Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Great Garry Gates

When you have a friend playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event, a $10,000 buy-in tournament considered the most prestigious event in all of poker, you don’t expect your friend to make the final table.

I mean thousands play the sucker. These days, to make the final table means making enough correct decisions and being lucky (and avoiding being unlucky) enough times to survive seven long days of poker -- more than 70 hours of actual play.

Like most years, I knew a few dozen folks playing the Main this time around, and among them could count several good friends. A few were still in there after three or four days. One of them -- Andrew Brokos -- even got all the way to the end of Day 5 (again!) before bowing out.

When Day 7 started with 35 players left from the 8,569-player starting field, I still had one buddy in there. And after another crazy, long, dramatic day and night of poker he’s still part of the story as one of the nine with a chance at the $10 million first prize.

Garry Gates has made the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event. My friend is one of the final nine. No shinola.

As a poker fan, I’ve followed the World Series of Poker for many years. When I started writing this blog in 2006, the WSOP was a frequent topic about which I couldn’t help but write, including that summer when the Main Event drew 8,773 entrants, the most in its storied history. (This year they nearly eclipsed that mark; next year, I think they will.)

Soon I unwittingly began what would become a full-blown second career as a freelance writer focusing on poker, and during the 2007 WSOP I was writing articles and doing some work from afar for PokerNews to assist them as they provided live updates for the first time. The following summer I was in Las Vegas and reporting on the WSOP myself with the PN team.

Since I was writing every day here on Hard-Boiled Poker and the blog therefore serves as kind of an obsessively-detailed diary recording all of these events, I can read about everything I experienced during the 2008 WSOP. For the entry posted May 28, 2008 and in the midst of several posts mentioning people I was meeting for the first time who would become some of my closest friends, I note how I first met “Garry Gates, PokerNews’ Tournament Reporting Manager and cool guy.”

Garry led the team again the following year 2009, then some time after that moved over to work with PokerStars where I once again had the chance to collaborate with him in various ways. He’s had a couple of positions within PokerStars since then, both as an events manager and as Senior Consultant of Player Affairs, which means we’ve been able to work together many times since that day we first met.

Garry is a cool guy, incredibly friendly and outgoing. Back in ’08 he made things very easy for me as I made what was frankly an abrupt and unusual transition from teaching and writing at home to tournament reporting.

Ask anyone who was part of that group back then, Garry was a tremendous leader, supporting us in numerous ways at every turn. There was one moment in particular during 2009 when I remember Garry having my back when a certain poker player apparently objected to something I had written -- not for PokerNews, but here on my personal blog. I didn’t tell the story until many years later, and when I did I didn’t mention Garry by name, though he was the one who made it clear to me I had zero to be concerned about with regard to the situation.

Here is the post, the title of which gives you a clue regarding the identity of the player involved: “That Time I Learned That Jesus Didn’t Love Me.”

I remember thinking then how much better Garry was as a “boss” than were those in the administration at the school where I taught full-time (and would eventually leave primarily because of that unpleasant work environment). I didn’t always know there whether those above me would support me if the need ever arose, but with Garry there was never any doubt.

I use scare quotes around the word “boss” because Garry very deliberately minimized the idea that he was “managing” us -- rather, it was the reporting he managed, and he did it well. (In fact, Garry exerted significant and positive influence over how tournament reporting would be done going forward.)

As I say, Garry has remained a great friend and colleague ever since. I’ve written about before how those experiences reporting on tournaments can be especially formative. Even working a single event with someone can create a meaningful relationship that lasts well beyond the few days you spend with each other. In my book Poker & Pop Culture, I have a very long list of people I thank in the acknowledgments (Garry included) who helped inspire my interest in poker. I listed a lot of those whom I’ve worked over the years, because those experiences meant a lot to me and I continue to appreciate having had them.

Garry has always been a serious poker player, even if he has only played part-time since having (like me) gotten himself into the “industry” in a full-time way. I remember how in 2011 he played in several WSOP events, and even made a deep run in the Main to finish 173rd.

I specifically recall talking to Garry after he busted that year and what he said to me when reflecting on the experience. The best part about it, he said, was getting to share the fun and excitement with others. It really was as much about everyone else as it was about himself. (Garry cashed two more times in the Main Event in 2015 and 2017.)

You might’ve heard about how Garry was at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas when the horrific shooting took place where 58 died and more than 800 were injured. Six months later Garry opened up to Lance Bradley about it for a piece titled “Garry Gates: One of the Lucky Ones.”

I messaged Garry afterwards, and he let me know he was doing okay. I remember thinking then how Garry was the sort of person who was likely better equipped to handle such a trauma, given the way he instinctively focuses so much on others’ welfare. You learn that in the interview with Lance. For Garry, letting family and friends know that he was okay (and thus lessening their stress) was an immediate focus, and soon after he was finding ways to help others affected by the event.

You’re hearing a lot of people sharing similar sentiments about Garry over the last few days, many of whom are associated with poker in a variety of ways. Garry Gates? Great guy, they say. They were saying that before this crazy run, of course, and will continue to do so after, however things ultimately play out.

I’m starting to imagine watching Garry and the others begin the final table tonight. In one way, it doesn’t even seem real, like some sort of weird “sim” constructed to divert us all. Like I say, no one expected this.

Then again, it makes perfect sense to see Garry in this position, representing (in a way) so many of us who play and love poker and whom he has helped and supported in countless ways.

My friend is playing in the WSOP Main Event. Still!

I’m loving it for Garry. Loving it as well for all of us, too.

#LFGGG!

EDIT (added 7/21/19): Garry ultimately made it all of the way to fourth place for a mind-boggling $3 million cash. I wrote a bit more about Garry and his run for the PokerStars blog here: “Gates, Moneymaker, and how poker brings us together.”

Photos courtesy Neil Stoddart (upper) and Joe Giron (lower), PokerStars blog.

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