by Will “The Thrill” Failla
Pocket queens. I’m on a tear, a blazing heater, I’m riding high and fast and as a native New Yorker I feel like I’m carrying the hopes of Atlantic City on my shoulders. It’s Day 4 and we’re down to fourteen from a massive field of 1,313 players. My table is six-handed when UTG limps into an 80K big blind. The action folds around to me and I lift my cards to find two beautiful ladies. But before I unveil how this plays out, let me set the scene.
This really goes all the way back to my childhood. Raised by a widowed mother and loving sister in a tough neighborhood, I learned first-hand to never give up. My past shapes my personality — I’m always motivated. I began Day 4 as chipleader when my cards turned ice-cold and I soon found myself short stacked. Frustrated but not dispirited, my unrelenting drive rose to the surface as I thought about my son. I fought on determined, quickly building 1.2M into 2.7M in chips without once showing my cards.
Now I’m feeling GOOD, and why not? I’m the hometown hero looking to make WPT history at my local casino. Last month, I had captured the first televised event of WPT Season X — the Legends of Poker. This was hands-down the second greatest moment of my life, topped only by the birth of my son. Family, friends, random people off the street and on Facebook flooded me with congratulations, and I can’t exaggerate how much this meant to me. I had been playing poker professionally for years, grinding and grinding to reach this point and then all of a sudden I’m here, in the blink of an eye, I’m a member of the WPT Champions Club.
Not only am I running good and playing well, I’m also enjoying every minute at Borgata. My tournament began in hectic fashion when I bought in late only to be blinded off for hours on Day 1A. I was travelling from an event in Europe, heading to Borgata straight from JFK airport and didn’t play my first hand until 5:30pm. The crazy part? I ended the day third in chips. Even crazier was what happened later that week — I played and demolished Vince Van Patten at racquetball in front of the WPT TV cameras.
You may not know, but Vince is an incredible tennis player. However, racquetball is a very different game and I’m a freaking stud. As always, Vince was walking around the tournament floor, chatting up players and fans. Everyone’s family on the World Poker Tour, and when Vince and I got to talking, somehow racquetball came up. I told Vince he’d have no shot at beating me, but he couldn’t believe that there’s a lion under this shell. Yes, I might be a tad overweight but I’m a champion with the cardio. In a couple of games to 12, I spotted Vince 9 and 10 points. Vince fought valiantly but came up a bit short and I laughed my way to victory with Mike Sexton looking on. What can I say except, “only on the WPT!”
Okay, I’ve been delaying this for long enough but honestly, this hand hurt. UTG Jin Hwang limps for 80K. Action folds to me and staring down at those luscious ladies I make it 240K to go. No takers except for Jin who sits for a while, then announces, “All-in.” We’re nearly even in chips and of course, I tank. With rows and rows of fans cheering me on, crawling over one another to watch their local pro reach for glory, I tank. Minutes and minutes go by, do I have the best hand? Jin begins to look nervous and stands up. He doesn’t want me to call. So I think, I probably have the best hand, but will this hand catapult me to winning? Because for me that’s what this is all about. Winning. WPT history. First Legends, now Borgata.
At this point I know I’m the strongest player left in the field, and I’m contemplating just laying it down. Then Jin says, “I got the best hand” and I knew I had him beat. As I make the call Jin wracks his knuckles on the table. I turn up my cards and he flips over pocket jacks.
Poker can be cruel at times, and although I had Jin dominated, my queens lost out to quad jacks. I was emotional — this hurt. Sometimes you make the right decision and the wrong decision at the same time. But that’s poker, it’s gotten me this far, so I can’t complain. I currently sit atop the WPT Player of the Year leaderboard and have won more than $800,000 in my past two WPT events. I want to thank WPT for creating these exceptional opportunities, Vince Van Patten for being a good sport after I whooped him on the court, and Mike Sexton for being there to make sure Vince will never forget it.
Photos from Will’s Borgata experience below: