Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn firstname.lastname@example.org
May 12, 2004:
senior eyes big money at the World Series of Poker
My April 7 column addressed the administration’s rising
concerns about poker on campus. Well, paging Shirley Tilghman, you’ve
got a problem. The sport’s future at Princeton received a
massive steroid injection on April 28, when Matt Hawrilenko ’04
won a $150 buy-in “double shoot-out” tournament at Pokerstars.com,
earning him a $10,000 seat at the upcoming World Series of Poker.
Last year, Chris Moneymaker, a 27-year-old amateur from Tennessee,
qualified in the same fashion and went on to win the $2.5 million
grand prize. Nothing says ‘Stop doing that!’ like incredible,
Hawrilenko, a native of Hanover, Massachusetts, who wrestled for
the Princeton varsity, picked up a week’s hotel stay, to cover
the tournament’s duration, and a thousand dollars cash. Half
of the cash went to the second place finisher, however, since he
and Hawrilenko had made a deal to split the winnings once they became
the only two players remaining. Hawrilenko will head to Binion’s
Horseshoe Casino at the end of this month to compete in the World
Series main event, the No-Limit Hold’em Tournament. I sat
down with him to discuss his prospects.
P-Nut: First things first, Matt. Which is more fun, wrestling
Matt Hawrilenko: That’s not fair! I like to think of them
as my children. I love them both equally.
P-Nut: Who gets in more trouble?
M.H.: I guess it depends on the day. When I was cutting weight,
I would often long for a paddle to beat wrestling, or perhaps just
to forget about it altogether and spend a day with poker. If I have
a bad session, there’s no better remedy than going down to
the wrestling room to blow off some steam and get a fresh perspective.
That said, wrestling has been a very integral part of my Princeton
experience thus far. Although I love poker, wrestling has shaped
me as a person.
P-Nut: Fair enough. You have to see more yourself more
as a poker lifer, though, especially given recent events.
M.H.: Yes, poker has come to play a pretty large role recently.
P-Nut: Chris Moneymaker won his winning spot last year
in the exact same fashion, right?
M.H.: Yes, in fact, he won it at the exact same Web site. He had
a heck of a run last year. Actually, I think he did a lot for poker.
He brought a lot of new players – or as the pros call it,
dead money – into the game of poker as a whole. I think in
the past year, I’ve been able to capitalize on that online,
just by becoming a student of the game.
P-Nut: You’re obviously hoping for some similar
M.H.: Yeah, a similar experience would be amazing. The field this
year is going to be huge. Last year, they had 838 players in the
main event. This year, they are expecting 1500-2000. I would be
very happy to make the money by finishing in the Top 100.
P-Nut: But the bigger the field, the bigger the pot. What
is the expected grand prize?
M.H.: They are estimating first prize to be somewhere from $3.5-4.5
P-Nut: Plus the famed bracelet.
M.H.: Yeah, the white gold bracelet.
P-Nut: When you say “a student of the game,”
you mean that literally, right? I’ve seen the poker books
in your room. How much of your education comes from outside gaming
M.H.: Well, last summer I bought and read just about every poker
book I could get my hands on and still try to read as much as I
can. It just makes sense – where mistakes can cost a lot of
money in poker, a book is a cheap education.
P-Nut: How many poker books do you have? Any that you
M.H.: Oh wow. Probably just short of a dozen. Definitely. The poker
book to read is David Sklansky’s Theory of Poker; it teaches
you how to think about the game. That being said . . . there is
no substitute for experience. After learning all the theory, I was
still just barely a break-even player. There are aspects to the
game that books just can’t teach you.
Reading other players, for example, is a crucial component to
the game. After every session, I try to think about what I consider
the important plays I made, good and bad, and try to figure out
if I played optimally. If I did, I want to know why my play was
right, and if I played poorly, I want to know how I could have played
my hand better.
But reading players is the same thing. I think the most important
part of learning poker is being able to evaluate your own play,
your own reads, and think critically about them. Experience is good,
but only if you actually make the most use of it.
P-Nut: Do you use statistics to check that?
M.H.: I do keep statistics, and they help. I actually have a program
that logs all the online hands I play and my win rate with them,
in both cash games and tournaments. It works to help me identify
possible holes, but it’s still up to me to figure out how
to plug them.
P-Nut: That’s a fairly intense routine. How often
do you play?
M.H.: It really depends on what else I’ve got going on. I
love the game and learning about the game, but I am definitely careful
not to let it dominate my life. In wrestling season and thesis season,
I might have only played for an hour or two a few times a week.
Since my workload has lightened up, I’ve definitely been playing
more. Probably at least 4 times a week for 3 hours or so, sometimes
more on a Saturday or Sunday when my expected value increases, just
because there are a greater number of weaker players. And I imagine
that will only increase as I try to prepare for the World Series
P-Nut: How much have you pulled in online, independent
of this victory?
M.H.: Well, I didn’t play very much online until late January.
I bought in for $100 then, and have probably pulled in close to
$15,000, the majority of that being in the last month and a half.
P-Nut: So, if we were to imagine the W.S.O.P. berth as
$10,000 cash, you’ve made $25,000 since January?
M.H.: Yeah, you could say that. It’s been a pretty wild
P-Nut: So why bother working next year? If you love playing
poker, and you’re making around a hundred grand a year...
M.H.: (Laughs) Well, a few reasons. First, I love poker, but it’s
still just a hobby. And I don’t think the online poker pro
lifestyle is exactly the one for me. I kind of want to get out there
and figure out what I want to do with myself. That, and I don’t
think poker has quite the same upside as doing well in the “real”
Look for Matt on ESPN’s World Series of Poker coverage during
Princeton’s dead week, May 22-28.
You can reach Nate at email@example.com