch the action. The card is slowly turned just at the edge of the chips, as the dealer’s hand nears the edge of the board. I don’t know what card it is, but I know that it’s red, and I know that Rob and his dad are going home. When it’s finally revealed, it’s the ace of diamonds, and suddenly the worst call in the world looks like a genius move, as Einhorn triples up and rockets to third in chips.

Rob stood up, and shook hands with every player at his table. He was calm, poised, and full of grace as he collected his things: his sunglasses, his backpack, and a few pieces of paper. A Harrah’s escort walked him out of the tournament area, as Nolan Dalla announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating our 33rd place finisher, Rob Berryman, who was the youngest player left at 21 and three months.”

Tears filled my eyes as I joined the room in thunderous applause. My friend April, standing just a few feet to my left said, “I think I’m going to cry a little bit.” All I could do was nod my head.

I jammed my notebook into my back pocket as the dealer pushed the largest pile of poker chips I’ve ever seen in my life — both in quantity and value — to Einhorn.

“Can someone help me stack these chips?” He said.

“Stack them yourself, you [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]” I muttered to myself. (I later felt bad for referring to Einhorn in such a manner, even if it was entirely under my breath and spoken in a moment of gut-wrenching emotion, when I found out that he’s pledged 100% of his winnings — at this point nearly 500K — to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease. Mad Harper says, “I love that man.”)

I talked with Rob and his dad in the PokerStars suite after he cashed out. I’ll have that later, but right now I need some time alone.


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