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WPT Boot Camp Review

/ Nov 11th, 2005 No Comments

I’d first like to start out the review by thanking the gracious staff of The World Poker Tour, as well as their PR people, for their generosity in allowing me the privilege in participating in their WPT Boot Camp event. I’d also like to thank them for their patience, as this editorial feature has taken a few months to write. Why a few months you ask … it would have been all to easy to write up about how the experience of the camp made immediate effects on my game, or how it was a thrill to meet poker celebrities like Alex Outhred or Mike Sexton. Doing that would have been a disservice to the potential customer and readers, since it would have come much before I could personally track the actual effects in both home games and at the tables over the course of time. It is with this perspective that I present this review of the World Poker Tour Boot Camp.

The WPT Boot Camp was designed for poker players from a variety of levels (from beginners to advanced) to receive 2 days worth of poker instruction to improve their game. In the 2 day instruction camp, attendees get to see archived footage (and future footage) of WPT telecasts broken down by the instructors, interactive lectures (with books provided), “lab” time (instruction with simulated table play), and of course actual poker time – not only with fellow attendees, but with the instructors as well. Each event is featured on a touring basis, going from city to city to give people from all over the country a chance to attend the event. Each event has a cap on the amount of people that can attend, so people attending will not be lost in a crowd and be able to receive 1-on-1 attention when they want it. The WPT Boot Camp is designed to give a great opportunity for players to improve their game by receiving the knowledge and best practices from poker pros like Mike Sexton, as well as the staff of the WPT

Feature List

The list of features as supplied by the WPT:

    Breakfast, Lunch, Mid-Morning and Mid-Afternoon Snacks for both days. 

    Single table Tune-Up Tournament, where you can win your very own WPT Chip Set.

    The exclusive WPT Boot Camp Courseware.

    WPT Boot Camp Poker Survival Bag which includes: Mike Sexton’s new book “Shuffle Up & Deal”.

    Ron Rose’s book, “Poker Aces”.

    WPT Boot Camp Shirt and Cap.

    Poker Academy Tutorial Software.

    BLUFF Magazine and a 1-year subscription.

    Assorted WPT merchandise

Participation at no additional cost in the Private WPT Boot Camp No-Limit Tournament: First place is a satellite seat into a WPT Main Event, Including airfare and hotel*.

Second place is 1,000 piece WPT Luxury Poker Set.

Third place is a 400 piece official WPT Poker Set

The Instructors

WPT Boot Camp - Mike Sexton

The instructors that lecture at the camps vary from city to city, and in my camp we were lucky enough to have the host of the WPT television show, Mike Sexton (an accomplished professional), Alex “The Insider” Outhred (associate producer of the show, top level player), as well as Crispin Leyser (accomplished on-line player). Another notable WPT Boot Camp instructor was Linda Johnson (referred by Mike Sexton as the “First Lady of Poker”).

The tutoring from the instructors on hand was top notch – I can say that all are accomplished public speakers and had no problem addressing the group as a whole or with the one-on-one opportunities. Each offered up their own expertise, with Sexton telling amazing stories from his past, Outhred with the inside stories from behind the scenes, and Leyser with his practical table approach.

I was pleasantly surprised how available each of the instructors were to the students during the lectures for Q&A time, during breakfast & lunch times (yes, they eat with you), as well as afterwards when the camp closes for the day. The ability to have such minds available to you each day of the camp was an absolute treat, and the quality of these instructors’ character was and added treat. Potential attendees should not be worried about the quality of the instructors at all – everyone involved with the WPT Boot Camp was intelligent, well spoken, and very approachable.

Lectures

Mike Sexton started things out for us by plainly explaining what the camp will do for the students with a very nice (and accurate) analogy. Basically, he said your poker game is a lot like golf – you play at a certain level, and with the help of practice and this camp, you will shave off strokes off your game to get to a better “level” of ability. Although nobody had the idea that after this camp that a $5 million pay out would be guaranteed at the next tournament we would play in, we all did want to become better poker players. Sexton’s intelligent analogy set the goal correctly for the students – learn more, shave off some strokes from your game, and become a better caliber of player.

The true value behind the boot camp are the lectures and the lab time. The lectures are usually paced at about an hour at a time, and feature a variety of methods to teach poker players new theory, as well as insight into the minds of the pros we see during the WPT show on The Travel Channel.

