Severn resident and Chesapeake assistant baseball coach Chris Kozak completes bucket list items in the World Series of Poker – Capital Gazette

Chris Kojak’s Dream Week ended with $86,000 and hunger for a comeback. It started decades ago in a hotel room with the UMBC baseball team.

Several retrievers piled into a room every night to play poker for each other’s food money during the NCAA fields of 1992. Many notable members of the poker scene would emerge from those nights, including Kojack.

Nearly 30 years later, Severn has risen from resident teammate gambling to the world’s largest level of poker – the 2022 World Series of Poker Main Event, held July 3-16 in Las Vegas. Out of 8,663 contenders — 2,000 more than a year ago and the second-largest field in tournament history — Kozak, a government contractor and assistant coach for the Chesapeake baseball team, finished 89th with a net profit of $83,600. Dressed in a Chesapeake baseball jacket and blue cap, he was Maryland’s top finisher, including three of his own club mates.

“I didn’t feel like I did all that,” Kozak said, “but the top 100 out of nearly 9,000 people is an achievement I’m very proud of.”

The World Series of Poker Main Event, crowning the World Champion of the Year, is contested over the game of No Limit Texas Hold’Em. The grand tournament requires a $10,000 purchase from each player, but Kojack plays for a monthly poker club that only needs two things to send his top four to Vegas: $200 every third Friday and monthly Enough points to win the game.

While Kojack refined his craft over half his life, money closed the door between him and his move to Vegas. But by the end of his year with his club, Kozak had only spent $2,400 to pursue his dream.

“I went to the club thinking it could do my bucket list thing and see how good I really am compared to people around the world,” Kozak said. “To turn the pros around.”

Kojack didn’t just jump from the lowest level to the penthouse. He had kids after a few years of college who needed him more than he needed to travel for poker. So instead, Kojack cut his teeth on online poker sites loading $100 on credit cards and competing in $10 battles.

Casinos soon opened in the area, first in Delaware, then Maryland Live! Opened in Hanover in 2012. For Kojak, it became a little easier to return to the physical tables, and his game kept getting better.

The poker rooms at Bally’s and Paris hotels were thronged by nine thousand people, including true amateurs, semi-professionals such as Kojacks and true professionals. Kozak was actually happy to see the latter category sitting at his desk, tougher than they were. He raised the bet.

“Since I’ve been playing poker for quite a long time, I realized on day three I was getting all professional and maybe even an amateur,” Kozak said. “They’re the people you want to be in the pot with.”

Friends who participated in the World Series first gave Kojack tips on how to stay out of unnecessary places and play his game, which gave him confidence. But what he was unprepared for – for which no one could really prepare – were unbelievable hours.

Most tournaments around Maryland typically take a maximum of 20 to 45 minutes, Kozak said. On the first few days of the World Series Main Event, Kojack spent 10 hours with little breaks here and there; On the third day, closer to 13. Thirteen hours of almost non-stop patience and meditation.

“You just focus on what’s going on, thinking it all up, just looking to tell what hand this guy is playing, what he’s picking up, what that guy’s doing Is?” They said. “You’re constantly keeping mental notes, and that’s a lot of mental work.”

Kojak realized very quickly in the first few days that he could neither win the first day nor the second. It was safer to turn it than risk losing it. Then came the sixth day – the last day of Kojak.

Kojack entered the day with 60 big blinds, or forced bets: $1.7 million in chips. He worked up his patience again, winning a few more hands to increase his pile to $2.6 million. Around him, one can get an idea of ​​how far he has reached in the tournament. The room, which previously housed so many people, Kojak couldn’t move without brushing a human, now stretches the last 10 tables away. He could physically see through his 100 obstacles till the end. He intended to make it to 7 days.

“It’s like, ‘Wow, I could do this,'” Kojack said. “The first two days were just alive, not even mentally thinking you were going to win. … Day 6, I was almost there.

The last man in Maryland gave his foreboding. The table folded for Kojak, with an ace in his arsenal, nine diamonds and enough chips to cover 14 big blinds. Guaranteed payouts rose to $86,000 for anyone who dropped out of the tournament, but a much higher chance for those who didn’t.

Kojak went all in hoping to pick up some more blinding or other innocuous consequences. Just survive, go ahead. The cameras turned on. He hit a nine. Behind him, Victor Lee, holding an ace and a 10, hit a 10. And then another 10.

“I was dead in the water,” Kozak said.

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Immediately, Kozak called his wife, Patricia, whom he said has been his biggest supporter since they met in 2009. Emotions flooded him as he told her that he was busted. He didn’t feel the adrenaline until the supply ran out. But the happiest moment of the whole week was yet to come.

Unbeknownst to Kojack, his sons Ridge and Taylor were following their father’s progress online. He had never called him after a tournament before, but when his father finished in the world’s top 100, he called Kojak to congratulate him.

“He made my whole day,” Kojack said. “My kids are my whole world and they supported me a lot.”

At the tournament, Kojak won praise from professionals for his style, his patience. When That Maryland Live! When I returned home, at least 75 people approached Kojak with admiration. This is given Kojak confidence is, of course, enough to sustain him for the next 12 months. Kojack believes he’ll be hungry until he returns to Vegas next year. He has embraced many of his athletes who lost in the playoffs, trying to mourn as much as he can, praising them for getting away as much as they did.

Now, he really understands.

“I have a lot to do to get it to next year,” Kozak said. “And I plan to try to move past that and go even further next year.”

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