The Mazda MPV pulled up on Friday afternoon outside my elementary school. I didn’t understand what was happening. Mom always picked us up in her Jaguar each day, but here she was in the driver’s seat of Dad’s minivan while he sat comfortably in the passenger’s seat – wasn’t he supposed to be at work in his medical office, seeing patients? My brothers were buckled up, sitting in the back, and they looked pretty happy. Seeing my confusion, my parents smiled broadly and excitedly said “Robbie, get in; we’re going to Las Vegas.”
That scene replayed itself countless times during my youth in Los Angeles. The Strazynskis set out on the road to Southern Nevada about half a dozen times each year during the 1990s, back when Las Vegas was marketed as a top family vacation destination.
My parents loved to gamble. Mom used to play quarter and dollar slots. A three-inch-high stack of Polaroid photos stands to this very day as a testament to her numerous jackpot wins. Dad never had his picture taken, but when I asked him how he did, he always loved opening his wallet and showing me a bunch of $100 bills, reflecting the many hours he spent playing in the poker room.
In retrospect, I realize that he never clarified whether he had actually won or lost at the tables, but now – as a poker player – I understand why that didn’t really seem to matter to him. I vividly recall the twinkle in his eyes as he regaled me with stories of the amazing times he had at the felt. He always seemed to have the time of his life.
We invariably stayed at either the Mirage or Treasure Island, resorts that always reminded us how much they missed us; I could’ve filled a small box with complimentary room offers that we used to get in the mail from them. Our favorite place to eat was the Caribe Café. My brothers and I would invariably pass the time while waiting for our orders to come by filling out Keno sheets and begging our parents to play our numbers. “C’mon Mom, it’s just $2; we could win big!”
After the Keno runners took our entries – “sorry boys, I can’t take that out of your hands; please pass it over to your parents first” – we’d break out the deck of cards and play penny poker with Dad, while Mom sat by, sipping her watermelon juice. That’s how little Robbie got his gamble on back in the day.
Even during leaner times, we always found a way to head back to the desert and enjoy ourselves. I can still remember the nail in the wall at home, where a Ziploc bag hung. Every so often, even though money was tight, Mom and Dad would make a big show of emptying their pockets of any loose change. The refrain was familiar: “Boys, next time we go to Las Vegas, this is the money you’ll be playing with in the arcades, so please don’t ask us for more, OK?”
Times Change, but the Dream Never Dies
When I was a young teenager, Mom promised that she would take me on my first real gambling trip to Las Vegas once I turned 21. Unfortunately, that never happened. She passed away when I was 19, after her third bout with cancer, and we had already moved halfway around the world, to Israel.
Nonetheless, even the wide gulf separating me from my “former life” couldn’t kill my love for Vegas. The pilot light would always remain on; all it needed was a spark.
That spark came in the form of a certain Mr. Chris Moneymaker, whose magical run to poker glory struck me to the core. As he raised his fists in triumph, bundles of cash in hand, my insatiable craving for poker was born, along with the dream that somehow, some day, I would make it to the World Series of Poker.
Since leaving Los Angeles for the Holy Land, I’ve made it back to Las Vegas just twice, each time for a precious few days. In the summer of 2004, while on a month-long U.S. trip with my wife, I finally had my first taste of action in a real poker room. As night descended and the town lit up, I headed over to Binion’s, the birthplace of poker dreams, with a whopping $60 in my pocket. Deep in the recesses of my mind, I imagined myself leaving downtown with my pockets stuffed full of cash. Instead, I left after eight hours of $2/4 Limit Hold’em, having gone down blazing, losing with pocket aces in my final pot, at 5:30 am. With nothing left in my pockets other than my bus pass, I walked down Fremont Street to catch a lift back to the New Frontier, where we were staying. The sun’s morning rays shining down on me, I couldn’t have possibly felt happier.
While I did make it back to Vegas one more time, a little over four years ago, attending the WSOP has nonetheless remained frustratingly beyond my grasp.
Obstacles Notwithstanding, You Can’t Stop Believing
In Israel, where I live now, it’s not like I can just decide to hop in the car and take a spontaneous trip to Vegas. I also can’t just scamper off to the airport on a Saturday night, swoop into Vegas about an hour later, gamble all night, then fly back and arrive home in time to start the next day… like my parents occasionally used to do. I can’t even begin to imagine that type of luxury.
Living the stereotypical life of a married man with three little kids and a steady 9-to-5 job, it’s anything but simple to justify the cost – both in money and in time away from work, the family, and other responsibilities – of a 7,500-mile trip to Las Vegas.
Still, that hasn’t stopped me from doing my darndest to find fulfillment in my passion for poker. While I’ve been dreaming about taking a trip to the WSOP for 13 years, at least in my mind I’ve been trying to make strides towards actually making that dream come true.
Over the last six-and-a-half years, I’ve dedicated an overwhelming percentage of my free time towards trying to make my mark on the poker world.
Hundreds of blog posts here at Cardplayer Lifestyle, dozens of articles penned for other poker media outlets, two years of co-hosting the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast, countless guest appearances on other poker podcasts, developing the Poker Notes Live mobile app, and appearing in close to 100 videos for PokerUpdate.com as part of my full-time work have brought me closer to doing just that.
A couple months back, I asked my wife, Miriam, if this would finally be the summer, and she said yes. After all the effort I’d put in, it finally “made sense” for attending the WSOP to be the next logical step.