Typically when you watch the WPT on TV you are enjoying the action, taking in the high stakes, and viewing the show as an audience member. During the lecture, students take on a much different perspective, breaking down the hands with Alex Outhred (the man behind the cameras at WPT events) on the jumbo screen. With key analysis and pertinent scenarios being brought up on film, students at the camp are able to see exactly why a pro made a particular bet/move, and how they carried themselves through it. This “real world” breakdown of big hands from WPT events was a great insight into tournament poker strategy and worked very well as a teaching tool. Visual and hands-on learners will enjoy this live, colorful teaching method.

The other side of the lectures were slides presented via powerpoint by Mike Sexton and Alex Outhred. Each student was given a printed booklet of the slides, with room to take notes based off the tips and words from the speaker. This level of insight will undoubtedly appeal more to the student of the game, particularly someone who enjoys the intricacies of poker and the math of the game. At the end of the boot camp, this lecture book with your notes becomes your most valuable asset, and I can personally say I’ve gone back at least once a month to read through my notes to remind myself of plays, strategies, or best practices.

Lab Time at Poker CampThe first half of the first day of lectures is geared very much for the poker novice, with a quick refresher of hands and rules. Based off the camp experience, players that are just learning the game really shouldn’t attend – you should at least have a half dozen or more home games under your belt before looking into this camp. Past that, things got very interesting for intermediate and advanced players through the rest of the lectures where we discussed topics ranging from “How to play starting hands” to advanced subjects like “Properly calculating pot odds.” Also, we had plenty of “Q&A” time with the instructors, who answered questions from the students.

During the camp, you also participate in two tournaments, the first one being a 1 table 10 person tournament, and the next day a big tournament featuring all the instructors and students playing each other on the floor of the Mirage (the location of our Boot Camp). During the 10-person tournament, I was lucky enough to have Mike Sexton looking over my shoulder most of the way. The staff gave their tips and actually peeked at our cards at various points to make notes for the lecture period afterwards to share good plays (or bad ones). Having Sexton and Outhred comment on my play against some very strong opponents at my table was a huge thrill – I felt like I was at the final table of a televised WPT event!

Overall, the lectures of the WPT Boot Camp were informative, interesting, and offered up enough knowledge to help out players of all ranges. The instructors on hand at our event were very interesting, informative, and extremely gracious with their time.

The Lab Time

The Boot Camp isn’t designed to just have you sit at a table and listen to the instructors from behind a mic. One of the features of note were the labs, which also proved to be a great education tool. During the labs, the staff would get students around the master table and sit a few of them in on the hand. They would be dealt actual hands from a WPT final table with the exact amount of chips the particular players had at the time. The students would play through the hand, and afterwards, we would see what “really happened” when the pros were playing the same scenario.

Many times the students played it much different, but nonetheless, it was great to see how we played it as opposed to the pros – and get the instruction from the teachers on who played it better.

I really enjoyed this “hands on” approach to learning and felt that it was just as powerful as the lecture information. Although there was an ample amount of this lab time, I found myself really wanting more of it.

Table Games & What happened the first night out

The first day saw the aforementioned 1 table tournament game, which I happened to win. I have to admit, I tried to sit in with a group of newbies, too intimidated to sit with some of the players who looked like they had spent a decade or two in a card room (note: up to this time I have never, not once, played a table poker game in a casino). I actually got moved to what I can only describe as the “shark table” which turned out to be a wonderful game. The theories I had learned so far came in handy – and I came out a winner.

After the first day of the camp, it was easy to see that every single student was chomping at the bit to try their skills at the tables in Vegas. I had been staying this weekend with my best friend, my cousin, and my girlfriend. All have been pretty active in playing home games and have picked up the game of No Limit fairly well. We walked the strip and ended up at The Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino, which had a surprisingly nice poker room. Not in the mood to gamble, I watched my best friend and cousin waste away money as they bought in at the limit hold’em game, which they played only because they were too intimidated by the 1 – 1 no limit table (max buy in was $100). After both were cleaned out of their initial $60 “entertainment expense” my cousin went back to try his fortunes, while I was being *begged* to buy into the no limit game. To much reluctance, I decided to oblige and popped down $80 at the table.

