POKER OP-EDS

MUG of Dreams: The WPT Built It, and Everybody Came

By Robbie Strazynski
December 04, 2023

Deep inside me, there’s a hopeless poker romantic. A still-21-year-old poker fanboy watching the game being played out on TV by legends, wondering if I’ll ever get my own Mike McDermott moment. As rabid poker fans, we’re always tapped in to the live stream or the edited broadcast, vicariously partaking in the action, thinking “maybe, on my best day, I could take that guy,” but all the while smiling wistfully and knowingly: “of course, that’ll never happen.” Even so, as we watch the giants of the felt battling it out, the Peter Pan in us secretly wishes we could be there, too, showcasing our moves and gaining the adulation of the masses.

Poker is unlike professional sports — none of us plebs will ever have LeBron James-level talent; we could never walk on to an NBA floor. But in our game all we need is a big enough bankroll, and we, too, have the right to pull up a seat at the table. Even so, for the overwhelming majority of us, that seat remains tantalizingly unfilled… the big legends and personalities have reached the game’s highest echelons, and quite understandably only the well-heeled among us have the privilege of breathing the rarefied air of a Legends Room at Bellagio or Table 1 at Aria.

But we can dream… and sometimes dreams come true.

Because the World Poker Tour is in the business of making the impossible happen.

WPT Premier MUG

What if, just for a few hours, the game of poker wasn’t all about the money?

What if, just for one special morning each year, all us poker fans got to live out our dreams?

  • To square off against Phil Ivey and see if you’ll flinch as he stares right through your soul?
  • To bluff Gus Hansen off a pot?
  • To suck out on the river while Brad Owen is left helplessly holding the jiggities; thus triggering his revenge range?
  • To leave Vince Van Patten speechless, after 20+ years of commentary, after you pull off a daring check-raise against him on the river?
  • To win a pot off Todd Brunson with 10-2 offsuit?
  • To get your money in favorably against Andrew Neeme and tell him, straight to his face, that you didn’t fly all the way out from (insert destination) to get outflopped?

Behold, the WPT Premier MUG

The brain trust at the World Poker Tour strapped a jetpack on to the Neeme-Owen meetup game (MUG) idea and — for the second consecutive year — turned it into a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime ultimate poker fan experience. How else could anyone explain a bursting-full poker room at 8am on a Friday morning?

Rather than be content with just trying to bring in fans to the game, the World Poker Tour flipped the concept on its head and brought the game to the fans. They brought the game to US. To the $1/3 grinders. To the home game hotshots. To the weekend warriors. To those of us who dream of having a brush with poker greatness, if only for a fleeting moment.

With Seat 5 open at each of the Wynn Poker Room’s two dozen-plus cash game tables, a cavalcade of poker’s brightest stars showed up to engage with the poker fans at the purest of levels:

Owen, Neeme, Ivey, Hansen, Brunson, and Van Patten were joined by other WPT talents including Matt Savage, Tony Dunst, and Lynn Gilmartin. WPT Global got into the act, too, with their ambassadors out in full force along with a bevy of the game’s top content creators, including Jamie Kerstetter, Ethan “Rampage” Yau, Ashley Sleeth, Jesse Sylvia, Angel Guillen, Jon “ApeStyles” Van Fleet, Caitlin Comeskey, Nikki Limo, Jaman Burton, Mariano Grandoli, Conrad Simpson, JJ Liu. Even the first ever WPT Honors recipient, Linda Johnson, graced the event with her esteemed presence.

Poker Fandom Spans Generations; The Game Enchants Us All

I learned how to play poker from my father when I was eight years old, and we’ve both been poker fans for as long as I can remember. It’s a special pleasure to have Dad with me on this poker trip and see him have the ultimate poker fan experience. It was such an exquisite personal thrill for me to watch him, a 75-year-old recently retired doctor, get star-struck and giddy, like a little kid. I quite literally mouthed the words to Ivey and Hansen after snapping the picture below: “you guys just made this man’s retirement!”

While working the event for those magical four hours from 9am-1pm this past Friday, everywhere I turned I saw special moments unfolding. From veteran industry stalwarts following through on long-planned viral moment-creation to the MUG-masters themselves getting a boost of energy from the electricity in the room, this was peak poker. Full stop.

And while I flitted around the room over and over, schmoozing with the recs, the pros, and the staff, trying to decide how I’d frame this incredible poker story, my Dad must’ve noticed something about my demeanor. He made a spot-on read: “Robbie,” he said. “Stop working for a few minutes and just be a fan. Who knows when you’ll have an opportunity like this again?”

And so I did.

Because for all the years of work I’ve poured into creating poker content, for all the time and effort I spend promoting the game I love. For all the hours I spend (and wish I could spend) playing poker, at my core, I’m still that still hopeless poker romantic, and “the dream is still real to me, damn it.”

So I snagged myself a MUG mug, and fanboyed my way to a priceless souvenir.

Life’s Too Short to Just Sit on the Rail

I remember having had that familiar feeling of FOMO last year. With a ticket in hand to head over to Las Vegas to cover the 2022 WPT World Championship Main Event, I nonetheless felt stuck on the outside looking in. Oh, how I wished I could have been there to witness Doyle making his grand entrance. Sure, the snapshots were incredible, but nothing could possibly compare to being there in person.

This time around, we pulled the trigger. We were here. This alone was worth making the 7,500-mile trip from Israel. This alone was worth waking up for at 7am on a Friday and being in position for the kickoff.

Yes, poker dreams do come true; but they take effort.

The WPT has made it crystal clear: they are committed to doing their part to giving us all the chance to live the poker dream.

Now it’s your turn, my fellow poker fans.

It might be a year away, but I implore you to already circle the 2024 WPT Premier MUG on your calendar.

I promise you won’t regret it.

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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded Cardplayerlifestyle.com in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]

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