I thought it an interesting coincidence that on the eve of the play from four tables down to one at the main event of the World Series of Poker that I ran into Leif Force.
It was at this time of the tournament last year that Force became a media darling, as he made a run at the final table before finishing 11th. With his wild blond locks and scraggly beard, the Ultimate Frisbee player and supposed child of hippies became a fan favorite after he found hand after hand to propel himself oh so close to the $12 million first prize.
He finally busted out in 2006 when he pushed with on a flop of and was called by Erik Friberg's . The turn and river were blanks and Force collected $1.15 million for 11th.
This year he made another impressive run in the main event, finally succumbing in 392nd place and earning $34,664.
The margin between a five-figure payday and a seven-figure payday can be razor thin in tournament poker. I know how close it was for Force last year because I was there.
We were playing in the second level of Day 3 last year when my table broke. I collected my chips and moved to my new seating assignment, only to see this scraggly haired fellow to my left. Force was sitting on a small stack and the table was full of big stacks and lots of aggression. It was not an ideal assignment for either of us.
I had enough chips to play around a little, but then lost a third of my stack against one of the bullies, which put me in the same boat as Force, as we folded around as round for round play continued. Finally, we hit the money mark with each of us guaranteed at least $14,597. It didn't take long for Force to push all in with Q-Q, but he ran into A-A. The flop and turn were blanks, but the river was a beautiful lady, giving Force life and the continuation of his amazing run through the WSOP.
Less than thirty minutes later, Matt Maroon raised from under the gun and one of the table bullies re-raised from late position. I looked down from the big blind and saw K-K. I pushed my last 80,000 into the pot only to be called by both players. (Maroon and I were both all in.) Maroon flipped over Q-Q; the bully A-A. The board blanked off and we were both out.
I recalled the story with Force when I saw him at the nightly Binion's tournament Saturday night. I don't think he remembered me, but I don't suppose I would have remembered him either had he not made such a nice run for the title.
He told me the rumors of him being broke last year at the WSOP were true. Force overextended his bankroll by buying into the main event and had to borrow food vouchers from friends to go eat and cab fare from ESPN cameramen to get back to his hotel each evening. Obviously, that's no longer the case. I suspect as smart as Force is with playing solid, tight tournament poker, he's probably a good money manager.
He's done pretty well this summer at the poker tables, making two final tables at the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza II and a 31st place finish in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship at the WSOP, in addition to the main event cash. Force told me he plays PLO just about all of the time now, other than some No-Limit Hold'em tournaments.
Luck was not with him in this Saturday night Binion's tournament, as he busted out about 15th. I took 9th and got my money back.
As play now narrows from two tables to the final table of the main event today as we approach the dinner break, I can't help think of Force. Every time I recall my run through the main event last year to friends or family, I mention him and how the stroke of luck can send one person home and change another person's life.