the calm after the storm
It’s been a week now since I left Las Vegas. Hurricane Sandy’s extensive wipeout of Long Island’s power grid made going home pretty pointless, and so I remained a guest of the Rio for 8 days longer than I had planned. Luckily, myself and most of my friends and family suffered only minor damage from the storm, and life around here seems to have finally returned to normal…sort of.
I have been pretty much entirely responsibility-free for a week or two for the first time since May. I played the entire WSOP, and the day after it ended mid-July, Russ immediately reached out to me to talk about coaching. We started work soon after. Despite now finally having the opportunity to relax and unwind, to tackle the pile of unplayed games I’ve yet to touch or to reconnect with the people I haven’t been able to keep up with, I find myself instead missing the nonstop action of October. I absolutely loved being fully immersed in poker with a group of similarly passionate individuals, dealing with the logistics of coordinating a dozen people plus a production team for a month, and maybe most of all, I loved feeling the thrilling but sort of frightening constant pressure of being entrusted with the biggest day of my friend’s life. When it was all said and done, it was the single most exhausting month of my life, but the most emotionally rewarding one as well.
If you’ve followed me for awhile, you probably know that I make a bunch of videos on my YouTube channel, most of them poker-related. I love the creative freedom running my own YouTube channel brings me – in the past year, I made StarCraft videos with one of my pro-gamer friends, streamed a live poker session, experimented with some different types of production styles (webcam, the switch from Camtasia to XSplit), and most recently, I created and produced the project I’m most proud of so far, “The Final Table”. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the entire 40-minute documentary:
In the middle of September, as I was planning out the simulation phase of our coaching, it struck me how cool it could be to invite in a camera crew to film in October. A few days later, I pitched to Dan O’Brien the idea of shooting a show in the mold of a UFC Primetime or HBO’s 24/7 series, telling the story of who Russell Thomas is, how we are preparing to do battle for $8.5 million, document the emotional roller coaster he and I would be going through, and cover Russ’ journey through the end of the final table (the initial title actually was “Road to the Final Table”). Dan liked the idea, and after the two of us refined the concept a little bit he connected me with his two former roommates, Jake Gabbay and Justin Tyrrell, the two wizards behind “The Final Table.” They didn’t really know poker (which was exactly what I wanted) and after reassuring them that we wouldn’t be talking about the intricacies of check-raising dry flops or recording the simulations hand-for-hand, they were in. I also promised them in the same conversation that at least some of their work days would be part-time. Almost every one of their work days went overtime. Whoops.
Two weeks later, we began shooting in New York.
We would film for a few days, edit for two or three long days, repeat. Episode 5 was the toughest schedulewise, as we wrapped shooting Sunday evening and Jake and Justin then put in a marathon late-night session editing so it could be published Monday morning (the day of the actual final table). We were extremely fortunate to have the support of both Poker Productions, ESPN’s WSOP production company, as well as Seth Palansky, the WSOP official in charge of media access for the final table. Their assistance was really what allowed us to shoot so much of the cool footage you see in Episodes 5 and 6.
It’s unbelievably fulfilling to come up with an idea like this, put a team together, execute our vision, and have it exist in reality better than I had ever imagined. I’ve never been a part of something like that to this extent, and as we put time in I discovered that I really enjoy this sort of production work. Since the finale of “The Final Table,” even with all the other things I could be doing, I’ve happily spent the vast majority of my time starting the development of our next project. I have plenty of ideas for what might lie ahead, and “The Final Table” has opened some very interesting doors that I can’t wait to explore.