Zak Margolis, Vaughn Sandman's step-brother, followed his every move throughout the Main Event. Zak charmed his way through Harrah's Security and ESPN crews to constantly park in a quiet space near Vaughn, his notepad, Mardi gras beads, hunky looks, and big smile becoming part of the World Series décor. All the while, Vaughn was trying to parlay his $80 qualifier into a big Main Event cash that would give him the bankroll security he had craved for so many years.
CC: Did you play any WSOP events prior to the Main Event?
Vaughn: I did not. Frankly, I did not have the money, and to be honest, I do not really like being in Vegas, especially in the summer. Also the blind structures for the cheaper events seemed a little fast for my tastes.
CC: How did you win your WSOP Main Event seat this year?
Vaughn: I won my way in through the PokerStars main multi-table Sunday qualifier, which I entered by winning an $80 one table satellite. I did not have much money in my bankroll to allocate for WSOP qualifying this year, but I felt sort of professionally obligated to try. I spent about $1200 on various qualifying events.
CC: Take us through the first two days of the Main Event. You ended Day 1 with $34k and Day 2 with over $160k.
Vaughn: The main factor in my having any success in the main event in 2006 was the amount I had learned from playing in 2005. The first day is just grueling, and 2005 had been a lesson in the need for endurance. I had started slowly in 2005, rushed back over 12k by the third level and was up near 20k by dinner. After dinner I found a new, soft table and got up to 43k by midnight, only to donk my way down to 15k at the end of the night. I was just totally unprepared to play that many hours and keep my A game, and I wound up busted fairly early in Day 2. If I had bagged up my chips at midnight and let myself get blinded off, I would have gone into Day 2 with over 30k.
This year, I was determined not to fall behind early and not to blow it at the end of the day. Nonetheless, I was down to about 3,700 midway through Level Two. I was stuck between two good players (John Stoltzman on my right) and just bleeding chips. I stayed calm, eventually getting into a groove where I felt like I knew what I was doing, and thought I would be fine if the cards started cooperating. Eventually, I doubled through Stoltzman (who busted a few hands later) and got up to about 12k by the end of level 2.
When I came back for level 3, my table had become the ESPN feature table with Matusow replacing Stoltzman on my right. But he got busted on the second hand; flopping a set against an aggressive player who gambled with a flush draw and rivered it. I did not particularly like playing at the TV table because the lights were hot and uncomfortable, but I played tight and well, winning a huge pot with KQs vs. KK when I turned the flush and got my opponent to pay me off. I doubt any of that session will make the final cut besides the Matusow hand, but I'll be happy if it does because there was some good table talk and I did a nice job of inducing calls (not my specialty) from the guy with KK.
The rest of Day 1 was a whirlwind, as I played at 4 more different tables, moving every level. I tend to play much better when I have a good read on the table, so it was sort of a handicap, but it also helped me execute my plan which was to stay out of trouble once I got to around 30k. Since I was never at a table long enough to get much of a read on the players, I kept things very simple and just tried to take down enough pots pre-flop so that my stack did not go down. By the last level, everybody was stalling and very few people wanted to risk calling preflop raises, so I had little trouble keeping my wits and my chips. I don't think I saw a turn card in the final two levels.
CC: How different was Day Two?
Vaughn: Day Two was a real test. My table had Aaron Kanter, Bob Voulgaris and a few other tough players, including a young PokerStars qualifier who impressed the hell out of me with his play (I found out later he was the notorious Johnster). The chip stacks were very even at the start, so it was a real fight. I won a couple of hands early and started taking down some pots with well-timed preflop reraises which left me feeling in control of the table. Then Johnster served me up nicely on a hand where I had top pair against his set (he played it beautifully) and I was back down to about 42k. There was one player at the table who was making a lot of all-in moves, and I decided to sit back and wait for a chance to trap him. Luckily, I found the right spot early in the third level of the day, when he raised from early position and I found KK. I smooth called, and when he bet out into a queen high flop, I over-raised the pot and he obliged by moving all in. I called and my over pair held off his top pair which shot me up over 100k.
At that point, I felt I could really pick my spots and did a good job of picking up pots without having to expose myself to a lot of risk. After dinner, I flopped a set vs. Kanter's top pair to bust him and cruised through the end of the day with a nice size stack.
CC: You had a major scuffle with Joe Hachem, one where he got quite heated. Tell us what led up to this and what happened.
Vaughn: My Day 3 table consisted of myself, Joe Hachem, and I think 8 other internet qualifiers. Right from the start, most of the others were acting very star-struck, asking for autographs and saying things like "I can't wait to tell my friends I played at your table..." This stuff bugs me. Many years ago, I was leading a tournament at Commerce when Kathy Liebert sat down on my left and I was similarly star-struck and made no effort to hide it. An hour later I was in the parking lot stunned and she was holding most of my stack. It was a tough lesson to learn, but from then on I decided to try hard to treat all players as just opponents and to never give anyone the psychological advantage of letting them know that you know who they are.
