A decent summer at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) has the potential to change lives. Even if players don’t go all the way to the Main Event final table, scoring a handful of decent cashes might prompt an up-and-coming grinder to make the leap to the professional game–and enduring the opposite might persuade someone less successful to shy away.
It not something Garry Gates is thinking about, however.
Gates is a 37-year-old recreational player based here in Nevada, and reminds himself of his status when he messages his friends, many of whom are professionals, signing off as “GG The Rec”. But Gates has also played three tournaments this year at the WSOP and has cashed all three, the most recent of which is this enormous Main Event.
As they went to a dinner break on Day 5, Gates was at his absolute peak — a stack of around 2.4 million — and guaranteed a payout of $40,000 at least. This is his fourth Main Event cash in seven attempts, which is the form of someone who can really play this game, but he also says, quite clearly and very much on the record, that he will not be giving up his day job.
“Rest assured I won’t be quitting any time soon, even if we get to the end,” he says.
The reason for Gates’s absolute clarity on this point has a lot to do with the publication he’s speaking with. When he’s not slaying WSOP fields, Gates is more often to be found on conference calls with the Isle of Man, or skittering around casinos hosting EPT events. Gates is also one of PokerStars’ longest-serving employees — officially the company’s “Senior Manager of Player Relation, Engagement and Communities”, which he truncates in his Twitter bio to “Utilitarian collaborator @PokerStars.”
“That’s one of the nice things about working for PokerStars,” Gates says. “They get it that most of us like to dabble and play. When you have an opportunity to play and make a deep run, I think people tend to understand and start rooting for you…I’d love to win the money, but I don’t play professionally. This is not what I do on the regular. For me, I love the competition, it’s a massive adrenalin rush.”
While much of what goes on at PokerStars takes place behind the scenes, Gates has been front-facing for much of his career with the company, particularly as a player liaison. When the company first began to put on Super High Roller tournaments, Gates was the man charged with filling the seats in the most exclusive games and making sure the VIPs found them comfortable. He was also instrumental in giving the 300-plus Platinum Pass winners to January’s PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) the kind of experience they would remember for the rest of their lives. It has made Gates one of the most popular men in poker.
“Garry reminds me of all the PokerStars employees who were there when I joined in 2005,” says Brad Willis, PokerStars’ Head of Blogging. “The company found skilled poker players and let them use their second skill set to make PokerStars a success. That’s what Garry does today. He is really good player, and he has true empathy for the players. That’s what makes him so good at his job. He understands the players because he is a great one himself.”
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Gates says that his connections in the game have helped him in this deep run, with a handful of players getting in touch to offer support or information on opponents, should it be required. He has outlasted all of the PokerStars Ambassadors in this Main Event, however, so perhaps they should be turning to him for advice.
“It’s nice to know I can run hands past people if I need to,” Gates says, adding that he finds the Main Event particularly enjoyable because of the wriggle room its structure offers to players at his level.
“I pick my spots very carefully,” he says. “I try not to get too out of line. The structure is so good that a guy like me can make five or six mistakes and it doesn’t cost them the tournament, whereas in some of the smaller buy-ins you’re out and that’s it.
“The structure really suits my play and now, especially because I’ve been there before, I’ve made deep runs, I feel a lot more comfortable, I’m having fun and just enjoying the ride…It’s one of those tournaments that anybody can win and that, more than anything, makes it appealing to me.”
No one is expecting Gates back at the office any time soon, but people are certainly watching. “That’s actually the best thing for me, knowing how much all my friends and coworkers, people I know in the industry have jumped on my rail,” he says. “I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.”
And in many ways his recent excellent form at the WSOP parallels some of what is actually going on at the 9-5. “Work has picked up a lot,” Gates says. “I’d say we have a lot of exciting projects cooking right now. It’s been great for me seeing so many States passing online poker legislation or considering it actively, so I feel like things are trending in the right direction and I’m excited about what’s to come.”
WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive