Oops… Did I do that…?

“And you have the option sir.”

“Hmm. I think I’m going to raise.”

The table goes completely silent. Everyone stares at the player in the big blind. Whispers from around the table begin.

“Who is this guy?”

“I’ve never seen him before.”

“He’s never raised before!”

“I don’t know what to do here.”

In order, the entire table folds their cards.

The amount of times I’ve seen this scenario unfold is countless. This is one of those moments that I live for. That moment when you’ve changed as a poker player. Over the course of my career as a poker dealer, I’ve been blessed to witness the evolution of many different players. New players always have that lost look on their face, but the moment when ‘lost’ becomes something different… yeah, I get goose-bumps every time.

The last few months have been awesome for the dealer in me. The mentor in me, on the other hand, has been working overtime. The number one question people keep asking is, “How do I know I’m getting better?” The truth is, that’s not a question easily answered. There are several different ways a player can improve many of which go unnoticed to most observers. It’s also possible you won’t notice it yourself. This is why I’m creating a list of levels to help you better understand who you are, and where you sit as a poker player.

The list starts a little differently that you may expect.

  • The Rail – ‘The Rail’ player isn’t ready to sit at the table. This player loves to hang out with his friends but would rather sit behind their buddy and watch the game. You will often hear them saying things like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Or “I would only slow the game down.” or “This game is too complicated for me.” These players will often ask questions like, “Why did you do that?” and “Why did you win the chips?”
  • Shots Please – The ‘Shots Please’ player finally sits for the first time but feels they need a little extra courage to stay there. This player is known for phrases like, “Please be patient with me,” and “Can I fold?” You also find these players staring at poker on TV in amazement trying to learn from it.
  • Check Fold – The ‘Check Fold’ player has overcome their fear of sitting at the table. They are finally used to the flow of the game. These players probably won’t play many hands, but when they do be careful…they most likely have AA – KK – QQ. I mention this because these are the only hands they aren’t afraid to play. Anything else will require too much thought, and if they take too long, the staring people will freak them out and they almost always fold in fear. The common statement here is, “Can I check? No? Then I fold.”
  • I Call – ‘I Call’ players are great. They are finally in that ‘you don’t scare me’ mode, and haven’t quite arrived to the ‘I want to win’ level. These players are starting to understand table dynamics and are eager to see the hand’s results. They know that three of a kind beats two pair, but often forget that a flush isn’t greater than a full house. These players are notorious for going out early…and not caring. They are just excited that they finally ‘get it.’ They will almost always check if they are first and will almost always call any bet. You can guess their signature quote: “Check! How much? I call!”
  • Can I Raise? – The ‘Can I Raise?’ players are where I get most of my entertainment. These players have learned a bit about what good starting hands are and finally understand ‘what beats what.’ They’re starting to talk more at the table and will show up to the game even when their friends can’t make it. They’re more cautious of their chip stack and eventually last longer in the game. You will often see them stare at their cards blankly, stare at the flop, then stare at their cards again. And then that priceless look of realization comes over them. The will almost always ask, “What are the blinds?” before they ask, “Can I raise?”
  • I Don’t Believe You – This is a very interesting level. The ‘I Don’t Believe You’ players are always fun to watch. You can see their thought processes. When a player bets out, they start staring at them. They will look at their cards over and over again. This is the level where these players don’t want to be bet out of the pot and they hate folding. They always want to know what the other player is holding. They almost never believe the person who bet. They will often lose a lot of their chips because they just want to prove themselves right. This is also the level where I see the raw emotions of poker kicking in. “Are you bluffing? I think you’re lying.” These are a few of the famous last words for this group.
  • Why Not – The ‘Why Not’ players can be the most frustrating players. This group has learned to bluff. They’re great at getting under your skin. The best part? They don’t even know it. They become aggressive in their actions and just like to bet. There really isn’t any rhyme or reason to their bets other than, “Maybe they will fold”.
  • Check Raise – The ‘Check Raise’ player gets it. This is the group that has finally figured things out. They are cognitive of table position. They are starting to understand the math in poker. They know what’s going on all the time. They set goals in poker; they’re actually trying to win. They get mad at themselves for making mistakes. They are often up late at night rethinking hands. You will often find them listening to poker podcasts, or reading poker books. They are always looking for the edge. These players often make themselves known at the table when they check raise. They will catch you when you’re not ready and somehow take all your chips and leave you wondering “Where did that come from?”

I know this list doesn’t officially answer the question I originally posed, but I hope you can find yourself in there. Somewhere. I’m not a fan of looking at somebody and saying, “This is where you are in the game.” I want a player to look at themselves and realize who they are. I’m not ever going to tell you I know how to make you a better poker player. I will help you find the tools that can help you better understand yourself.

I love watching the game blossom in players. That burning desire to get better drives my desire to help. I hope you find who you are in this game, and continue your growth. If you find me chuckling unprovoked at you during a game, know that I’m not laughing at you. I’m just entertained by the growth I’m witnessing!