Obviously Joe knows that everyone knows him, but I was determined to make him fear me; after all, I was on his immediate left and was chip leader at the table. Right off the bat, Joe was doing the most preflop raising at the table, and he was picking up more blinds and antes than anybody else. I mostly stayed out of his way and we did not see many flops together. He is a very nice guy and very charming, and it seemed like he was practically charming people into folding anything marginal when he was in the pot. Pretty soon, he was almost even with me in chips. I was watching him closely, though, and felt that I got a pretty good read on how he played in different situations. If the right situation arose, I thought I would be able to play a big pot against him. He took one or two rough beats against other players and lost a few chips, and surprisingly to me, he also lost some of his composure. So I started really looking for a spot to get in there against one of his preflop raises.
The first time we really banged heads, he raised to 8k preflop and I flat-called. The flop came A-5-9 and he bet out 10k. I felt I had a good sense of where he was and I liked my hand so I called. The turn was a 7 and he bet out 30k. My read on the situation was that I might have the best hand, and that if I didn't, he was going to have a tough time feeling certain that I didn't have him beat. I raised to 70k and Joe put the stare on me for a full six minutes as the cameras and boom mikes gathered around. Joe had put about 1/3 of his chips into the pot already and could not really call my raise--it was all in or fold for him and he was not ready to go broke in a spot where there were a number of hands I could plausibly be holding that would have him beat. Eventually, he mucked.
The next time we went at it was the hand that really set him off. A player two seats off the button came in for a standard raise of 8,000 and Joe took it to 22,500 from the button. I looked down and found As-Qs in the small blind. First off, the original raiser had shown a propensity to raise with less than Group 1 hands if he were first to act from late position. I knew that, and I knew that Joe knew that too, so I thought Joe's reraise was a bit of a shut-out play. I was certain Joe had a legit hand, but I did not think it was AA or KK-his bet was just a little large for those based on what I had seen from him. After our last battle, I had stretched out my chip lead on him and the table and as a general philosophy, I believe that in order to win tournaments you must make some bold plays and take a few chances. I honestly put Joe on JJ or TT, but I figured he was going to have trouble calling off all his chips with anything less than AA or KK and as I said, I felt pretty secure that wasn't it and that if he did call, we would likely be in a race.
So I came over the top and moved all in.
Once again there were a bunch of cameras and Joe did a lot of talking before mucking his AKs face up after the original raiser folded. I will admit that was not what I put him on. I rarely show my cards when I don't have to, especially when I have gotten away with one, but I knew Joe was already steaming so I showed him and the table and the cameras that I was beaten, though I said nothing. He did not really know what to think--if I had shown him garbage he would have had to respect me for a ballsy bluff. But when he saw AQs, I think he thought that I had moved in because I was dumb enough to think I was holding the best hand, and that really set him off. That was the overall effect I was going for--to keep him angry and confused.
One thing I realized is that there is also a downside to being a watched, famous player. If I raise with AKs and someone goes over the top of me, and then I put all my chips in only to lose to AA or KK, well nobody cares. I'm just one more internet donk who overplayed AK. But when someone puts Joe to a decision for all his chips, he has to make up his mind in front of ESPN, CardPlayer, his PokerStars sponsors etc, and his choice gets shown to everybody in the world. If he stacks off in that spot and I turn over either of those two hands, he is very much in danger of looking foolish in front of the whole world.
I am not sure, but I think it's reasonably likely that pre-2005 WSOP Joe would have called me in that spot and probably taken more than half my chips. That was pretty much it for the two of us. He was down under 50k and I was up well over 200k, and I was pretty certain I could bust him before the night was out. But our table broke and we went our separate ways. He apparently got a bunch of chips back at his next table and went on to outlast me in the tournament, so I have to give him a ton of credit. He's an excellent card player with a lot of heart and skill, and a very worthy champion. That he could turn it around so quickly after our go-rounds speaks volumes about his talent.
CC: There may be some notoriety coming your way after the ESPN coverage. Do you anticipate this, and how will you deal with it?
Vaughn: I honestly doubt I will get much airtime. I finished 264th, which is nice but the focus will be on the guys who were there at the end and deservedly so. It certainly seems reasonable that one of those big stare-downs with Hachem might be shown, but that's one hand among 12 episodes. It would be nice for my friends and family to see me playing on television against someone they've heard of, but that's about all I anticipate.
CC: Day 4 was a topsy-turvy day for you. The infamous Jacks hand that knocked out Surindar Sunar, then being on the felt several times following. Tell us how the day went.
Vaughn: It started off great, as I increased my stack from short of 400k to over 500k. I was chip leader at my table and was actually picking up some good starting hands and applying pressure on my opponents, all of whom I had out-stacked. Then that table broke and I went into the lion's den.
