From Istanbul to Cashing in the 2015 World Series of Poker

Jeff Gross with the Esfandiaris in Istanbul, Turkey.

Jeff Gross with the Esfandiaris in Istanbul, Turkey.

About ten days into the 2015 World Series of Poker, I have had several deep runs with three WSOP cashes as well as an 18th/329 in the WPT Aria 500, where I made the money but bubbled the July 5th Day 2 restart.  I want to share with what I think is working thus far in the WSOP, but first I wanted to recap my recent trip to Istanbul and Cyprus with fellow pro Antonio Esfandiari (Antonio’s father Bejan came also) where we visited friends as well as played some poker.

On May 17th Antonio and I flew from LA to Istanbul direct on Turkish Airways.  This was my first time on Turkish Airways, and I was really impressed.  They had great food and excellent service, making the 14-hour journey a breeze. We had been looking to go and visit some of our friends who live there and realized if we didn’t squeeze it in before the start of the WSOP, we may not get to go for quite some time.  We arranged to spend five nights in Istanbul and two nights in Cyprus where the beautiful Merit Casino would host us.  We combined both poker and fun on this trip. The games we played were a lot of fun and had good action in which Antonio and I both had good showings.  The poker was fun and games were good, but what I really wanted to share was the city of Istanbul.  I had heard this city was special, but I literally had no idea how magnificent it was, and it turns out is my new favorite city. I believe it is Antonio’s as well.

Istanbul is the fifth-most populous city in the world with a population of approximately 14.5 million.  It is also unique in that it is the only city in the world that is on two separate continents (Europe and Asia).  We stayed at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski on the Europe side, right on the water of the breathtaking Bosphorus.  Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus Strait in northwestern Turkey, between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.  The Bosphorus also splits the continents of Europe and Asia.  Here there are all types of boats from yachts to cargo ships to military vessels passing through constantly.  We had the opportunity to visit some amazing homes right on the Bosphorus, and enjoy some boating as well.  The restaurant quality was very high and the city is also home to one of the coolest night clubs I have ever been to called Reina, which I highly recommend if you make it over there.  It is right on the water,and its view and atmosphere blow out anything I have ever seen (they also have a restaurant).  The city is also filled with beautiful Mosques and throughout the day, you can hear the people praying, which resonates throughout the entire city.  It has an energy and feel to it that is hard to describe. You really have to be there to get the full experience.   It is truly beautiful.

We spent the first two nights in Istanbul, then we took a short flight over to Cyprus, where the Merit Casino took care of us.  I had been to Greece once before, but never to Cyprus.  We stayed primarily in the casino while in Cyprus.  The Merit had world-class accommodations with beautiful rooms and they really know how to take care of their players.  We played in a private game in a room that was out of a movie.  Every detail was top-notch.  Beautiful table, chairs, ambiance, and being waited on so much it felt each player had their own butler!  We did make it out one night for a nice lunch and cigar club gathering, which was cool.  I look forward to returning here in September with Antonio for a tournament they will be hosting.  The plan for the tournament to be a $10,000 event in mid-September 2015 and it looks to be a nice turnout!

We then returned to Istanbul, where we played one more night of poker followed by a night out at Reina . Then, on our last day there we got a real treat.  We were very fortunate that the most famous futbol (soccer) team in Turkey, Galatasary, had a home match and were playing a big rival.  Our friends have a box at the stadium and the atmosphere was electric.  I have been to a handful of games in England for EPL matches, and I wasn’t expecting the atmosphere to match this, but it actually surpassed it!  The stadium has a capacity of 52,652, but it felt like well over 100,000 fans were there.  Also, something unique was that the stadium didn’t sell tickets to the opposing team’s fans for rival matches the stadium.  We were told this is for safety measures, as it just isn’t safe.  I have heard of intense rivalries in sports and fans of opposing teams going at their own risk, but never to this degree.  Galatasary won 2-0 and secured their position of champions of Turkey for the season.  After a nice dinner, we got some sleep and were off to the airport to return to Vegas the next day just in time for the kickoff of the 2015 WSOP!

After being primarily in cash mode the past few months it was time to gear up for six straight weeks of tournaments.  This is something I have been fortunate to never have a problem transitioning between, but it is nice to have a block where it is one or the other instead of switching back and forth constantly between cash and tournaments.  So far, I have played in nine WSOP events and have three cashes.  I got off to a nice start winning my $3,000 shootout table in Event #4, then being four handed to go to a WSOP final table.  I knocked out the two other opponents and was heads-up with a 3 to 1 chip lead versus an opponent I was not familiar with and poker was not his profession.  I ended up losing this match, which was truly devastating.  I played well, but the cards were not meant to be and I knew that I had to shake this off immediately or else it could leave a negative impact on the rest of my summer.

I followed up with a 180th/22,374 finish in the Colossus Event #5 where I lost a big pot on Day 3 with A-Q to K-Q on a Q33 flop. I got check-raised, had him on Q-J or K-Q, and couldn’t fade the three outer.  This crippled me and I wasn’t able to recover, finally losing a flip with less than eight big blinds.  It was cool to be a part of poker history, penetrating the largest live field ever, and it got my confidence back quickly.  I then got heads-up in the next shootout event, a $1,500 one, where I was out-chipped 5 to 1 and came up just short, but knew I was playing well and good things were to come.  I bagged up 60,000 chips in the Millionaire Maker and was sure I had my next cash, as we were close to the money on Day 2, but poker is a humbling game and I did not win one single pot and managed to get knocked out around 800th when 750 places cashed.  This was very unlike me to not cash after accumulating so many chips, and I again had to remind myself it’s not about what happens, but how you react to what happens.  I hopped into the most recent $1,500, Event #20, and again penetrated a rather large field of 1844 players, finishing in 65th place.

So far I am happy with my play and realize that, with a couple different breaks, there could be a lot more to celebrate thus far, but about 1/3 of the way through the WSOP, I am happy with four cashes overall and I know a bracelet is realistic this summer.  The biggest thing that I believe is working for me is being present and really being conscious of every spot and dynamic at the table.  Knowing not only your chip stack, but the other opponents’ chip stacks at your table is so important.  I still am in disbelief how many times I see a player raise or be in a pot and look surprised by another player’s stack being more or less than they anticipated.  You really put yourself at a huge disadvantage not knowing this information.  Some players take it as far as to have a sheet of paper, and at the breaks or start of a Day 2 have it written down to help gauge this.  Oftentimes if you rewind a hand that you may have gotten knocked out on or lost a big pot, you may discover that the number of big blinds you had was unwarranted to be all in with or make the play you did.  Pay close attention to this and I believe it will help with your quest for that coveted gold bracelet!  Best of luck at the tables and I hope to see you at my final table this summer.

I have been working on my website JeffGrossPoker.com, which is now up.  Here you can check for updates and to keep up with all things poker and travel-related that I am up to!  As always, my Twitter is @Jgross5 and my Instagram account is JeffGrossPoker.

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Jeff Gross

Jeff Gross is widely known as a one of the top cash game players today along with $2 million in tournament earnings. He also makes a living as a P.B.F. (Professional best friend to Antontio Esfandiari and Michael Phelps) and played Division I soccer at the University of South Carolina.
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