I’ve been enduring the scorching Las Vegas summer heat for seven years now to participate in the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Like many others, I came up in the “Moneymaker boom” by making money playing online poker.

Nine years ago, when I first deposited $50 online, it was my dream to one day play among the pros at the WSOP. I’m happy to have had extensive experience participating in the WSOP. I’ve had a little success along the way and even got to briefly appear on ESPN during a deep run I made in the 2008 Main Event.

The life of a semi-professional poker player has been unorthodox and not at all how I expected my early adult years would turn out. I wouldn’t trade the experiences for the world and I’m glad to be back at the 2012 WSOP a little older and a little wiser ready to battle in a high-pressure environment for life-changing sums of money.

Here are a few observations I’ve made, both internal and external, at the WSOP this year:

Importance of Focus

As is typical of the online poker playing demographic, I’ve always had a bit of a proclivity towards struggles with attention and focus. And let’s face it, live poker is boring. You only see 20-40 hands per hour compared to the hundreds that can be played in that time online. Naturally, it’s easy to get distracted into browsing Twitter on your smartphone or text-messaging with friends in between hands.

This year, I’m making a concerted effort like never before to remain really focused at the table. You can pick up so many crucial pieces of information about your opponents just by paying attention to what they do in hands after you have already folded. It’s not easy, but I decided to be as professional as possible at the WSOP this year which means working hard to extract every edge I can against opponents.

I’m feeling more focused and confident than ever heading into the Main Event on Monday. Hopefully the poker gods will comply and send a little luck my way.

Players Treated Poorly

Caesars Entertainment, owners and operators of the WSOP, roll out the bare minimum for players each year. It’s really quite a shame that for the tens of millions in rake paid collectively by players over the course of the WSOP that they can’t create a more spa-like experience for players.

Here’s a quick list of gripes poker players at the WSOP are entitled to:

  • poorly-trained dealers
  • ridiculous food prices (I paid $2.75 for an apple yesterday)
  • pitiful food comps (they actually reduced the already-pathetic comps given upon registering for an event)
  • uncomfortable chairs
  • controversial rule additions
  • unprofessional managerial actions
  • poor organization

With around 7% of total WSOP prize pools retained by Caesars, they could offer a much higher quality product to poker players. But they’re a corporation looking to pinch every penny possible and they (rightly) understand that even if they throw poker players under the bus there will still be tens of thousands of participants coming out to Vegas anyway.

Culture of the WSOP

Describing what it’s like to be at the WSOP can be challenging because there’s so much going on at all times that it’s a lot to take in. But as a bit of a veteran now, I have a better understanding of the culture at the WSOP.

I can’t claim to have spent a lot of time on trading floors on Wall St., but I imagine there to be quite a few similarities between that culture and the WSOP. Each day, literally millions of dollars are trading hands at the Rio convention center where games take place. There are observable elements of both intensity and insanity.

Many players choose to spend the entire six weeks of the WSOP grinding games in pursuit of a big payoff. I did this one summer and nearly lost my mind. It’s a very difficult environment to operate in for that long of a haul due to the stress of poker, limited exposure to sunlight, poor physical lifestyle (you’re basically just sitting down all day). After some time, players begin to take on some rather unsavory mental outlooks which only compounds the challenging experience of staying focused and playing at your best.

Making matters worse is a good deal of sexual frustration in the room. The male-to-female ratio at the WSOP is probably something like 20-to-1 and the one is usually some gorgeous piece of eye-candy hired to promote a product in the hallway.

Yes, the WSOP is an intense atmosphere that demands a special level of mental fortitude to excel and come out on top. It takes just as much of a dedication to discipline and a balanced lifestyle as it does savvy poker strategy to perform well at the WSOP. But if you get it right, the reward can be life-changing.

Follow me on Twitter if you’d like to track my progress during the 2012 WSOP Main Event.

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