Earlier in the year, K L. Cleeton partnered up with Americas Cardroom for the first-ever WSOP Rookie Challenge. The prize was a ticket to Vegas and a seat in the World Series of Poker Main Event.
Entrants to this challenge had to play a series of tournaments on ACR where tickets could be won. Anyone who won a ticket had the chance to make a 3-minute video. Cleeton and a team from ACR then watched those videos and selected Will “WigzYADig” Chase.
Cleeton announced Chase’s victory on Twitter in early June and Chase was playing the Main Event in July.
After the dust had settled on his WSOP experience, I caught up with Chase to ask him a few questions about his time in Vegas.
How did you first get into poker?
Will Chase: Poker has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s fair to say I inherited my love for the game from my family. My grandfather was a classic old-school poker player, and his passion for the game had a trickle-down effect on my entire family.
I’ll never forget the time he showed me his “pea shooter”—a small .22 pistol he kept in his pocket when he played. I laughed and asked why he carried it, “When you’re playing for this much money, you’d be foolish not to.”
I was in high school when Moneymaker won the Main Event and suddenly everyone wanted to play poker. Having been exposed to poker for a few years made it an easy transition into hosting games with my friends. We were playing any chance we had.
I was completely hooked and as soon as I could, I started playing online and mixing in casino trips whenever possible. As I started playing more and more I learned about the “underground” games in the Portland area and slowly started to work my way in. I still play in a few of them today.
For me, knowing the games were running illegally added another level of excitement and a feeling that I was part of a subculture that not everyone gets to experience. We have a great poker community here in Portland, and I love being a part of it.
What was your experience of applying and being chosen for the ACR package?
WC: When I saw K.L. announce the rookie challenge, I knew right away I was going to take a shot. I loved that the structure was unique, with the combination of playing a satellite that qualifies you to enter a video submission. The satellite was the easy part, two $10 bullets and I had step one complete.
The video was a bit more a challenge for me personally. I’ve always felt there is a creator deep inside me waiting for an excuse to bust out. But outside of making a few memes in photoshop I had never really created any type of content. I had no idea what the proper route to take was. So I started watching all the other submissions to see what others we coming up with.
I was almost set on just telling the story of how I started playing poker and hoping it was interesting enough when I saw one of videos where the guy did some impersonations of a few ACR pros. Something clicked. I threw my script in the trash and started over.
I landed on doing a parody of Rounders where the main character was the sucker and quickly found myself fully immersed in the process.
In the end, I was happy with my final product, and felt at the very least I would be in the conversation. The week after the submission window ended was filled with anticipation. I’m a man that loves a good slow-roll and this truly felt like a week-long slow-roll that ended in joy rather than the typical heartache.
What was it like visiting the series for the first time?
I had been dreaming about playing the WSOP since high school, but the past few years we all learned the hard way that nothing in life is guaranteed.
I was feeling the need to go out there and experience playing the series more than ever. But after looking into logistics to get there this year I decided to hold off, as the timing wasn’t the best. Then life threw me a curveball—as it often does. Being given a chance to freeroll the Main event was the perfect excuse to drop everything and find a way to make it work.
It was definitely a bit surreal at first. I had a feeling there would be a lot of nerves that I would need to get control of. So my plan was to play a few of the other tourneys before I played the Main Event. I ended up cashing my second warm-up tournament, the $1 Million Mystery Bounty and that was a bit a of confidence booster heading into the Main Event. Just being there for a few days and getting acclimated to the venue made all the difference in my comfort level at the table.
I couldn’t have made this trip happen without the support of my family. I’m very thankful poker is in our blood and they understood exactly how big this opportunity was for me.
What were some of the highlights of the series?
WC: I ran pretty well on Day 1. In the first hour of Level 1 I took down a 100k pot when my JJ flopped a set and was able to get three streets of value from pocket aces. That really took off some pressure for the rest of the day. Finding the bag twice in the Main Event was also a good feeling. But the real highlight of the series was the people I met while I was there.
The quick pre-game chat with Rob Kuhn before sitting down did a lot for my mental game. The entire crew at the ACR Punters Pad welcomed me in and I had a great time hanging out with them for a bit. And of course, the man who made it all happen for me, K.L. Cleeton.
He went out of his way to stop by my table on Day 1 and greet me with a big smile. Being out there alone, just having someone to talk to for a quick minute on breaks made a big difference.
K.L. is a pretty popular guy and lots of people would stop by to chat, but he still took the time to pause the conversation and introduce me every time which really helped me feel like I was a part of it.
He has great energy and an amazing sense of humor. You can feel his passion for the game and I truly believe is one of the best ambassadors we have for the game of poker. I’m happy to call him a friend and look forward to the next time we cross paths.
Are there any stand-out stories you’d like to share from your time in Vegas?
WC: I was playing blackjack and got paid on 22. That was a first for me and I will always remember that moment. Thank you, Robert, for being bad at math.
I really started to let loose after I busted the Main Event and enjoyed a few out-of-line nights taking in all the great things that Sin City has to offer.
While they would be great to share for those looking to live vicariously, I’m a bit old-fashioned and am going to adhere to the classic adage, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!”
Is there anything you’d like our readers to go check out?
WC: If you haven’t seen it yet, go check out the video that got me here “Flounders.” I had a lot of fun making it and if you are in touch with the poker world there are plenty of good laughs.
I hope you enjoy it and be sure to keep an eye out. There will be more like it to come, whenever inspiration next strikes me.
Featured image source: Will Chase.