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Real Life Ferguson Challenge

By Scott Carlson, Rakeback.com Poker News Senior Writer

Full Tilt Poker StepsThomas J. Dominguez, better know as gamer4life27 on the Rakeback.com poker forums, granted us an exclusive interview on how he turned $1.10 into a $12,000 payday in his own real life version of the Chris Ferguson Challenge.

Rakeback:  Where are you from?
gamer4life27:  I'm from all over San Jose, CA.

RB:  How did you first get into poker?
g4l:  I got into poker when I was around 10 years old. It all started when my family took a trip to Vegas and my parents had no choice but to take all of us kids. It was about 7 or 8 of us older kids. We were all in the room alone while our parents went out and gambled, leaving us bored out of our minds. That's when my cousin took out a deck of used cards they sold at the gift shop and started to teach us how to play 5 card draw. From then on, I played as much as I could, whenever I could. I played with my parents in their home games. I even tried to sneak into casinos a few years ago.

RB:  We understand you started from Step 0 all the way to winning the Step 7 and the $12K. Describe the process of how you went about it.
g4l:  The exact process is fairly simple. I started with Step 0, which is a $1 + 0.10 buy-in, with 99 players and top 30 getting a Step 1 ticket valued at $3.30. Starting with Step 1 their are various tournaments that you can enter. The ones I would play to give myself a better chance at moving up in steps were the 18 player hold'em sit & go's which paid top 5 with the next step. Starting at Step 4 the 18 player tournaments are no longer offered. I switched to 9 player hold'em sit & go's where the top 2 got tickets into the next step for the rest of the way. I tried my hardest to play them like my life depended on it.

Step 7
RB:  How did the Step 7 go?
g4l:  The first few rounds were just purely folds around, or stealing blinds with a raise because everyone was playing so tight. After that, when people started to establish themselves and break away from their starting stack and people started to lose chips, the all-ins started to emerge. It also brought out the ability to steal a lot more blinds from average stacks to increase your chip stack because those players were also still playing tight.

As far as the way I played, I referred back to my original tight-aggressive style of play which gave me room to bluff and semi-bluff. Because of this, the players (at least I thought) had a harder time making reads on me while I was able to make reads on them. This was another huge key factor to my win.

RB:  Tell us about your level of anxiety during the Step 7 and did you have anyone watching you?
g4l:  Playing Step 7 was one of the most nerve wracking experiences I have ever gone through. As soon as it started, the anxiety kicked in and my mind started to auto focus on everyone's play. It was almost like my mind took over and I was just doing what I knew in my gut was the right moves. I even laid down some playable hands pre-flop, but that is what you have to do in order to not just win poker tournaments and sit & go's, but to be a good poker player over all.

Going from Step 0 all the way to winning the Step 7 tournament was one of the hardest and most stress educing things I have ever done. Mainly towards the higher steps, but stressful none the less. Of course the first few steps didn't have that much of an impact and I just played them like I would normally. Once I got to the Step 5 level, that is when I started to fantasize about going all the way. Once I won the Step 4 tournament, my stress level started to rise and my mind started racing. It was almost surreal in knowing I had this buy-in with only $1.10 invested. This intensity stayed with me through the next few days as I would wait for people to enter the tournament and see where it took me. And then, when I got to Step 7, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, sweat started to form as my eyes almost lost focus from my mind not being able to comprehend the fact that I was playing a $2,100 for only $1.10, and could potentially win $12,000. All of this happened before I was even dealt a hand! Needless to say, I set aside everything and played that tournament and put as much focus as I could into it and tried my best.

As far as who was watching, my mom was over and I had told her about the tournament. She checked it out here and there but she didn't sit there throughout the whole tournament. I also had my girlfriend on instant messenger and was giving her updates as well. During play I would write down important hands to post on the Rakeback forums.

