A deep run in the Main Event at the World Series of Poker is amazing. But not for the reasons you might think. Sure, I made $50,000 for my 225th place finish this year, but that barely got me even for the summer. I would have made more driving for Lyft. I would have made a lot more playing cash games all summer. But the only reward for playing cash games is, well, cash.

I didn’t win a bracelet this year. I didn’t even come close. I was featured on ESPN for part of a day, but television coverage is not particularly exciting just for the sake of being on TV. The reasons we tell ourselves we play poker, the money, the glory, the fame, the competition, didn’t do anything for me this year.

What made my year was the reminder that a bunch of people are rooting for me. My deep run in the Main Event, and playing at the feature table on ESPN, served as an excellent reminder of that. Hundreds of social media messages, people stopping by the Thunderdome to say hi. My girlfriend in the bleachers. A good friend coming by to ask if I needed anything. Those are the real reason why a deep run is so worth it.

It took me back to 2014 when I won my bracelet. The best thing about winning that bracelet wasn’t the gold, or the fame, or even the half a million dollars. Fame is fleeting. Money just gets spent on something and then you lament the loss of it. But knowing that people are rooting for you is incredible. And knowing that you made someone’s day back home, that’s even better.

I can’t count the number of people who told me they were proud of me. Nor the number of people who said they brag about knowing me. I’m aware that success in a poker tournament is not akin to saving lives or changing the world. It probably gets a lot more credit than it deserves. That said, if you are a jerk there aren’t a lot of people rooting for you. So those messages — hundreds of them on Twitter and Facebook — are a vindication. They make me feel like people like me. Like maybe I’m usually doing the right thing with my life.

And that is what really hits home. The knowledge that all these people could not possibly be rooting for me if I’m half the jerk I think I am. That I must be a pretty decent guy. When I won the bracelet, I was told that everyone at my home card room in Minnesota was cheering at 4 am. I would have given anything to be there for that. And my friend Kou nearly tackled me off the stage after the final hand. The cheering of my friends in the bleachers at that moment, and people telling me over the next few weeks how happy they were for me, that was the real value in winning that event.

The win reminded me that I have a lot of good friends and family members, which is infinitely more valuable than a bracelet. My mom still wears a piece of my bracelet in a necklace. My dad told me he was proud of me. A bunch of people told me that I made their day. It doesn’t get better than that.

The next year, when my friend John Reading was at a final table at the WSOP, I was there. Being in the crowd and watching a great guy win a bracelet and be so happy that he couldn’t get the smile off his face was almost as special as winning one myself. And I resolved right then and there to be a fan. Not just of my poker fans, but of everyone in my life. Being too cool to be excited or to root for someone is a silly waste. No one is impressed with that. And I was never that guy, but I was often reserved in those situations.

John Reading WSOP bracelet winner 2015
Me with my buddy John Reading, when he won his bracelet. Image credit: Tim Fiorvanti

No longer. Now I am a fan. I cheer for people. I tell them that I’m proud of them. I tell them that it was a hell of a run. I get a beer and I sit in the bleachers and I yell every time they win a hand. I tweet about them and tell people about them. Lifting someone else up doesn’t cost a thing. During the World Series of Poker we get a chance to do that every day. If you’ve been playing for a while, you know enough people that some friend of close acquaintance is deep in a tournament almost every day.

A deep run should remind us how much fun poker can be and how important it is to have people rooting for us. It should remind us to be rooting for all the good guys. It should remind us that shared joy is multiplied. It doesn’t matter if you play $75 tournaments at your local card room or $100,000 high roller events, when you have a deep run, you should enjoy the hell out of it. And when someone else makes that deep run, you should make sure they enjoy it just as much as you would.

After a summer of running badly, it’s easy to hate the game. I do it far too often. But this deep run was a great reminder of why I love the game. Because there’s always someone to root for, and there’s always someone rooting for you. I play a game for a living. How many people get to do that? And I have an incredible circle of family and friends that support me, win or lose. The least I can do is give back as much of that love as I can possibly muster.

My goal for this year is to try to instill that love in my students. It’s something I’ve never talked about in lessons. I’ve always focused on strategy, hand reading, tells, anything that makes more money. I’ve even told students who can’t follow my advice that “I can’t teach you how to have more fun, that’s not what I coach, but I can teach you to make more money.”

I was wrong. All these years I was wrong. I can teach people how to have more fun, and it makes the game easier and it helps you get through the downswings. And that’s something I should have been teaching all along. So from now on, I teach people how to have fun and make money. And I’ll start by giving myself a few lessons, because the cash game grind is about to start back up and I’m going to be bored.

If you hear me complaining, remind me about this article. I’ll come back and read it once in a while if I lose perspective.

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