All in: Poker player Todd Rebello among world's best
Todd Rebello, an Oak Bluffs shop owner and former selectmen, is gearing up for another road trip. This one may take him to Brazil, Europe, and Australia, where he will do what he does better than millions of other people; play poker in prestigious tournaments against the best players in the world.
"Envision being in a room, a big, big hall with a thousand people," says Mr. Rebello. "At the end of the tournament you see that room shrink down from 100 tables to 50 tables to 20 tables, to the point where there's only one table. The room's empty, other than some spectators, except that one table. You stand there at the end, one person with every chip that started in that room, stacked in front of you. There's no better feeling than that."
Over the last three years, Mr. Rebello has experienced that winning feeling, or the feeling of coming lucratively close, an astounding number of times. His travels have landed him at tables beside Hollywood poker aficionados like Ray Romano, Tobey Maguire, Jason Alexander, and Shannon Elizabeth, as well as names known throughout the poker world, like Phil Ivey, Dan Harrington, Phil Hellmuth, and the late Chip Reese.
Photo courtesy of pokerwire.com
"I've had some really big hands with Phil Ivey," says Mr. Rebello. "For some reason for the last 2.5 years, we've often ended up in the same table."
The hair-raising world of professional poker, where tournament prize money often tops $1 million, is a long way from Oak Bluffs. Growing up as part of a large extended Island family and currently the owner of Oak Bluffs stores Sunsations, The South Beach Store, In the Bluff, and co-owner of The Locker Room, Mr. Rebello has always been competitive. "We'd play any card game, whatever's social and fun," he says.
It is only in recent years, however, that he has approached poker on a professional level. He started out with a hope of becoming ranked in the top 500 players in the world. After less than three years of competitive play, Card Player magazine, considered the authority on player rankings, listed Mr. Rebello as the 299th best player in the world. Earlier this year, following an incredible run of tournaments in Atlantic City, Mr. Rebello says he was ranked 32nd in the world. During that week, he placed third, first, and 18th in three large tournaments, and wrapped up the week by winning three consecutive small tournaments.
"It was a pretty profitable week, about $140,000," says Mr. Rebello. "My total buy-ins (entry fees) were $1,600. That was beautiful."
Draw for millions
When the annual World Series of Poker tournament began to be televised by the sports network ESPN, the professional poker ranks mushroomed from a couple of hundred colorful characters based in Texas and Las Vegas to a world-wide community of millions. According to Poker Players Alliance, 23 million Americans, about 10 percent of the U.S. population, play poker regularly.
"I'm amazed at how many people step forward telling me about their home game, or their online play," says Mr. Rebello. "It's amazing the number of people on Martha's Vineyard who play poker."
You would be far more likely to find Mr. Rebello at a poker table in Mississippi, Nevada, Connecticut, or California, however, than you would in Oak Bluffs. Taking money from rival professionals is the best feeling in the world, he says, but taking money from Island friends can wind up not much fun for anybody. So he usually declines requests to play on his home turf.
Playing in the World Series of Poker has always been on Mr. Rebello's top ten list of things he wants to accomplish, and he can now cross it off. He has played poker's premier event in each of the last three years.
"This year was the most exciting year I've had in the World Series," says Mr. Rebello. "There were nearly 7,000 people. At the end of day one, I was in the top 10. I made it 'til late day three."
Lucky and good
Professional poker players spend a lot of time rebutting the misunderstanding about the role luck plays in tournament poker. Mr. Rebello explains it this way: "In tournament poker, most tournaments go on for days," says Mr. Rebello. "Luck will win you a hand, luck may be on your side for an hour, but luck doesn't run for two days, three days, or four days. Skill has to come through over that period of time. When you look at the top players in the world in large fields, they continue to succeed on a regular basis. That wouldn't be the case if luck played a big role."
Mr. Rebello says his strength is in observing other players, detecting patterns, and separating the skilled players from the inexperienced players. "Paying attention to the other players, and within a short period of time, identifying maybe two or three players that are my targets," he says. "That's my strength, finding the weak links at the table."
One example of skill trumping luck was when he was sitting behind a large chip stack, looking at two kings to start the hand. He made a big raise, but two other players raised his bet. When the action came back to him, he re-raised yet again. With five cards yet to come in the hand, his opponent made another huge re-raise, shoving all his chips into the middle of the table. If Mr. Rebello had called the raise, it would have put all his chips at risk.
"I thought about it for five minutes," recalls Mr. Rebello. Eventually, because he had observed his opponents play carefully, he surmised that he was a very conservative player, and unlikely to risk all his chips unless he had the best possible starting hand, two aces. Mr. Rebello folded his two kings, conceding a substantial portion of his chips.
"I ultimately laid the hand down, because I knew him as a player," says Mr. Rebello. "He flipped over pocket aces. In that tournament I went on to cash."
A measure of Mr. Rebello's skill is the number of people who are willing to pay his entry fee into top tournaments, in exchange for a percentage of his winnings. A more impressive measure of his skill is his decision to decline those offers. He has bankrolled enough to fund his own travel and entry fees for the next two years. He said, "I've been fortunate enough to stay well ahead of that curve."