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Camp Poker Champ

At the World Series of Poker Academy, students learn how to improve their play and vie for a seat at the big game
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007

(continued from page 2)

By the time of the tournament, which will have everyone angling for a $10,000 seat in the World Series of Poker championship, I feel that I've absorbed a lot. But I'm also in agreement with Raymer, who thinks I'll be able to take in only about 10 percent of what the instructors throw at me. That's fine, but I'm not sure what it'll do for me at the table. I stack my $5,000 in tournament chips and spot Raymer sitting a few seats to my right. Only this time he's playing rather than dealing. And I've already been warned that the pros and Academy staff play plenty hard (on the plus side, they all have $100 bounties: knock one of 'em out and he hands you a crisp Benjamin). They don't get to keep any prizes (those go to the student runners-up), but they do have reputations to protect, and Raymer has no qualms about destroying the very people he had been instructing just a few hours ago.

Several hands in, however, something strange happens. Maybe I've absorbed more than 10 percent or maybe that's all I needed to get a reasonable game going. But suddenly I feel as if I know what I'm doing. My bets seem sensible, and I remember Alex Outhred's advice to think about opponents' reasons for raising and calling. I let the logic of their decisions influence my own. The game becomes more fun than it's ever been for me. At a couple points, I become low on chips. But I remember to push all in with a playable hand before the flop as soon as I get to less than 10 times the big blind. And it works.

Five hours into the tourney only six players remain. Two of them are Academy owners Jeff Goldenberg and Brandon Rosen. One of them is me. So that means I just need to beat three more players for the World Series seat. But once again, I'm low on chips, pretty much in fourth place and playing a nice tight, but aggressive game. I need to find a spot in which to double up. It comes when I push all in with a pair of 10s and find myself a favorite against Rosen. My cards hold up; he passes me his chips and a $100 bill for bouncing him out of the tournament. By 1 a.m. it's down to me, Goldenberg and a pixie-ish blonde. I'm the table's undisputed chip leader, having caught cards at fortuitous moments and managing to knock out a few other students.

When Goldenberg hits a decent starting hand and gets Blondie all in (she's got the least chips), I'm hoping for him to bust her. It'll make me the chip leader and the de facto winner of the Series seat (remember, Goldenberg's not eligible). Five exposed cards later, the poker gods smile. She goes home with a second-place prize (free entry to another Poker Academy), and I'm playing in the main event this summer.

The next morning Goldenberg playfully asks me whether he was right about how much you can learn in two days at the Poker Academy. I tell him that he might be, though I'm reserving comment till after I win the World Series.

Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.

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