Thank you, honey. I love you. It goes without saying that I never could’ve gotten to this stage without your support, but I’m saying it anyway. Every single fan of my poker work needs to know that you get and deserve credit for allowing me to work hard and make it happen.
The Dream Gets Even Sweeter; Thanks, Dad
The first person I told about my trip, about an hour after booking my ticket, was my Dad. He was so happy for me.
A few hours later (after my stepmother, Judy, did some convincing – THANK YOU!), he called and asked me something that made my heart skip a beat: “Want some company?”
Some scenarios are too impossible to imagine, even for a dreamer like me. After everything that’s changed in mine and my Dad’s lives over the last 17+ years since we moved to Israel, the thought of a father-son trip to Vegas, much less to the World Series of Poker, was quite simply incomprehensible. Yet, it’s happening.
Dad, who taught me how to play poker around the kitchen table.
Dad, who first kindled the poker flame within me.
Dad, who I’ve been playing poker with in home games for over a decade.
What a tremendous privilege it is to make this trip of a lifetime with Dad as my companion. As I immerse myself in my poker world, there’s literally nobody in the world who I’d rather have by my side.
I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. Let’s make some incredible memories together!
So, How Do I Handle a Dream Come True?
While I’ve figuratively been walking on a cloud ever since I booked my ticket to the WSOP, I’ve also had nagging, persistent worries:
- How much work should I be doing?
- Do I have an obligation to “grind” at my laptop for hours at a time just because I was given the privilege of having a WSOP media credential?
- Should I craft a content plan?
- Should I try to pre-schedule a bunch of interviews with people?
- How do I balance wanting to create all that content with wanting to play poker every waking moment of the day?
FINALLY! For the first time, @WSOP here I come! Vegas from June 20-24 and 27-29. Looking forward to vacation & meeting lots of people!
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) May 3, 2016
I already know that it’s going to feel too short. A few days at the WSOP will go by like fleeting moments, and sooner than I know it I’ll be right back to my regular routine; the life I know and love so well back in Israel, wondering if and when I’ll ever get an opportunity like this again. After 13 years of waiting for this trip to happen, it’s only reasonable that I not expect this to become something I get to do with any sort of regularity.
After putting way too much thought into worrying, I realized that the best way to approach the trip was not to chase after experiences, but rather to let them come to me. At the end of the day, I’m flying halfway across the world on my own dime; on vacation. I can’t allow myself to get stressed out. The entire trip is a bonus in and of itself, so how could it possibly be disappointing on any level?
You’re All Invited to Share in My Excitement
So many people have thoughtfully and kindly reached out saying how excited they are for me, and that they’re eagerly awaiting my trip reports, wanting to consume the poker content I’ll produce.
As mentioned, however, I’m just going to allow myself to soak it all in, one day after the next. The content creating can come later. If I tackle this trip in any other way, I know I’ll end up with regrets. Work can wait. It’s time to have some fun!
To everyone in the poker world with whom I’ve developed relationships on social media over the years, if you’ll also be at the WSOP, please forgive me if I don’t recognize you. I know so many of you “just” as names and Twitter profile pictures. If you spot me, please come and say hi. I can’t wait to shake your hands and, finally, REALLY get to meet you in person.
What the WSOP Means to Me
Much like I did pre-PCA, I knew I had to write and publish a post like this prior to my actual arrival at the WSOP. I hope I’ve been successful at capturing and illustrating how this all feels, before my perspective changes forever.
The night before I left home, I broke down in tears of joy and happiness. Droplets streamed down my face as I poured my heart out to Miriam, completely overwhelmed, letting out years of emotions as I retraced my path towards this moment.
I don’t plan on playing in any bracelet events, nor do I feel the need. I just want to be at the Rio and feel the ambiance. I want to experience the electricity pulsing through my veins as I stand in the midst of THE poker Mecca, with players and poker fans from around the world having gathered together for the gambling’s version of the Haj.
In Israel, I’m the poker guy. While I’m in my Homeland, among my people, I still stand out in that way. At the WSOP, I know I’ll stand out as “that American-Israeli poker media guy”, but I’ll still be in my “alternate homeland”, among my people.
I’m chomping at the bit to play poker. I usually play once a week for a few hours, at most. I imagine many are like me, always wanting to be able to play more, but having to be satisfied with carving out just a little time here and there while dealing with the pressures of work, family, and life in general.
How rare does the opportunity arise when I can go to sleep whenever I want, wake up whenever I want, have a poker game waiting any time of day and actually be able to sit and play poker any time I please? I imagine that this is something that regulars, grinders, people living in places that have poker rooms in commutable distances can’t possibly fathom, but that limitless freedom is also a very big part of what this WSOP trip means to me.
So, as the captain turns on the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign and I begin my final descent to the World Series of Poker, I can’t help but think back once more to that pivotal moment in my life, when the family minivan pulled up beside me outside my school.
This time around, it’s just going to be a small rental car, and while Dad’s still going to be in the passenger’s seat, I’ll be the one driving.
I know that, up in Heaven somewhere, my Mom will have gotten word of this blog post, so I need her to know that THIS TRIP COUNTS! Surely she must’ve pulled some strings up there to facilitate something as improbable as what’s about to happen. You did it Mom; you finally took me to Vegas, just like you promised all those years ago.
Thus, 13 years of dreams come to a crescendo.
Robbie Strazynski. Mr. Cardplayer Lifestyle. The WSOP awaits. You have reached your destination.