As in $12,500 big. As in an all-expense-paid-trip-to-Vegas big.
That's exactly what Richmonder Adam Cyrus swept up this past May when he won a Bodog.com online satellite poker tournament that placed him in this week's World Series of Poker event in Sin City.
Cyrus, an analyst at local Richmond investment bank Harris Williams & Co., entered the online qualifying tournament after finishing up work late one Saturday night and, after a "nerve-wracking" three-hour game, including a 25-minute one-on-one face-off finale, walked away with a ticket to the $10,000 No-limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship. His celebratory whoop was a shout heard 'round the office.
"I was shocked and elated," said the West Virginia native. "The dream of every amateur poker player is to play in the event; just getting there is a huge thrill for me. I was just giving it a shot and seeing how close I could come. Making it this quickly after taking up the game seriously is pretty encouraging."
Though Cyrus has been playing poker (poorly, he said) since high school, he only recently picked up Texas Hold 'em.
"I've been playing poker for 10 years…but I've only gotten serious about it in the last eight or nine months," said Cyrus. "All of the televised coverage recently has been Texas Hold 'em so I decided that was a game I needed to learn."
Cyrus isn't the only one to catch on to the recent media hype surrounding poker; this year's 36th Annual World Series of Poker, of which the Texas Hold 'em World Championship is the main event, is the biggest one ever…by far. 2003's tournament boasted a paltry 839 participants compared to last year's 2,500 and this year's estimated 6,600. The exponential growth prompted the tournament's organizers to move the games from downtown Vegas to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino just off the Strip, where players will put their luck and talent to the test in a 60,000-square-foot gaming area equipped with 200 poker tables.
"The boom in online play has been mostly responsible for it," opined Cyrus. "Every [gambling] Web site provides qualifiers to get into tournament. Until a few years ago, 95 percent of people in the tournament plunked down $10,000 cash to play so, whether it was their profession or hobby, they had to be a serious player with money."
These days, any average Joe with a computer and an interest has a chance to get into the World Series of Poker. Just last week, a Killen, Texas, native reportedly won a spot in the tournament by "accidentally" entering a satellite game on a poker Web site.
"The benefit of playing online is you play a lot of hands and you quickly pick up how to play certain hands," said Cyrus, who started participating in online poker games in the fall. "I was quickly able to improve my game until I was at a level where I was winning money rather than losing it."
Cyrus will first hit the tables on Saturday as part of the three-day first round of the No-limit Texas Hold'em tournament, which began Thursday and runs for 10 days. The 2002 Yale graduate's $12,500 prize package included the $10,000 entry fee, a ten-day hotel stay at the Rio, airfare, Bodog.com apparel and a little extra spending cash. The Web site, in addition to sponsoring celebrity gamers like Oliver Hudson of Dawson's Creek fame and DJ AM, Nicole Richie's fiancée, will send a total of 70 hopefuls to Vegas with dreams of winning the near $7.5 million jackpot.
"I haven't given any thought to the money," said Cyrus, whose trip to Vegas will be his first. "I'm just trying to get out there and make it as far as possible."
And though he may be one of many amateurs facing off among the bright lights and smoky dens of the Las Vegas casino, history is in his favor; the last two champions, Chris Moneymaker in 2003 and Greg Raymer in 2004, won their seats in the big show through online qualifiers.