Chris Shaw was in the zone last week, and it paid off.
Shaw, formerly of Gardner, took ninth place in a World Series of Poker (WSOP) event in Las Vegas and won more than $32,000.
“I’ll be honest. It was crazy,” Shaw said. “…I was getting good cards, but even the cards I was getting, it didn’t matter what I had. I can’t explain it, but you could just kind of look through (the other players). It was weird. I was completely in the zone and I had never been in the zone like that playing poker.”
Shaw is familiar with the zone in basketball. He graduated from Gardner Edgerton High School in 1996 and was a member of the GEHS state basketball championship team. When he wasn’t on the court, he could often be found working at the Blazer Burger, which his parents owned. He and his wife and son now live in a suburb of Charlotte, NC.
His basketball skills help at the poker table, Shaw said.
“I was a point guard,” he said. “I was always a distributor. I would always make a pass to Logan (Bond) or Jared (Lard) or whoever. I feel like in poker you’ve got to pick your spots and you’ve got to know when to fold.”
Shaw has been playing poker for 10 years, and has attended WSOP in Vegas for the last few years, though this year’s ninth place finish is his highest yet.
Throughout the year, Shaw plays a series of home poker games with 20 friends.
”We’re a little nerd poker group,” he explained. “We’re kind of like a little posse. We’ve all got our stupid t-shirts, and we’ve got our nicknames on it.”
The home players amass points throughout the year, and the group buys the top three finishers into WSOP games in Vegas. The top three finishers split their WSOP winnings with the rest of the poker club.
Shaw finished fifth this year, so he bought his own way into WSOP games in Vegas.
“When I say I paid my own way in, I wasn’t really coming out of pocket,” Shaw said. “That was money I had won in kind of underground games. For me, yeah, it may show that I bought my way in, but it was really all profit that I had won playing poker.”
Shaw made it to the Vegas strip shortly after 11 p.m. on June 14.
“I went straight to the Rio and entered a deep stack $135 buy-in tournament,” Shaw said.
The WSOP hosts main events and several deep-stack tournaments daily. There were 468 players in the game on Thursday night.
Shaw played from 11:15 p.m. to 4:45 a.m. on June 15, but he didn’t play well.
“I got the worst stretch of cards. I couldn’t get any pots or anything,” he said.
He finished 38th in that event, but only the top 27 people earned a pay out.
“I just missed getting my money back,” he explained. “It was a small tournament, but if you win, that tournament would’ve paid me $8,800.”
After busting out of that event, Shaw spent the next five hours at a Black Jack table. He won $2,165 on $25 hands.
He met up with his friends for a noon poker tournament at Ceasar’s. It was $150 buy-in, and the top 35 players received payouts.
After seven hours, Shaw missed out on the cash placing 48th.
“It was already Friday night, and I still hadn’t slept since I had gotten into Vegas,” Shaw said.
He and his friends decided to rest up for the big poker events starting on Saturday.
Shaw registered for a $1,500 WSOP main event, and played for eleven-and-a-half hours straight.
“I had decent chips,” he explained.
“But I struggled to get into a situation where I could cruise. Once you get chips, you just hold onto to your chips.”
He finished 500 of 2,811 in that event — missing the payout by 202 spots.
Overall, Shaw was happy with the way he was playing.
”There were a couple of situations I regret, that’s why I decided I wanted to enter the event on Sunday,” he said.
He used his experiences at the tables on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to build up to Sunday’s game. For example, he decided early on Saturday that he wouldn’t be playing any hands when he had an Ace and a weak kicker after losing two such hands.
“For the rest of the tournament, I was never in a pot or a hand with anything less than and Ace and a 10,” Shaw said. “Most people play Aces.”
At Sunday’s event, Shaw paid his $1,000 to enter along with 2,794 other people.
That’s one of the nice things about World Series of Poker events – anyone can play if they have the money to buy into the game, Shaw said.
Poker blew up in popularity when amateur Chris Moneymaker won in 2003.
“That’s why the poker craze got so crazy,” Shaw said. “He won the first multi-million dollar game, and every joker out there just started entering the WSOP.”
When Shaw reached the final table of nine on June 18 – day two of the $1,000 WSOP main event – he was the only amateur at the table.
“All of them were professionals and all of them had over, I believe, $150,000 in gross winnings,” Shaw said. “Each person, each of those little kids – it’s amazing 22-year-olds – had at least four World Series of Poker cashes. I think seven of the eight had at least a minimum of $100,000 in cash. The guy to my right had over a million in WSOP winnings.”
At the final table, announcers discussed the accomplishments of the remaining nine players. Shaw, in his Royals jersey and University of Kansas ball cap, was nervous.
The announcer finished introducing Matt Stout, who has an impeccable poker profile.
“Matt leaned over to me and said, you’re probably more nervous about this introduction than you are about playing at this table,” Shaw remembers. “And I said, you’re absolutely right.”
The announcers said Chris Shaw is a mystery to us all in the poker world.
Heading into day two, Shaw had decided he would play conservatively.
“Most people know me as this really aggressive big personality type guy,” Shaw said. “For some reason, poker has actually calmed me over the years. It’s a really interesting dynamic. When I play poker, I’m a completely different person.”
At the final table, Shaw lost a pile of chips when he aggressively bet against a player named Dillon.
“We had our battles prior to the final table,” Shaw said. “And I won all four of our squirmishes.”
As Dillon contemplated what to bid, Shaw thought Dillon’s hand must be weak.
“I knew I had a decent hand, and that kid bluffs a lot, too,” Shaw said. “If I got those chips, I could’ve cruised to fourth or fifth place. Some people said I could’ve made the safe play there – for almost two to two-and-a-half days, I made the safe plays. I decided when I saw that Dillon was nervous that I would go for it. That’s how I roll.”
He finished ninth in the main event and pocketed $32, 702. Shaw said he may attend some circuit WSOP events in Atlantic City or Jacksonville in the future.
But for now, he has no plans to become a professional. He enjoys being a stay-at-home dad to his toddler, Colton.