What’s the only thing better than playing through a poker boom? How about playing through two poker booms? Andrew Porter knows what that’s like.
Back in the early 2000s, as the whole world went Moneymaker-crazy, Porter was one of those players discovering and falling in love with poker for the first time. It drifted out of his life in the years following Black Friday, but chance brought him back to the game in the late 2010s.
And wouldn’t you know it? That’s precisely the time Pennsylvania lawmakers were working on legislation to allow online poker back into Porter’s home state. He took up poker again with a renewed fervour, just as thousands more were discovering, or rediscovering, the game.
Right now, live poker tournaments are booming in a post-pandemic world, while the PokerStars.PA tables are thriving. And Porter, 32, is in the thick of it. He has a Platinum Pass to the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC).
It’s an incredible opportunity for him to take his game to yet another level, in the biggest $25K buy-in poker tournament the world has ever seen.
“It’ll be my biggest event, by far,” Porter says in a recent conversation. “I’ve played in $10ks online, $5k at the Borgata, [but this is the] biggest in terms of prize pool. Biggest in terms of buy-in. Biggest in terms of excitement. Biggest in terms of the competition. Biggest in terms of location. All of the above. Everybody is talking about it. It’s going to be huge.”
A SECOND POKER LIFE
The PSPC has come at the right time for Porter, who admits that when he first started playing poker, shortly before he went to college, he hadn’t yet understood any of the subtleties of the game.
“I was bad,” he says now of his early playing days. “I kept losing…I didn’t know that there was strategy involved. I thought the cards determined if you were successful.”
But after giving it up to focus first on his studies and then a full-time job, he found an entirely different poker landscape when he returned.
“I started studying, I started learning and I was shocked at how much you can learn,” he says. “Now I started studying, with solvers, and there’s so many places to research now. You can actually get better. I learned actually what it was like to be a professional.”
Porter now plays poker pretty much every day and describes it as a kind of side business. He has scored big wins in World Series events, earning a Pennsylvania-online bracelet and two PA circuit rings last August, all within the same eight-day period, and recording plenty of other cashes besides.
But he also has the kind of day job that would register pretty high on most lists of dream employment: he works as a digital content producer for the Philadelphia sports radio network 94WIP. It means he’s often surrounded by sports and sportspeople — and, as far as Porter is concerned, that also includes poker players.
“To me it is 100 percent a sport,” he says. “It’s a game. You compete. You win money. It takes a physical toll. It takes a mental toll. That checks all the boxes. Seems like a sport to me.”
IS IT/ISN’T IT?
The is it/isn’t it a sport debate is one of poker’s longest-running squabbles, and Porter confesses that it ultimately depends on how you classify a sport as to where you land. But having spent his life embedded in both pursuits, he sees a clear overlap in many areas, particularly in the form of poker he particularly favours.
“That’s why I gravitate towards tournaments because I think in tournament poker, it’s as close as we can get to sports,” he says. “There’s rankings. There’s tours. There’s trophies. There’s lists. It’s competition, it’s pure competition.
“The aspect of tournament poker definitely relates to sports. It’s like points per game in the NBA. It’s like championships. Titles. It’s got that feel. You hold up a trophy. There’s a winner. It’s got that feel of a competition, that’s what I love about it.”
Porter also relishes the obvious differences between poker and many competitive sports, chief among them the way in which less experienced players can take on, and frequently better, the pros.
“That’s an awesome part of the game,” he says. “It’s a very cool, unique sport in that regard. Anybody can show up and beat anybody. If I was going to play in a tournament against Lebron and Giannis and James Hardin and Joel Embiid I’d have no chance. That wouldn’t be exciting because I’d know the result. But in poker, there’s endless possibilities. As long as you study and understand the game, I think you’ve got a shot.”
While most aspects of contemporary poker appeal to Porter far more than the game of 20 years ago, his only regret is the absence of the man with whom he shared his earliest experiences of the game.
Porter and his father, Michael, both took up Texas hold’em at the same time, watching those early ESPN broadcasts from the World Series. They played often together at local casinos, where Michael continued to be a $1-$2 grinder, even after his son went off to college and took his hiatus from the game.
Michael passed away in 2015, and Andrew describes a decision he took not long after to play poker once a year on his late father’s birthday, as a way of remembering and honouring him. It’s why he came back to poker, which permitted his recent epiphanies about the game, and relaunched a much more successful poker career.
“He had old poker chips from the Tropicana in Atlantic City in our house, so I always carry one of them in my pocket when I play,” Porter says. “It’s always with me.”
BRINGING THOSE MEMORIES WITH HIM
That will include during the trip to the Bahamas, of course, which has also allowed other family members a chance to understand some of the appeal of poker.
“I don’t really try to explain the ins and outs of poker to my family,” Porter says. “It’s very hard to articulate it, so I keep it a basic as possible. But the Platinum Pass is a fun one. It’s very tangible. So I can say I won a trip to the Bahamas to play in at $25,000 tournament, and they’re paying for my hotel, they’re paying for my flights. My family can say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. Good luck.'”
He adds: “I don’t think they can quite understand how big the tournament is. How many great players will be in the tournament, and how big the prize pool is going to be, and how big of an opportunity it is to me. But they definitely understand how cool the prize package is, and then trip, and it’s definitely a pretty cool experience.”
MORE PLATINUM PASS PROFILES
- STEPHEN GRAY: FREEROLLING EN ROUTE TO AN OIL RIG
- JONATHAN NEWMAN: ‘LIFELONG LEARNER’ TRADES CLASSROOM FOR POKER SUCCESS
- TANAY SAMANT: PLATINUM PASS WINNER WORKING TO CURE CANCER
- FRANCO SPITALE: CHARITY SPURS SPITALE AFTER PSPC AGONY
- RISH IYER: WOMEN’S CHAMPION HOPING FOR PSPC TELL-ALL