Playing this tournament perhaps gave me a few gray hairs with the stress I had putting money into any pot, even when I was the blinds. Knowing this, I had to calm myself down and focus or else I knew I had no shot at winning. The more and more chips I accumulated as people started to get knocked out, my mind started to race more and more until eventually I was three handed with the chip lead. That's when I actually told myself that I was going to win this. Once I knocked out the 3rd place finisher and took the chip lead even more with a 9k to 3k lead, I knew I had it in the bag. Me and my girlfriend have this little inside joke where when we get heads-up, we tell each other "Heads-up is my game. Call me when you get this, or I'll call you when I win." That is honestly what helps me when I am heads-up. I think because of me telling myself that, it gave me that little extra boost I needed to finish off this 9 player sit & go and win. After I won, I think I almost blacked out with excitement!

RB:  What was your reaction immediately after you won? Who did you tell first? Did you do anything embarrassing that you’d like to share?
g4l:  As soon as I saw my hand of A-J off-suit, I had a feeling that the chips were going to get in, and I didn't mind because of my 9k to 3k chip lead. I had raised to 800 total on the button and my opponent shoves. I think for a while and I call putting into account his hand range and the fact that I could end the tournament right now. I made the call. He turns over pocket 4's and it's a coin flip for the tournament. Right then, I know that if I catch and he doesn't, then I would win the tournament and my fantasy would become a reality.

The flop comes down A-J-X. I literally jump up from my chair and shoot my arms above my head as I shout out a loud "YES!" The turn was a blank and my heart starts to pound again, sweat starts to form again and once more my mind starts to race as I am one card away from the ultimate victory! As the river falls a blank, I shove the chair behind me to the ground in an attempt to move it out of the way as I express my victory. I think I almost fainted because my vision became blurred. I could feel the blood rush to my head and a flood of emotions started to seep through my body.

[Watch how it went down]

As soon as I won, I couldn't believe my eyes. I had to look again at the screen in front of me which said "Congratulations! You have placed 1st in the Step 7 tournament and a total of $12 K will be credited to your account." Once I saw that again, I left it up as I instant messaged my girlfriend that I won. She was busy at work and didn't see it as my mom came rushing in. She looked at the computer screen and saw the same message and couldn't believe it herself as she whispered "What? No way!" After I celebrated a little bit with my mom (a little embarrassing, haha), my girlfriend responded and she couldn't believe it either. I had a feeling I was going to wake up soon and it was all a horrible dream that wasn't reality.

I started to question if I really won because I didn't get credited with the money, nor did I receive an e-mail or anything in regards to my win. In a few days, I received an e-mail and the money in my account and it all set in.

RB:  Was there any points throughout the steps where you were close to busting?
g4l:  I do remember very fondly one point (I believe in Step 6) where I was very crippled. I can't remember how I got short stacked, but I do remember thinking that it was all over. Everything I had worked towards was about to come to an end and I would have nothing to show for it.

Of course, with a bit of luck, experience from grinding the super turbos and some skill, I was able to rally back and make the final two so I could advance to the next step.

RB:  What was the most difficult part of the process?
g4l:  There was two extremely difficult parts of this. The first part was the wait. I would get home from work and register. A few times I would be the only one registered for hours on end and wouldn't be able to play that day because it got too late. All the anticipation and mental preparation would go to waste as another day passed as the high limit steps didn't start.

The other difficult part was actually playing that high when I have never played that high before. Sure, I have imagined playing that high, and always thought I could hold my own at those high stakes, but never fathomed the fact that I really was playing for hundreds of dollars (and in Step 7's case, thousands of dollars). Like I said before, it did give me a few gray hairs.

RB:  I see you are trying to start over and try it again. How has the progress been?

g4l:  It isn't going as good as I'd hoped, but it's coming along. I have a few tickets and used my Full Tilt Points to get a higher steps ticket. At the moment, I have taken a small break for the holidays but plan to accomplish this feat again to prove that I am a great poker player. Until then, I just need to concentrate and play my best.

RB:  What are you going to do with the money?
g4l:  The money has already been put to use for Christmas presents, a car for myself, savings and helping family out. With all of that there isn't much left, but I expected that because now I can basically start my life from scratch and if I do this again, then it is truly an extra $12k that I don't have to use for bills, transportation, etc.

RB:  Any words of wisdom for your fellow Rakeback.com members?
g4l:  Give it a shot! What is the worst that happens, you lose a few bucks in the process?

RB:  Thomas, thanks for the interview and congrats on your huge score.

Have an interesting story of your own? Let us know in the forums, we might just feature you in our next exclusive interview!

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