Surindar Sunar, Dan Schmeich and William Thorson were all at my table, and my 500k was no longer that impressive. It was a tough table all over, and I just figured I would play tight and hope to stay out of trouble since I was still holding well above the average stack. The hand that hurt me was actually the hand right before the three-way showdown with Schmeich and Sunar. It was folded to me in the cut-off and I made a standard 3x raise with 66. A PS qualifier in the BB made a significant reraise. I had not played that many hands, certainly had not been raising with junk, so I was pretty certain the reraise was a big pocket pair. I thought briefly about dumping the hand right there, and if I had been holding fewer chips, I would have. But the reraiser had almost as many chips as I did, and I saw the opportunity to take a chance at big implied odds. I decided to call the raise and take the flop in hopes of hitting a set and busting his over-pair. Sure enough the flop came down J-9-6 rainbow and he bet strong right into me, putting 70k in the pot. I figured him for AA and KK and had to choose between popping him right there or slow playing.
Since he had to act first on the turn, I decided to flat call the 70k in hopes that he would have to bet 100k or more into the turn which would pot-commit him when I came over the top. I saw this hand as an opportunity to get near a million in chips and give myself a real shot at being a chip leader on Day 5. The turn card was a Q, and my opponent checked, which I thought was strange. I thought of all possible plays (perhaps not for long enough) and decided an over-bet was my best chance to entice a call. I said "all in" and he immediately called which took most of the air out of my lungs. The rest departed when he tabled QQ. I've thought about this hand a bunch, and ultimately decided not to worry too much about it. I probably misplayed it, but I am not sure the results would have been any different if I had played it better. If I elect to see a flop with it, I am not going to risk losing him pushing too hard on a flopped set. I am not sure how you get away from the hand on the turn, though a better player might have checked behind and then called a big bet on the river, saving 100-200k. It's possible if I raise the flop he will reraise, giving me a chance to move in and take down a big pot right there when he decides not to die with an over-pair, but in that sequence I might have just flat called his reraise to make sure I got all the chips in on the turn, and then I lose anyway.
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it just was not to be--he got a huge bailout two-outer on the turn and I hung myself, but set over set is not the worst way to get crippled. My plan all along had been to make sure I cashed if I got close, but that once I made the money, I was not going to play to hang on, but play to make the final table. That had me taking a very reasonable chance to be the first player over a million chips (or close to it anyway) and I thought the risk was reasonable and I just got unlucky.
CC: I saw the next hand, and I thought you were knocked out.
Vaughn: Yeah, the rest of Day 4 was a whirlwind. Schmeich raised the very next hand and I found JJ and moved right in, thinking (1) JJ was probably best and (2) it looked like a tilt play and he might call off his chips with 88-TT. Surindar then moved in right behind me and I knew I was in trouble. Dan called for pot odds, which is the right play on AK considering he was short stacked too, and his AK outran my JJ and Surindar's KK for a triple up that left me with perhaps 30k. After a table change I caught a lucky river 9 to triple up to near 100k with A9 vs. AT, but that was it for good luck. I was all in a bit later with KK vs. K5s and that would have returned me to about 240k, but the K5s rivered a flush and I was down to the felt again. I got it in with 33 vs. AQ but another rivered queen ended my tournament and that was that.
CC: A tough ending, but it must have been great to cash.
Vaughn: If you had asked me before the WSOP whether I would have taken $38k+, I would have been thrilled. And given the way my 2006 had been going, and where my bankroll has been, it was a great score and I am relieved to be able to pay some bills, get a decent place to live etc. But at the time I got eliminated I was pretty upset. Part of it is just that I have learned to not feel anything when I play, so the accumulated emotional weight of the week just kind of pours out when it's over. But also, considering how many chips I had at the start of Day 4 ($330,500; 60th out of 481); I kind of expected to make it through the day and be a factor much later.
CC: What have you been up to since coming back to Philadelphia after the Main Event?
Vaughn: One of my goals for the fall is to find some more non-poker related activities that get me out of the house and interacting with other people on a regular basis. I am considering a few different volunteer opportunities, which seems like good karmic balance. I do not stay up at night worrying about the moral implications of taking other people's money, but at the same time I recognize that not much of what I do contributes to the economy or society--nothing is being created or supplied, just redistributing wealth among degenerates. So it seems making a regular effort to do something that has a positive impact, however small, is a good idea.
CC: You're one of the few players who had been candid with their struggles. What would you tell players who are thinking about playing professionally?
Vaughn: Do it because you love to play and not because you think it's easier than having a real job. Keep careful, honest records and manage your money wisely. However much money you think you need to quit your day job, you probably need twice that amount. Find a mentor (something I never have and still don't) who can teach you about the game and the pro life. Look for ways to keep other streams of revenue active in your life, as it can only improve your play. Teach yourself how to be less up when you are winning and less down when you are losing, emotion-wise. Exercise regularly, start practicing meditation. Maintain a life outside of poker that involves some structure and some amount of normal social interaction. Do not have contempt for people who play poorly or for people that do not play at all and work for a living.
CC: Finally, what are your objectives for the rest of this year?
Vaughn: Get in my hours every week, build my bankroll. Qualify for the PCA in the Bahamas, win a second seat and bring my parents again. Get into one more 10k event (Borgata and Foxwoods at the top of my list). Restore my credit, get health insurance, and go see as many Eagles games as possible.