Admittedly, the table had its regular sort of poker characters. Nevertheless, having just come from the camp my confidence was high and my poker senses even higher. The first hand I folded under the gun with rags, but the second hand I was able to limp in as the big blind with 6 – 5 unsuited (nobody raised on a $1 BB , a cardinal sin taught from camp). The flop came 6-6-A, and I had made a miracle set. I came out firing with a $15 bet, figuring that the A would show itself pretty quickly, and sure enough two spots down I had a caller with everyone else folding. The turn came up a 5, and I had made a full house. I immediately put on my acting hat and looked sick at the 5, trying to sell the fact that I was drawing to an ace high flush – so I checked with a frown on my face. The other player bet a handsome $20, which I waited on. I remembered a tip that Sexton had given for this very scenario … look like you’re on the bubble, even fold up your cards in your hand like you’re about to throw them in, and then bring it back. I looked down, looked and him, and said calmly, “All in.” The other player looked at me like I was from Mars, totally lost in what I might have. After looking at the board, remembering my looks and bets, he figured me for a flush draw and called my all in. I turned over the full house against his two pair (6s and As) and river blanked for my win. It was a hand that will forever stick out in my mind – I had outplayed a good player at an intimidating table and doubled up on the second hand – I got maximum value for my full house. On the hwole, not a bad poker story at all!

After doubling up (and being very tired from the day) I was done, and only stuck around until I was up for the BB once again. I struck up a couple of conversations, and as soon as I mentioned I was in Vegas for the WPT Boot Camp, the entire table was talking to me. There’s definitely a prestige factor with the camp, and you’ll immediately see respect from other players (as you will see later in the review). From my experience (with a little help from lady luck), I was able to see immediate dividends from the camp – I knew there was no way I could have sold that hand as well as I had without learning the best way to do it beforehand in the camp.

Closing the Camp

WPT Boot Camp Lecture

WPT Boot Camp Lecture

The final day of the camp in the morning saw breakfast, and I was lucky enough to share a table with Mike Sexton, along with a few players from my 10-table tournament the day before. Since Sexton had watched us play, he was gracious enough to talk to us about our game, which made for a lively and interesting breakfast experience.

After an hour or so with refreshers and some lecture, it was time for the big tournament featuring all of the students, as well as the instructors (minus Sexton, who did play by play for us!). The big thrill was that we got to play the tournament on the floor of the Mirage in the poker room. With all the stacks (and recognizable people) in the game, a large group of on-lookers actually gathered to watch us.

Through a never say die attitude and smart plays, I managed to take the 4th largest stack into the final table. I have to admit, I was pretty excited to be at this final table – there were only strong players, and every student and instructor had stayed to watch the action. Players started to drop as I sat to the left of the big stack, until it was down to the final four – myself included. The blinds were so large it was hard not to play anything but an all-in, but something amazing happened. Because the four of us had so many people looking over us, as well as had Mike Sexton literally calling the action as we played, an huge mass of people (hundreds) were watching us play! I went all in against the chip leader with pocket 4s pre-flop, and people actually *cheered* for my play! This moment was easily the best and most exciting moment of my poker playing life, and I doubt it will be doubled. Sexton called the action, “Gibson goes in with Colt 44, a pair of fours – and goes against the chip leader with Ace – Ten!”. What a thrill! I doubled up and play continued with the four of us for another hour.

Sadly, I was indeed the 4th place finisher and was rewarded with a satellite entry into the final WPT Poker event at the Mirage later in the year. To be able to play on the floor of the mirage with hundreds of people watching the action, with Mike Sexton calling the game was a priceless experience that I doubt any poker fan would want to pass up.

After the big tournament there was more lecture, where we talked about the big tournament, and Sexton asked if there was anyone that won their 10 person game on Day 1, and also finished at the final table in the big tournament. I stood up along with one other person, and Mr. Sexton said, “Ladies and Gentleman, these are your two finest players” to a gracious applause from the instructors and students. Yet another huge honor … I can say without the lecture and insight I gained just *hours* beforehand, there’s no way I would have performed such a feat, and it was a great feeling to be recognized by such an industry icon. The session closed with some pictures and autographs, a great way to close out a fabulous two day event.

Impressions from the end of camp

The short term impression from the camp is a positive one. For fans of poker and people that can afford a $1,495 “fantasy camp,” I have to say that the WPT Boot Camp is a first class event with great instruction and a a very solid group of instructors that have put together a real nice lesson set. Long term impressions have held out strong – my game has indeed improved since attending the camp and I’ve been able to reference back to my notes and lessons from the camp when I need to refresh to rethink my game. Finally, being able to tell the story about playing on the floor of the mirage in the “final four” of a large tournament while Mike Sexton called the action and hundreds of people literally cheering my all in, is a story that will last me for decades to come.

