Tracy Doss’ first run at poker stardom was what the kids today refer to as an epic fail.
Doss and his wife, Sherri, moved to Las Vegas 10 years ago from Columbus, Ohio, riding the wave of the poker boom that swept across the country. But instead of becoming the next Chris Moneymaker, the amateur accountant whose victory in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event helped spark the game’s rise in popularity, Doss took a beating.
“Man,” he said, “I got pounded into oblivion.”
Doss’ most-recent efforts at the poker table, though, have gone significantly better.
Doss won an online qualifer into last week’s 2014 WSOP National Championship in Atlantic City, and the 45-year-old Las Vegas resident and pizza restaurant owner turned that free seat into a fifth-place finish worth nearly $87,000.
“It’s a life-altering experience,” Doss said. “To know that my poker game was validated after 10 years of being pounded on, and I can play with the best in the world, that was a good feeling.”
Doss hopes to continue his run this summer at the WSOP, as he will play in several No-Limit Hold ’em events at the Rio Convention Center. One of those is the $1,500 buy-in Single Re-Entry No-Limit Hold ’em tournament, better known as the “Millionaire Maker,” which starts today and features a guaranteed $1 million to the winner.
Last year’s inaugural “Millionaire Maker” was the largest non-Main Event field in history with 6,343 entrants, and champion Benny Chen earned almost $1.2 million. As of Thursday afternoon, tournament officials did not know whether they would surpass 2013 in terms of entries, but a huge field is expected.
Doss qualified online for the 2004 WSOP Main Event and reached the second day of the tournament, which was the catalyst for his first move to Las Vegas. But after grinding through the local tournament scene with minimal success, his bankroll dwindled to almost nothing.
“Within three months, I was kind of just dead-broke,” Doss said. “I had to kind of reassess myself and go back to work.”
Doss said he and his wife spent the past seven years bouncing between Columbus — where he once owned a bar that featured man vs. bear wrestling matches, according to a Portland (Ore.) Mercury story in 2009 that cited a 1995 Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch article — Las Vegas and Portland, Ore. They moved from Vancouver, Wash., back to Las Vegas in March, and Doss started to play poker online nearly every day.
Doss won one of 14 tournaments during the WSOP.com’s “Knockout Series” that took place from April 20 to May 3 and said he netted close to $3,000, along with a seat in a freeroll for the National Championship against the 13 other winners. Doss took down that tournament as well, earning a spot in the 126-player field.
“It was really kind of surreal,” Doss said. “Then it kind of sinks in where you’re going to play the National Championship, kind of ‘Be careful what you wish for’ because it’s 125 of the world’s best players.”
Doss entered the six-handed final table third in chips before being eliminated by eventual winner Dominik Nitsche of Germany. It was the first WSOP cash for Doss, who said he has played about 20 bracelet events since 2004.
The prize money will help with Doss’ latest business venture, High Roller Pizza, which features free-range, organic ingredients and is set to open this year.
“I got to take a minimal investment, and I got the opportunity to do some really positive things with that money,” Doss said.
Doss, who exclusively plays No-Limit Hold ’em tournaments, said he will play 10 to 15 events this summer but is undecided whether he will enter the Main Event. Doss spent part of Thursday’s $1,000 buy-in event at the same table as actress Jennifer Tilly before he busted out short of the money.
“Before, my wife was the only one who was like, ‘You’re going to win,’ ” Doss said. “Now, I think the rest of my family has bought into it. The support is what makes it really big.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.