Emerging from a field of thousands of contestants, there were only two players left. And only one out of those two could make history. It was November 2008, and the main event of the World Series in Las Vegas was coming to a culmination. The World Series of Poker, that is.
Neither one of the final two players left in the poker main event contest was American. On one side of the table sat Russian Ivan Demidov, and on the other side sat Danish Peter Eastgate. Both men had outlasted over six thousand other players to earn a place at the final table of poker’s grandest stage.
The World Series of Poker is a group of poker games that is held every year in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the not so distant past, this event was attended mainly by professional players, celebrities and maybe other well-to-do persons who simply enjoyed bumping elbows with the poker pros. An amateur player aptly named Chris Moneymaker quickly changed all of that.
In 2003, Chris Moneymaker came out of obscurity to beat hundreds of professionals, win the main event, and become the poker champion of the world. There were around eight hundred entrants that year. The year after this “no-name” became world champion; over twenty-five hundred people paid the ten thousand dollar entry fee and joined the game. Since then, the number of entrants has always been comfortably over five thousand. Poker is no longer a professional gambler’s game. It is since, the game of the “no-name”. And the “no-names” have won every year since 2003.
And so, in 2008, Peter Eastgate and Ivan Demidov sat at a table, each poised and hoping to claim the coveted title of poker’s best player. Demidov and Eastgate had about an even number of tournament chips. But in the next to last hand, Demidov bluffed off most of his chips to Eastgate who had made a lucky five-card flush.
In the final hand, Demidov, made two pair. He had few chips left and needed to act. From across the table, Eastgate coldly stared him down. Instead of looking up into Eastgate’s scorching eyes, Demidov simply focused. This intelligent young Russian had made it this far by remaining thoughtful and making wise decisions. A little luck hadn’t hurt either. And so thinking that he probably had the best hand with his two-pair, he said the two most famous words in Texas Hold’em poker, “All in.” With those words, Demidov effectively shoved his remaining chips into the middle of the pot and sealed his fate.
Texas Hold’em is a game that is played with each contestant using two hidden hole cards and five community cards to make the best possible five-card poker hand. In this situation, and unfortunately for Demidov, Eastgate had made a five-card straight with the same community card that had given Demidov two pair. Eastgate quickly called Demidov’s all-in bet with his made straight and after one more benign community card was harmlessly turned, the game was over. Eastgate won over nine million dollars. In addition to that, he had become the first Danish and also the youngest poker champion of the world at age twenty-two. He would earn the name “Icegate” for his trademark stare. This “no-name” is now and forever a poker legend.
Poker was once a game played purely by gamblers and professionals. It was illegal in many places and the players were regarded as little better then criminals. In these days, poker has become a game that anyone can play. In any given hand, anybody can win. It is an underdog’s dream. And poker, just like life, involves both fate and good decision making. With good decisions, you can possibly cut down on the role that fate plays. John Wayne, one of the game’s biggest fans, once said, “Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.” But then again, in life, your wise decisions may or may not always help you in the end.
And so it goes with poker. It’s a game in which you can make the best decisions and still lose. It’s a contest in which you can be stupid and still somehow win. It is a competition that takes into consideration the controlled human element, and yet somehow always involves dumb luck.
And life, like poker, demonstrates the odd relationship between our freedom of choice and the irony of fate. That is why it is such a great game. The game of life, I mean. The game of poker is great too; and if you don’t believe me then just ask Chris Moneymaker, or if you prefer perhaps, Peter “Icegate”. Life is an underdog’s dream.