Time is an amazing and horrifying thing. It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly six months since the last time I’ve written to you all. It’s amazing how life just takes over, dictating your every move. I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately, and more specifically, about the time that slips away. The moments you overlooked that should have had meaning. The people that have come and gone… 

I received a Christmas card the other day. It wasn’t anything special, but it made me stop. I had to read it a few times. The first time through it was easy to look past it. The second time through however, made me stop everything I was doing and enjoy the small moment. “Thank you. Thank you for being a nice guy and a good mentor.” A rush of emotion and memory rushed through me. When did I change roles in life? When did I go from being the learner to being the teacher?

Today I’d like to talk about the small things. I’d like to share the joy of helping, the joy of educating, and the joy of watching.

Over the last few years I’ve loved the camaraderie poker has allowed me to experience. I’ve gained many friends through this wonderful game. As my surroundings expanded my awareness also expanded. My education as a poker player never ends. I think it’s important to understand that. There’s always something to learn, if you allow yourself to be open to the experience.

When I started writing, I set out to help people understand poker on a different level. Never once did I promise to make you better players. No goals of making you the next millionaire. In truth, all I wanted was you to understand that you could have fun playing this game. As it turns out, I’ve created a desire to improve. I’ve created a desire to learn. I’ve created a desire to play. 

Four, sometimes five days a week I sit at a poker table and I deal you cards. I watch you as you make your decisions. I’ve watched as your awareness has grown. I’m entertained when you fold your cards asking me if it was the right decision. Most of the time, you know you are correct in folding, but the reassurance is helpful. I love that you are learning. I love that you are growing. I love the frustration poker creates as you question your plays and the plays other people make.

There are a few things we use in life that are helpful in your goals to improve as a poker player. We have our awareness. Being aware of your surroundings, your situations, your peers, and addressing that awareness. Addressing it and absorbing it. We have our experiences. Using the experiences time has to offer you, and allowing it to have an effect on your decision making. Taking this awareness and this experience and turning it into knowledge to be used as a resource is a true goal. Knowledge – this is such a powerful word. We as a species are always seeking knowledge. But what is knowledge if it’s not a resource? Use the knowledge you’ve gained. Use your experiences and use your awareness. These three things define who we are and define who you are as a poker player.

I am happy that I’ve become a mentor to some, but I’m also afraid of it. Everyone has weakness in them. Have you learned what your weakness is? I know mine. I know that I can’t overcome mine. I also don’t want to. My weakness comes from a constant desire to help. My fears come from the moments when helping isn’t actually the answer. I fear that in your eagerness to learn you’ll pick up my bad habits, and then I become responsible for your failures. I deal with my fears all day every day. I know you’re watching, I know you’re learning, I know you’re absorbing. The beautiful thing in all of this is that you are all my personal mentors. I learn from all of you.

If you haven’t come to terms with who you are as a poker player, my first suggestion in your quest to be better is find yourself. Find who you are in this game. Find the things that you’re good at. Find the weaknesses. Accept them and learn from them first.

Back from the WSOP!


I’m back, with a renewed faith in the game of poker. The truth is I never really lost it, but there was a moment or two that had me on the edge… This past year was extraordinarily rough… With the loss of two family members, and a good friend, I needed something to pull me away from my grief, and the WSOP couldn’t have come at a better time. I needed the vacation and the relaxation that poker brings. Some people don’t understand how poker can be relaxing. The grind itself has run many players off. All the elements involved, have a strange way of bringing peace to my life.

This summer’s WSOP was definitely different. A lot of change happened. The first thing that caught my eye was the layout. The rooms were switched around, with an addition to a “High Stakes” area… I will say this; there is a certain comfort to familiarity. The first lap, had me a bit confused, and almost out of sorts. But all that was replaced with the calming hum of the shuffling chips… I know many people who hate that noise, but not me. This sound brings me an odd inner peace. It’s like the smell of a home cooked meal when you return to your parents or grandparents home after an extended absence… Like sitting on your couch after a 1500 mile drive… (Yes… my adventures this summer had a lot of drive time…) I love the sound of shuffling chips. It reminded me that I was home.

I normally have a large group with me when I venture to Las Vegas, so I made it a point to arrive a day or two earlier than everyone else to attempt to get my feet under me. I arrived kind of late on my first day; too late to enter any events so a good night’s sleep was in order. After wandering around a bit, spending a few moments watching a final table battle, it was time to call it a night.

This year we awarded 6 people tickets to play in a $1500 WSOP event (If you’re unfamiliar with Piper Poker, look us up on Facebook @piperpoker). All 6 of these players were new to the WSOP. I know that I would be an acting tour guide to each of them so I wanted to get some time at the tables before they arrived. One of my favorite parts of going to the WSOP is introducing new players to an event that has colored my life. Walking around, pointing out their idols. Then, surprising them, as I offer to introduce them.  I’ve played cards with the best and the worst. I’ve watched the worst beats, seen the amazing rivers, and hugged heartbroken strangers. I’ve learned from some of the greatest unknown players this world has to offer. None of this could have happened had the WSOP not existed. The WSOP has been a part of my life for 15+ years now, and I have plans for that relationship to continue.

