Football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game and that is first place." He was talking about his own beloved sport, but the same can be said for poker, where second place can still amount to a lot of money, but only the winner seems to pick up the fame to go along with it.
That was what Paul Wasicka was facing when he came in second in the 2006 World Series of Poker. Sure, he'd just pocketed more than $6 million for his finish, but he was doomed to fade into the background while Jamie Gold stepped into the spotlight.
But Wasicka has never been one to just fade.
Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1981 to Jim and Carol Wasicka, the future pro player began developing a competitive spirit early. Growing up, he spent his first few years in Dallas where he learned to play soccer and his parents taught him chess and backgammon.
When he was seven, the family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where, says Wasicka, his competitive drive kicked into high gear.
With the Rocky Mountains at his doorstep, Wasicka took up skiing and added bowling to his sports list as well. He continued with his chess playing in middle school by joining the chess team.
"But I quickly headed up to play the high school kids because junior high chess was incredibly dull," Wasicka recounts on his site.
When he got to high school, Wasicka was playing five sports a year including running track and cross country, skiing, wrestling and volleyball.
"I loved the physical intensity of wrestling and the mental games necessary for distance running," he said.
It was actually his love of sports, namely skiing, that took him to Vancouver where he got his first taste for gambling. He and his friends stopped at a casino where he put $10 down at the blackjack table and turned it into $100.
The ski trip turned into a blackjack trip for Wasicka, and at the end of five days of play he was up $17,000.
While blackjack helped give him some good card sense, there wasn't enough action in the game to keep him interested. Eventually he turned to poker instead.
Paul Wasicka: Video game junkie and sportaholic
As the story goes, Wasicka asked to go along when he found out his friend Thomas Fuller was heading to an underground poker tournament in Denver. He knew the basics, which hands beat which, and his friend gave him a quick lesson in the game on the short drive from Boulder to Denver.
Out of the 100 players in the tournament, Wasicka went out in ninth place. Later that same night, Fuller also introduced him to online poker.
Having grown up a video game junkie as well as a sportaholic, Wasicka was floored that he could play a game and earn money while doing it. He sat down to play $10 sit-and-gos and by dawn he was up to $110 online.
He started out with rookie mistake number one while competing online - he played too big for his bankroll. Wasicka only had about $300 in his account and he was already testing the waters of the highest-stake games, the $2/$4 No-Limit with a $200 buy-in.
It was costing him, but instead of dropping down to something in his range, he decided to draw $5,000 from his credit card to put into a poker account. Starting off a poker career in debt wouldn't work for many people, but Wasicka isn't exactly your typical person either.
At one point he'd lost all but about $500 of the initial $5,000 he deposited. He had told himself if he lost it all, he wouldn't redeposit any money, so he had to come up with a better game plan.
He took some time away from poker to let his frustrations blow over. After a week he came back to the tables with a clear head and a plan to only play each day until he was up $1,000 and then quit. Eight days in a row that plan worked for him to bring him back into the black.
"However, my streaky ways caught up with me and less than two days later I was back where I started, ground zero," Wasicka said.
Once again he changed his plan of attack, this time incorporating his friend Fuller, who had just returned from studying abroad. The two teamed up on Wasicka's online account, with Wasicka providing the bankroll and information he'd gathered about players and Fuller providing a stabilizing factor to keep Wasicka off tilt.
The pair made a few thousand each that summer in 2004, and when Fuller returned to school, Wasicka decided to turn pro, playing online poker full time.
Unfortunately, his tilting ways weren't gone for good. He'd have great runs and then lose whatever headway he'd gained as soon as he took a bad beat or made a bad play. For months he followed the same roller-coaster pattern before the stress got to him and he figured he'd have to go out and get a job again.
He took a job managing a restaurant for his brother-in-law and promised he'd stick with the job for a year.
"I'm a risk taker, and I knew I could beat that game"
During that time, Fuller came to his rescue again, loaning him his online poker account with $5,000 in it so he could get a little confidence back. Two $2,000 tables and four hours later, Wasicka had turned that $5,000 into a $16,000 profit.
"I'm a risk taker, and I knew I could beat that game," Wasicka says on his site. "Not to sound arrogant, but this is where I differ from most people. I've always been good at competitive events, especially games. I believe there is natural talent when it comes to everything, and when it comes to poker, I've got it. Most people would have lost that $5,000."
Perhaps that's why when asked what advice he would give to future poker players, Wasicka told PokerListings.com, "Play when you want to. Don't play stakes that are too high for your bankroll."
In late 2005, Wasicka says he finally had control over some of his tilting issues. He was making $1,000 to $3,000 per day on average and his online poker career was flourishing. Despite having some issues with spending more than he should, he wanted to quit his job and re-embark on his poker career.
He had a made a promise though, and his one-year commitment to the job wasn't up yet. Wasicka stuck it out, raking in the money online each day and collecting his $12-an-hour manager's paycheck.
In March 2006 his time was up though, and by April he was on his way to Vegas after being talked into competing in a super-satellite for the Five-Star World Poker Classic. It paid off with a first-place finish and a seat in the $25,000 World Poker Tour Championship.
The super-satellite win proved to be Wasicka's springboard into big-time poker tournament play. He came in in 15th place in the WPT Championship to take home more than $146,000. That momentum also followed him into the 2006 World Series of Poker where he cashed in three events.
He came in 14th in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em event and 12th in the $5,000 Short-Handed No-Limit Hold'em event. But it was his second-place finish in the Main Event that gave him his biggest cash to date and left him standing at the edge of the spotlight as Jamie Gold was propelled into fame.
Second was enough to make Wasicka a multi-millionaire though. He won more than $6 million, plenty to boost his bankroll and keep him playing in tournaments.
However, hitting such a high by making it so far in the Main Event left Wasicka feeling like he'd already made his goal of becoming one of the best players in the circuit. He wasn't as motivated to win as his competitive spirit normally made him.
Instead he was wondering what he should move on to. He continued to play, but wasn't doing well. It took a deep cash in a small event in the Bahamas to rekindle his fire, and when he headed to Australia for the Aussie Millions in January 2007, he was pumped up and ready to give it his all again.
Apparently, the renewed self-motivation was all he needed, as he came in 12th in the event. He followed that up with a fourth-place finish at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic.
Still, Wasicka was pretty much flying under the radar in the poker world. He was the "bridesmaid" at the Main Event and still had to prove his talent to get his name out there.
Just a few days after his WPT finish, he did just that at the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. He was an alternate for the show, and Phil Hellmuth had to bow out, so he stepped in and went on to win the whole thing.
Wasicka still considers his second place at the WSOP Main Event his best poker accomplishment, but the NHUPC win proved to the rest of the world what he already felt: He's one of the best poker players out there.
So what's next for the pro? More poker now that he's got his drive back, and a whole different kind of drive as well. Wasicka is working with a trainer and improving his golf game.
He's hoping to take his golf game to the next level and join the PGA tour in a few short years. Look out Tiger Woods, because if his tenacity in the poker world is any indication, Wasicka is about to steamroll over your sport as well.