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August 16, 2011 > Follain no flop at WSOP

Follain no flop at WSOP

By Gary van den Heuvel

Local entrepreneur Bryan Follain may not have won a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet, but he did hit a jackpot, turning a $60 home game buy-in fee into $108,000, which he earned in the main event of the World Series, held last month at the Rio in Las Vegas.

Follain's 68th place finish in the No-Limit Texas Hold'em tournament may not sound too impressive, but consider that he was part of a field that numbered nearly 7,000 players. Bryan, a 1999 Newark Memorial High School graduate, is married, and for the last six years has owned a hauling company in Fremont called U Junk It We Dump It (

Poker has been a recreational game for him ever since 2003, when expanded cable TV coverage and Chris Moneymaker's main event win ignited the "poker boom." Follain won his ticket to Vegas at a Livermore home game that he attends regularly. The tournament prize money covered the $10,000 WSOP entry fee, plus $2,000 for airfare and expenses.

Bryan is emphatic in his opinion on the enduring question, is poker a game of skill, or luck? "Poker is a game of skill for sure," he says. "Of course, there is some luck involved, but to play this game you need to know how to make a lot of moves."

One of those moves came at a critical point in the tournament; it was day five, and Bryan had already guaranteed a finish in the cash, but he put his tournament life on the line when he made what he describes as "one really crazy call. I called all my chips with middle pair and a straight draw. I set this hand up four hours in advance when I showed a bluff to take down a pot. So this guy thought I was bluffing again so he thought he could bluff me back... I smelt it out and made a sick call."

Winning that sizable pot triggered a day-six two-hour rush - that blessing from the poker gods when a player is showered with big cards, big draws that make it, which leads to uber-confidence and a heightened table image. One good tournament rush can mean fortunes.

"I couldn't lose a hand in the first two hours," Follain recalls. "I had pocket aces four times, and knocked out four people. Then I cracked aces with a set (three of a kind) of fives."

At this point, Bryan was among the tournament chip leaders with 8.6 million chips. The rush ended, as all rushes do, when Follain took a couple of hits and his chip stack dropped to under five million. In his last hand, Bryan got into a pre-flop raising war, before finally calling off all his chips - with ace-queen. His opponent had pocket jacks, meaning Bryan was behind, but with five cards to come, he had a nearly 50 percent chance to win the hand. By the time for the river (final) card to be dealt, Follain had improved to a flush draw to go along with his two unpaired over cards. But alas, the river card was a brick, and Bryan was on his way home -- which wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

"This was a lot of work and little fun," he said about his WSOP experience. "I was mentally and emotionally exhausted after this whole thing and was happy to be going home after 10 days in Las Vegas."

Bryan prefers playing live poker to the online variety, and his local venue of choice is the Palace Casino in Hayward, where he plays no-limit cash games as well as tournaments. He approaches each style of poker with a different philosophy.

"When I play in a live cash game, I am usually an aggressive player trying to build up big pots and take them down. When I play tournaments, I am very tight and wait for the big hands to come because those are a marathon, not a race; it's all about lasting longer."

One can take a "glass half-empty/half-full" view on getting eliminated from a WSOP event; for some, nothing less than winning the grand prize would be enough. But Bryan recognizes that hitting an 1,800-to-1 payoff is a significant victory in itself.

"For an amateur to make it into the top one percent in my first ever main event," said Follain, "I should say I did okay in my book."

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