Short Term Improvements in my game

The short term improvements in my game were immediately noticeable. I recognized pre-flop hands with a much higher degree of accuracy. Most immediately I found that my aggressive pre-flop style (which I would have *never* done before the camp) was rewarded 9 times out of 10. In addition, the fact that my regular poker buddies knew I had attended the camp brought a greater respect level which I used to my advantage.

Long Term Improvements

Long term improvements, at least to this writer, is the value behind the approximate $1,500 “investment” into the boot camp. At a top level view, I found that what Mike Sexton said to open the camp was absolutely accurate – I took my game from one level and shaved off some much needed strokes to put myself at a different class. I’m not going to be winning any WPT major events soon (I don’t enter any, which could be a big reason), but I’ve noticed I see the game much clearer and make moves with much more precision. I have associates that play in home games once or twice a week and also play in table games at the casino weekly. I can say that their learning curve has been very strong and that I’ve seen improvements in their game over the last few months. However, I feel I’ve been lucky enough to see the game at a different level because of the boot camp, which has translated into dominance in home games.

I’ve been keeping track of my performance in home games since the camp over a 4 month period. Before the camp I’d estimate that I would finish in the top 2 (“the money”) of a 6 or 7 handed game about 50% of the time (fairly decent). Since the camp, I’ve finished in the top 2 of a 6 to 8 handed game 72.2% of the time (32 out of 44). This accounts for a 22.7% increase in the performance of my game in my regular home game which features a pool of about 20 different players.

In the boot camp there’s a good amount of focus on tournament strategies and how players can maximize their potential in a big tournament, common to poker rooms around the nation (or in my case, my parties with 20 to 30 of my friends). The strategies for tournament play are very sound and very simple (you’ll have to attend the camp to get the details!) and helped me not just learn “new ways” of approaching the game, but mainly focusing my game on the right elements and avoid bad habits.

Although I don’t have a lot of opportunities to play in big tournaments, I will say I finally finished in the money at a large 600 person tournament on-line after never doing so before (about 10 tries). So, for you tournament players out there, your game should definitely improve through the boot camp.

Final Impressions

Now that I have some perspective on the camp, I feel I can bring some professional and personal final impressions from the camp and its value to the potential student.

First, I feel the camp is best suited for players that have some poker experience. If you’ve only played hold’em a handful of times, then your best learning by playing the game with your friends or with computer games to get a strong feel for the game. Once you know your way around the game and have at least 5 to 10 home games under your belt, you’ll be ready for the camp. Until then, much of the value of the camp will be lost on you and you’ll be dragging the rest of the camp behind.

Second, the camp is no small expense to players. The price tag of $1,495 is a lot more than most players’ bankrolls for the year (or two). However, is this time at the WPT Boot Camp a mere “investment” in your game over the course of one year? No, of course not.

The best perspective of the camp is both of a long term (many years) investment in improving you game, and also the “cool factor” in the fantasy camp experience, learning from the pros themselves. It’s not all about making you a better poker player (which the camp will do), it’s about enjoying the experience of learning poker from industry icons and fellow passionate people about the game.

For someone that has been playing poker for over ten years, and Hold’em for the last 2, I can say that the WPT Boot Camp was a tremendous experience that not only benefited my game, but gave me some amazing poker stories to last me for a long time. The curriculum was very strong and helped both beginners at the camp as well as veterans of the game. Both Mike Sexton and Alex Outhred proved to be engaging and interesting instructors at the camp, with their insights and expertise of the game translating into valuable tools for students to improve their game.

Overall, the WPT Boot Camp was an amazing event that allowed students to gain a “poker experience” that was unique above all others I’ve had in previous years. I had a great time meeting the staff, and the experience gained from the camp improved my game and brought it to a new level. If you view the camp as not only an investment in your game but also as a “fantasy camp” experience, then you’ll find exceptional value in the World Poker Tour Boot Camp. Kudos to Alex Outhred, Mike Sexton, and the rest of the WPT staff and PR department for doing an exceptional job.

Sean W. Gibson

Sean W. Gibson

Founder, Featured Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Sean Gibson has been the owner and Executive Editor of Gaming Illustrated for over eleven years. His roles include acting as CEO and President of Gaming Illustrated, LLC and also includes being a reviewer, previewer and interviewer. Sean's opinions on this site do not reflect those of his full-time employer.
Sean W. Gibson
Sean W. Gibson

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