Editor's note: The WSOP main event final table will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. on Monday.
Poker can be a very grueling game. Sitting down hours upon hours playing, focusing and concentrating on every hand, knowing that one critical mistake could mean the difference between stacking piles of chips or heading home.
This year's October Nine can fully appreciate this form of exhaustion after playing more than 12 hours daily for seven days, ultimately surviving 6,589 other entrants in the main event to make the final table.
One of these players has felt other forms of physical and mental exhaustion that very few will ever experience.
Last year, New York native Michael Esposito was living an unhealthy lifestyle. Overweight and a smoker, the 43-year-old commodities broker and part-time poker player said he felt like he was 50 or 60 years old.
Esposito decided to dramatically change his lifestyle, committing himself to training for one of the most challenging athletic activities: triathlons. His training regimen has a completely different schedule than what we would expect from poker players.
"My days start at about 4:50 or 5 in the morning," Esposito said. "I usually get up and ride my bike from 5 to 6, and then I'll run from 6 to 6:20 on the days I do both. Then, I shower and take a train to New York City [to work]. At night, I come home and swim a couple nights a week. During the summer, I open water swim a couple times a week."
He doesn't take it easy with anything he puts his mind to, that much is clear. Esposito's dedication to his newly found obsession almost prevented him from playing the 2012 World Series of Poker main event, but it turned out that the schedule couldn't have been any better.
"The only reason I was really able to come to the World Series is because they had the Monday start date," he said. "I had done the New York City triathlon on the Sunday before I played on Monday. It was perfect because I was able to do the race on Sunday, fly Sunday night and then play on Monday. The minute I saw that the schedule would work, I booked everything."
The specific components of the New York City triathlon (which is an Olympic distance race) include a 1,500-meter swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10-kilometer run. Esposito finished in the race in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 10 seconds, placing 263rd out of more than 3,500 finishers. Not bad at all.
Indirectly, his training has had a beneficial side effect to his current poker game.
"Triathlon training and living a healthy and good life makes you a little bit calmer," Esposito said. "I don't care what anyone else in the tournament is doing, I don't care what any chip count in the room except my own."
Of course, being one of the elder statesmen at this final table (only Steven Gee at 57 is older), Esposito brings lots of experience to this final table. He began playing card games at a young age.
"I played cards as a young kid, a lot of family games," he said. "Playing games like rummy and crazy eights. I was always around card games and, as I got older, I could understand from playing those games the concepts of poker."
When he first found poker, he mastered seven-card stud.
Eventually, as the Texas hold 'em boom commenced, Esposito began focusing on this "new" game since the stud cash games dried up.
"When hold 'em really took off, I basically switched over and started playing that," Esposito said. "I went through the learning curve of that game. I had a lot of highs and lows in that game. When I first played the game, I played limit hold 'em and it was easy because it was like stud. The game wasn't that aggressive. Then, going to play no-limit, the game was completely different, especially since the aggression went up."
Over the years, Esposito has gone through trials and tribulations working on his poker game, but today he still considers himself an amateur and is always adjusting to the new styles of play. In the end, Esposito has developed a game that works for him.
"I honestly think you have to play your own game and come up with your own strategies. Some of it is trial and error and you have to kinda see what works for you. I have had years in the past and been too aggressive and not being able to turn it off. I think it is basically about having more balance in your game."
After years of honing his own hold 'em game, Esposito finally broke through last year by capturing his first live event ($350 no-limit hold 'em event) during the WSOP Circuit in Las Vegas.
"The breakthrough of winning the [WSOPC event] definitely gave me a lot of confidence in how I was playing," he reflected. "I realized that, so long as my focus was good, I would be OK."
As he entered this summer's WSOP main event, which was his only event during the 2012 WSOP, he had only one goal in mind: make the final table. Utilizing experiences from previous years at the WSOP, he made this goal a reality.
Esposito will certainly stick to his routine before the event, stating he's planning on going for a run before the action begins. However, if he happens to win, it may be a different story.
"If I win, I may go home and just sleep for a week."
No matter how Michael Esposito finishes at the final table, he's already made drastic changes in his lifestyle and become a true winner. Capturing the WSOP main event would just be icing on the cake.