Not only is big money at stake at this year's WSOP, big egos are at stake as well. But despite all the larger-than-life characters making names for themselves here at the Rio, I think top prize for Most Modest Poker Player would have to go to the eloquent Eric Froehlich.
Even though he's the youngest player to win a WSOP bracelet (21 years old at the time), he's very grounded and realistic when it comes to his game and is quick to give praise to other poker players. PokerListings.com had the pleasure to sit down with Eric and find out how he got into poker, what it felt like to win last year's $1,500 Limit Hold'em event and who he thinks will take the championship title.
Eric Froehlich, 2006 WSOP
Although he may not like the name, I'm dubbing him the Sweetheart of the WSOP. I doubt he'll object, he's just way too kind.
So you've got one WSOP bracelet. How many do you think you'll win this time around?
I'm going to try to for one more. The goal is always to win one, but it's really tough - all the fields are so big this year. It's really hard. You don't see any pros winning the first week. I'm going to give it my best shot, but I think one's going to be hard to come by.
How did it feel last year winning your first WSOP bracelet?
It's kind of weird. I don't even know if it's sunk in right now. It's so surreal, and you hear about so many people trying for so long (to win one), so to come around in the second event I've ever played in and see an early success, it's really only just starting to sink in now. But it was really tough - the days are really grueling. You're playing from noon 'til three in the morning, three days at a time, it's a lot. But it was great to win last year and it'd be great to win again. It was surreal, especially because it was a televised tournament. I don't really see myself as a TV person. I'm a quiet guy. I'm not really looking for the spotlight in any shape or form, but it's been a lot of fun, and it's been great meeting people.
How has your life changed since your win last year?
I don't think it's changed at all. The money basically went to a family account and to help my brother through college and we needed to pay off mortgages. Whatever's left over I'm going to keep around and hopefully use it to put a down payment on a house in the future. I've got a few other things I want to do, but it really hasn't changed my life because I'm really not looking for the spotlight, so I haven't really felt the attention.
How long have you been playing poker?
I started playing a little bit in high school. Obviously I wasn't playing for anything relevant then. I started playing poker online when I was 18, and I had a lot of success playing online, but not necessarily playing, just watching other people play and teaching myself the game. Then I started playing and using what I learned to develop my own game.
Why do you enjoy playing poker?
I'm competitive. I played baseball, basketball, football growing up. I kind of got hurt so I stopped playing sports and got into other card games like Magic, and so I just kind of graduated from that card game to adult card games, so poker was the next logical step.
How do you celebrate a tournament win?
Try to go to sleep. Last year we played from noon until almost 4:00 a.m., and then we came back the next day and played from noon until almost 6:00 a.m. So there's really not much you're going to be doing. This year, it's a three day event for every tournament. Last year they made us play the final table on the second day. I was pretty delirious. I had an interview right after, and my answers were slow. I was so tired I couldn't remember it. I brought my family and friends out, so I celebrate with them but not on the day of.
What advice would give an aspiring poker player?
Be careful. It's tough. These tournaments are a lot of fun, and I highly recommend people coming out to the World Series and giving it a shot, because you can get a lot of experience. But you're probably not going to win, you've got to realize that. It's really hard to win, even if you play perfect. You've got the best players in the world, and they're not always winning. It's really tough. You're playing 15 hours a day, and you've got to not only have good hands, you've got to get lucky. You've got to deal with a lot of stuff, a lot of emotional swings. But it's a lot of fun and the tournaments are very enjoyable. You get to play more and interact with people and meet the people that you see on TV. It's a good time but you have to know what you're getting yourself into.
Which poker player do you admire the most?
I think Phil Ivey is the best poker player by far. I think any time he wants to win, he wins. He's that kind of player where he doesn't even seem to care that much about certain tournaments, he'll still do well. But when he actually decides "I'm going to win this tournament," he'll go out there and get the job done. I love Mike "The Mouth" [Matusow]. He's incredibly entertaining. I really like Phil Hellmuth, he's amazing. At the table he can be rough but he's a really great guy. And of course Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson, they're legends.
Are you going to enter the H.O.R.S.E. event?
I'd love to, but $50,000 is a little steep. I have family to take care of. Maybe if I win $2 million I'd have the cash to put-up the buy-in but all those people I just named are obviously going to be in the tournament, a stellar field, so - I mean I'm good, but I'm not that good. I'm a realist; I don't think I'm the best player ever or that I'm going to be the best player ever. And these guys just know how to get it done, they're phenomenal players.
Will you be entering the Main Event then?
Yes, I'll be playing in that one, but it's just a mine field - I mean 10,000 people. Last year, I didn't do so well, went out at the fourth level. But there's a lot of talent out there and everyone is just going to give it their best shot. But you just have to consistently not get unlucky.
Here's hoping you don't get unlucky, Eric!