"Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity." -
In today's poker world, players have so much information available at their fingertips including the forums, training sites, poker websites, blogs, poker shows and, of course prior to Black Friday, online poker. By focusing solely on their own poker game, many of these players have played millions of hands virtually and gained immeasurable amounts of experience online.
With all of these available resources, it's surprising at how many players do not utilize the information that can be gathered about their opponents, especially after Day 1 when the table draws and chip counts are provided. Now, add to the mix this year's 70 hours of same-day WSOP main event coverage provided by ESPN, players had access to more information about their competitors than ever before. Surprisingly, very few players took full advantage of this data during the tournament.
There was one player, however, who seized this opportunity and used it to his full advantage: 2011 November Niner Matt Giannetti.
Originally from Clifton Park, NY, Giannetti initially seemed to be just another online player who left college in search of a standout professional poker career. The truth is that Giannetti is of a slightly different breed.
The intelligent 26-year-old has always been very studious. An honors student, Giannetti graduated high school in 2003. A shiny example of the Moneymaker effect, he and his high school friends began playing poker three or four nights a week during that summer. That fall, the New York native enrolled at the University of Texas, choosing the rigorous computer engineering as a major. However, the lure of online poker began to consume him.
"Poker started taking off during my second semester of my freshman year," recalled Giannetti. "Every spare moment, I would be playing poker online. I would be constantly be thinking of poker."
His chosen major was very time consuming and he attempted to continue to keep his work ethic towards his schooling as a priority. That said, he was at a major crossroads in his life. "I was still getting decent grades, I think a B average," he said. "I knew that I could be getting better grades, but I also knew that I could be making more money playing poker full-time."
After much consideration, Giannetti chose to forgo his academics after his sophomore year. With a family history of college graduates from rigorous academic programs -- his older brother graduated from University of Michigan and his younger brother from University of Georgia -- his parents were surprisingly understanding of his life altering decision. "Although I was leaving the path that my parents had set for me
they saw that I had talent and consistent success online."
Giannetti moved to Las Vegas and initially found lots of success "eating, sleeping and breathing poker." However, the youngster was not infallible, as he enjoyed his newfound freedom out on the Las Vegas party scene with friends Nenad Medic and David Williams.
"I began to take winning for granted and instead of trying to evolve my game, I got into the club scene," Giannetti admitted. "Looking back, I wasted many opportunities to play in good cash games where I could not only win money, but also remain sharp in my game."
After a couple of years, this lifestyle caught up with him as his game began to suffer.
"Eventually, the game is going to humble you," he reflected. "To say that I'm frustrated with my tournament résumé would be an understatement."
The nightlife took a backseat in 2009 as Giannetti decided to buckle down and work hard once again at his poker game.
As the 2011 WSOP main event approached, Giannetti had cashed in only one of about a dozen events during the summer. Despite the lack of results, his confidence wasn't swayed.
Early in the main event, Giannetti did not have much to work with and entered Day 5 shortstacked with only 114,000 in chips with blinds at 5,000/10,000. From the very start of the day, he went on a run to remember and ended the day strong, finishing with 1.9 million. The chip accumulation continued and with approximately 30 players remaining, he was the chip leader.
"Everything in my life had prepared me for this moment," he said as the tournament inched closer to the final table. With every player elimination, more scrutiny was placed on the remaining competitors. The ESPN cameras began to hover and the two feature tables showed hole cards at the conclusion of the hand if there was a flop. Ultimately, this media coverage altered his strategy and preparation for the later stages of the WSOP main event.
"The dynamics of the 30-minute delay coverage changed a lot," he said. "Every player had somebody giving them information. You wanted to know not only if you were bluffed, but also wanted to know when your opponent knew when you bluffed them."
And at the end of every day, Giannetti took his preparation to another level, in lieu of much needed sleep.
"I DVR'ed all the shows," he said of his daily routine. "After we finished playing, I'd go home and watch for three-and-a-half hours to see if I could see anything about my opponents because any small thing could make a big difference. With all the information, if you don't want to be a student of the game, someone else will."
All of his effort and preparation surely paid off as he achieved his initial goal of making the 2011 November Nine. Now, as he prepares to return to the Rio for the 2011 WSOP Final Table, Giannetti enters third in chips and has a realistic chance to become the 2011 WSOP champion. However, this has not changed his viewed on his education.
"Even if I win the main event I want to go back and finish my degree. I really wish I finished school but I love poker, especially trying to get better and tweaking your game. However, having a degree and knowing that poker doesn't have to be my life, I have grown to learn is priceless."
No matter what happens in November, Giannetti is prepared to take on whatever life brings and seize every future opportunity. With $8.7 million and the biggest bracelet of them all on the line, there's no question that Giannetti will be ready for one of the biggest nights of his life.
Bernard Lee is the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal, weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and radio host of "The Bernard Lee Poker Show."