Kirk Caldwell of Orangeville Ontario took a little poker trip with a few home game friends to Las Vegas and the 2011 World Series of Poker, to try his hand at Event 32, a $1500 No Limit Hold’em.
It was the first event Caldwell would ever play at the WSOP, his seat already long secured; courtesy of winning a $150 satellite almost six months ago, in a game played amongst friends. When this June finally rolled around, Kirk and a few buddies that had won seats in other satellites organized by the group or saved up some cash headed to the RIO. It was not unlike many other “road trips” organized by a group of serious, but recreational players; flights were booked for the latest possible flight out after Day 3 to meet Monday morning work schedules, subject to change only if “someone in the group goes really deep.”
Right out of the gates, 3 of the group had some success, with Ted Safranko would advance to Day 2 in the $2,100 Venetian event, while Kirk, or “Pudge” as he liked to be called by friends, Caldwell and Steve Kerr also advanced to Day 2. Kerr would get the money train started, going out deep in 53rd for about $10,500, while both Ted and Kirk advanced to Day 3 in their events. Safranko was next to cash, collecting around $25,000 for his fifth place finish, but was quick to join the rail and sweat Caldwell as he continued to accumulate chips and the field got thinner and thinner. In the end, the trip had the most epic of results, as Kirk claimed the coveted WSOP gold bracelet and gigantic $668,182 top prize.
The kind of result in the hearts and minds of group of friends that heads down to old “sin city” to play some cards and we were lucky enough to ask Kirk a bit about his story:
CP: “It looks like this is you first major tournament cash and it ends up being a WSOP bracelet! That is a pretty crazy way to enter the scene; Can you tell us a bit about where you developed your game?”
Kirk Caldwell: “Poker all started for me when I was younger, playing 5 Card Draw and 7 Card Stud with my dad and his buddies. Then, when they started playing poker on TV, I was totally hooked and started playin’ a little online. Later, Casino Rama opened a poker room and my buddy and I were up there almost every weekend. Then a friend introduced me to “Stevie” and the Orangville Poker Tour (OPT) league and that’s where I truly started to develop my game.”
CP: “Had you played a lot of large field tournaments in the past?”
Kirk Caldwell: “Not really. The biggest tournament I played before this was a $250 buy-in, down at Seneca Niagra.”
CP: “We hear you beat your good buddy “Heads Up” to win your seat into this event, can you tell us a bit more on how you ended up the WSOP?”
Kirk Caldwell: “Well, beating Steve Heads Up is how I won the $1500 to buy-in to the event, so pretty much that’s how I got to the World Series of Poker. Steve (Kerr) and Greg have been going to the WSOP for a few years now and I was really glad to get my shot…really glad!”
CP: “Following Steve’s OPT member updates on Twitter, it sounded like you were pretty happy to make Day 2, at what point did you decide you just might win this thing?”
Kirk Caldwell: “I think it hit me when I was at the final table. I got into a “bring big” hand early on, when my Queens ran into Kings. All the chips went into the middle and luckily, I spiked the Queen on the flop. The set held up, to put me at around 4 million in chips and that’s when I said to they guys ‘I think i can win this thing!’ Not that I really ever thought I couldn’t, just got a better feeling then…that’s all.”
CP: “Watching the live stream, you played very confidently, where you nervous at all on this huge run, or did it feel much like any other game?”
Kirk Caldwell: “I didn’t really feel nervous at all, it was too much fun! I had a blast, everyone on the rail wouldn’t let me get nervous anyways, (big laugh). I still say I couldn’t have done it with out them there, so thanks guys!!!”
CP: “You have played in quite a few “home game” leagues in your home area in Ontario, obviously, that experience was enough to get the job done. What can you tell us about how that helped you grab the gold?”
Kirk Caldwell: “I’ve learned so much over the years playing poker with everyone at OPT. I took in a lot from everyone there; Steve and Greg both play a fair number of higher buy-in, larger field games and both have done very well for them selves. I think by me playing with them and every once in a while beating them, (laughs), gives you confidence”
CP: “Are you an online player at all and for how long have you been playing if so?”
Kirk Caldwell: “I play here and there online, but nothing major. I’ve been playing around online for about 10 years or so.”
CP: “You don’t play poker for a living, more recreationally from what we understand. Any plans to change that with having had this massive score?”
Kirk Caldwell: “No not really, I’m going to keep working and invest a little. I’d like to play a few higher buy-in tournys though, but we’ll see.”
CP: “Everybody always says, “If I ever win big, I am going to do, or, get myself that”, anything special you are going to treat yourself to?”
Kirk Caldwell: “A new car and a down payment on a home.”
CP: “You had a small, but loud, group of close friends on the rail, how did you all celebrate the win?”
Kirk Caldwell: “Just by being loud and having a few drinks after while trying to let it all sink in. I was and still am in shock. (lol)”
CP: “The last hand is played and you realize you have jus won a WSOP title, what happens next? Was there a ton of media to deal with after? How long did this take before you had a chance to let it all soak in?
Kirk Caldwell: “Heck, it’s a week later and it still hasn’t totally sunk in, (laughs). Media and all that was pretty unreal. Nothing this big has ever happened to me before. They sure do make you feel like a star!”
CP: “How about your friends back home, you haven’t had much of a chance to share the experience with them yet, any big get together planned?”
Kirk Caldwell: “Nothing really yet, but I’m sure there will be in the close future.”
CP: “Rumor has it that there was a bit of “shared action”, because you won a satellite to get in. What did it work out to for those that a little piece and how happy were they?”
Kirk Caldwell: “15% is going to the other 9 guys that played the satellite; I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty confident that they are all very excited.”
**Note: Based on Kirk’s 1st place winnings of just over $668,000 and an automatic 30% Tax withholding, each of the 9 players would receive about $7,800 initially; with a bit more to come when any taxes are recovered. Roughly the equivalent profit to finishing in 50th place in the same 2828 player tournament themselves!
CP: “How emotional was that bracelet ceremony for you, to know you were one of only around 30 players ever to stand up there and receive that coveted prize, while the Canadian anthem played and you crew watched?”
Kirk Caldwell: “It was amazing, words just can’t describe it.”
CP: Tons of people clapping and I would imagine cheering from your friends, can you describe what was going through your mind at that moment?
Kirk Caldwell: “It was mind blowing! At some points I think my friends were more excited than me and that felt really great.”
CP: “Do you think you will travel to more events now? Do you have a favorite casino or events you like to play at around home now?”
Kirk Caldwell: “Well, both Seneca Niagara Casino and Great Blue Heron Charity Casino run some great events, so I’d like to play some more of those..We’ll see what happens.”
While it’s always fun to cheer for the household names, hearing about the everyday poker enthusiast making his way into the “official” title books and scoring huge is can be much more motivating to the rest of us. Thanks for proving that it can be done, enjoy the spoils you fought hard to win!