Vegas or Bust: A Family Man Takes on the Pros

I don't remember what river card fell.

Through the fog of time, the rank and suit of the card that eliminated me has faded from memory. It wasn't the long-shot king I needed to double my chip stack and survive deep into the third day of the 2006 World Series of Poker main event, and that's the only thing that matters.

My one best shot at poker infamy? Dashed. With nearly 800 players still in the tournament, certainly my odds of winning the $12 million top prize were infinitesimal. But in poker as long as you have a stack, you have a dream.

After a year living another type of dream -- away from the daily grind of the cubicle farm, mostly playing poker for my bread -- that river card meant the end of the journey for me.

Having just turned 30, I returned home to Alabama, and over the course of a decade attended graduate school, got a steady job, fell in love, got married and had two children. You know, the standard family man stuff.

But still, that river card ever lingered in my mind.

Ten years later, I still share that story with little provocation, how I got all-in in the world's most prestigious poker tournament with pocket kings, only to run into pocket aces. What could I do, I always say. Nothing, they all reply, that's just poker.

And ten years later, the game has experienced a seismic shift, after an ill-timed law by Congress stamped out poker's booming growth just months after the massive success of the 2006 WSOP signaled the continued proliferation of the game.

Most online sites immediately pulled out of the United States or went belly-up. A federal raid of Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars in 2011 proved at least a temporary death knell for online poker. Players either left the game or moved to other countries to continue to ply their skills at the virtual tables.

But then the game started re-surging. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey legalized online poker, as other states like California and Pennsylvania are now considering legislation. PokerStars is returning to the U.S. for the first time in five years with a website for New Jersey players. Attendance at the WSOP continues to tick up, as players continue to dream, just as all the optimists who visit Las Vegas pray to beat the long odds.

On the precipice of 40, the dream still burns within me. It burns so strongly that my wife, Amy, and I will pack up our 6-year-old son, John Harper, and 2-year-old daughter, Sarah Beth, and drive to that gambling mecca of the Mojave where we will live as locals for nearly two months during the duration of the 2016 WSOP. There I will take one last, big shot at poker glory and riches.

It's Vegas or bust, go big or go home.

It won't be all WSOP, all the time, though. Several Vegas casinos offer summer tournament series to capitalize on the number of players the WSOP draws to town. So I'll be headed everywhere from Binion's, the birthplace of the WSOP, to Venetian, owned by online poker foe Sheldon Adelson, in search of fortune and glory in 2016.

I'll be working from whatever bankroll I can cobble together from my own poker winnings, an advance for my planned book "Vegas or Bust" and stakes from well-wishing friends. The total might be enough to buy me into the $10,000 Main Event again, but before I reach that point in mid-July I'll have to survive a gauntlet of Vegas poker.

I can't wait.