Friday, January 16, 2015

The Trip from PCA to Bee

Made it home in good shape, thankful for once to be flying directly to my destination. There were a lot of familiar folks taking the same flight to Charlotte with me, including poker media and several players, although for them CLT was a just a stop on the way elsewhere.

Had kind of a funny coincidence with the seat draw for my airborne, two-and-a-half-hour sit-n-go. In the morning before leaving I had pulled together a new article for PokerNews updating the Global Poker Index rankings. In the overall GPI Ole Schemion is still on top this week, while Pratyush Buddiga (pictured above, via PokerStars’ Neil Stoddart) had made a move up several spots to No. 2 after finishing seventh in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event -- a career-high ranking for the Colorado player.

I had decided to feature Buddiga in the headline and in the photo illustrating the article, and so I had to chuckle when he came on board to take the empty seat next to me on the plane.

I told him about the article which he’d already seen -- “I want to get to No. 1,” he grinned -- and we chatted further about the PCA and our respective trips home. While I knew some about his background -- including, of course, his win as a youngster in the Scripps National Spelling Bee back in 2002 -- I didn’t realize he’d graduated from Duke a few years ago. As a UNC grad, I had to report how I am obligated to pull against the Blue Devils at every opportunity, which he of course understood.

Later while disembarking we talked a bit more about spelling bees. I remembered Rebecca Sealfon’s win back in 1997, which he mentioned having watched, too, and how it had gotten him interested in the competition. Many also remember Pratyush’s brother, Akshay, who finished runner-up a couple of years after Pratyush won, and how during the competition he famously fainted after being given a word to spell, then dramatically rose back up to spell it correctly. It wasn’t until later that I recalled having seen the 2002 documentary Spellbound (about the ’99 Bee), which I’m sure Pratyush watched as well.

Pratyush mentioned how a lot of people are more interested in his spelling bee story than in his poker accomplishments. I recalled how during the PCA coverage Howard Swains had written a post about him that included a video interview with Sarah Herring, and how Howard had worked in a sneaky reference to the word “prospicience” which by spelling correctly Pratyush had clinched the title back in ’02.

We parted, with him going to settle in for a longish layover before flying to Denver while I took off for baggage claim. It was fun meeting the very friendly Pratyush. I’m sure in some ways his experience handling the intense pressure of the spelling bees as a youth is serving him well at the poker tables today. After getting home I told Vera about Pratyush and his spelling bee background (and his getting a degree from Duke), and she responded that it proves again how winning poker players tend to be smart in other ways, too (which is true).

I thought back to the couple of times I participated in a spelling bee, way back in elementary school. I don’t remember much about it (I was seven or eight), but after all of these years I do recall the word that knocked me out of one of them -- thermometer.

I don’t think we were sending winners from our little school to D.C. Nor we we being asked to spell words like “prospicience” or “euonym” or “alopecoid.”

I mean, really, ours was a humble Bee.

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