My first full day of poker started with one of the Daily Deepstacks. I really enjoy these events because they are a great way to hit the ground running. The entry fees are reasonable, ranging from $125 up to $365, and the payouts are great way to pad your bank roll. Where I didn’t fare well in this first event, I’d like to think I played well. It allowed me the chance to knock the dust off my game. This is something I will always recommend. When you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with your surroundings you need something to break the tension. At the WSOP these are perfect for that.

I ended up playing in several of the Deepstacks, and I cashed in two of them taking 157th out of 1,349 players in one and 15th out of 209 in the other. The payouts were nothing brag worthy but the experience was rewarding. Over the last year or so I’ve talked a lot about table image, and learning from your surroundings. I’d like to believe that those two things are exactly how I lasted all the way to 15th place. To lay a foundation for the examples of this, there are a few things you need to know about me.

I like to consider myself a “situational aggressive player”, and what I mean by that is I don’t get involved in a lot of pots, but when I am involved tread carefully, the cannon balls splash ripples for a while. Yes, I like to play position and pick up a few early pots, but I’m a huge fan of telling my story slowly. Think of it like the typical stories we’ve all read that started with the “Once upon a time”… We didn’t consider them thrillers; we knew we were in for the long haul. Those stories we enjoyed reading because you got to know the characters. You got to establish a bond with them as you turned the pages. That’s me. I’m the Samwise Gamgee of poker. No one pays a whole lot of attention to me the poker player. Sure I talk at the table and tell stories and get to know everyone, but I’m, for the most part, pretty passive as far as information at the table. I like to surprise people when I get involved in a hand. In most cases, when my chips go out, the table agenda adjusts, and the demeanor changes. People tend to avoid getting involved because I represent a tight player. Tight players will fold almost anything. But that’s not me at all. When my chips go in, watch out, because I’m defending those chips. When these situations occur, no one at the table is prepared for it. Like Mr. Gamgee, showing up to kill the spider to save Frodo. I create high intensity moment that leaves a lasting effect.

Now that you know this about me, I can tell you about a few hands that propelled me into the 15th place finish. The first hand I have to set up with the tournament situation. We had been playing for nearly five hours by this point, and were nearing the money bubble, when I look down at my stack and realize that I’m very close to the short stack in the room. The specific hand I’m sitting under the gun, and I have been dealt KsQs… Now I’ve been sitting with most of the people at the table for over an hour and have gotten to know them all fairly well, so I decide to raise putting about half my stack in. Everyone folds around to the big blind (who I’d been sitting next to since the beginning). Now this player is the key to the hand because he’s obtained the most possible information from me. He sits and thinks for a while, possibly as long as 2 minutes before he makes an action. He decides to fold his hand, and when he does he turns his cards face up showing AhQh. His comment as he does this is, “I haven’t seen you play a hand in over an hour… if this was you making a move, I would have expected you to be all in… that move smells like Aces to me.” I politely reply “Thank you for the fold,” and smiled as I stacked the chips. Two hands later we hit the money. My table broke soon after.

Fast forward another hour, I find myself in yet again the same scenario. Short stacked and nearing the end of my run, I’m under the gun with AcQh. The new table brought a few familiar faces with me so there’s a chance I can pull this move off again, but half my stack is just calling the big blind… So I move all in. Amidst a few groans, everyone folds and I earn another double up. The entertaining part of this is the very next hand; I’m dealt AhAc in the big blind. Action progresses with a raise from seat four and a three bet from the button. The three bet is enough for me to be all in, so I move all in and get a call from the four seat and the button. The action on the flop ends with the four seat moving all in and the button calling. As they reveal their cards I’m blessed with being ahead of 44 in the four seat and QQ on the button. My hand holds up! I triple up, and seat four is eliminated. Two hands later we’re down to 18 players and we redraw seats again… unfortunately I don’t see another playable hand or situation allowing me to gain more chips until I see the hand that felts me… I move all in with Ah10c and get called by ironically the guy who laid down the earlier AQ. He shows A7 and he hits his 7 to knock me out.

Overall I was very pleased with my play in this year’s WSOP. The 2 bracelet events I played were uneventful, but fun! In the Bounty Event I got to rub shoulders with poker pro Sam Grafton, who was the chip leader early during day 2AB of the main event. He’s been one of my favorite characters to play cards with over the years. If you get chance to look him up, or watch him on YouTube, you should watch his facial expressions… They crack me up every time.

sam grafton marbella.jpg

The WSOP is probably the greatest poker event out there. It brings tens of thousands of poker players from around the world together. This is my family. This is my family reunion. I’ve spent half my life time playing poker and every year I attend this convention of sorts. It’s hard to explain the feelings of having people remember you, or remembering people who had an effect on you. Some people overlook the life lessons they’ve learned at the poker table, but those lessons are some that I hold dearest. I’ve won my share of hands, and lost more than I can count. As weird as it may sound, I don’t set goals of winning bracelets. I set goals of winning hearts. The poker table is my medium, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.