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First Player Out at "Become a Pro" Finds Way To Stay and Play

9 Mar 2006

By Ryan McLane

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Playing in the biggest Texas Hold'em tournament of his budding poker career, 31-year old Christopher Birchby couldn't believe his good fortune, when on the first hand, he was dealt aces in the hole.

His happy surprise was only matched by the sheer terror of facing an all-in re-raise against his rockets from early chip leader Bill Pero. Already short-stacked and pot-committed, Birchby called the bet and watched his good luck disappear, along with his tournament life.

Pero hit a set on the flop with his pocket 10's and improved on the turn by filling up his tens with twos. Birchby didn't even stick around to see the river.

"I looked at my aces (before the hand) and thought to myself, this is it, I'm going to double up and have a chance for a big stack early in this tournament," Birchby said. "By the time I realized he'd flopped a set with his 10's, I was already too committed."

Birchby was the first player eliminated in's inaugural "Become a Poker Pro" tournament. The distinction of being the first to go was stinging enough, but to go out in the first hand with aces – all Birchby could say was "ouch."

"I wouldn't play the hand any differently," Birchby said. "I made my move and 80 percent of the time, you win with that hand. I took my shot and it didn't work out."

To help dull the pain, spokesperson Glenn M. Cademartori entered Birchby into's weekly "Big Deal" tournament, the Web site's largest attraction with a weekly prize in excess of $22,000.

Connecting to the Internet from the cruise ship was a costly proposition, with Birchby racking up $70 in Wi Fi fees in addition to the $320 entry fee required to enter the "Big Deal."

So why put up the fee?

Cademartori said the answer was two-fold. First, he wanted Birchby to get a chance to play some more poker and secondly, he wanted the community logged in around the world to have hand-by-hand access to the tournament through Birchby.

Birchby accomplished both, placing 23rd out of 295 in the March 5th "Big Deal" while at the same time, answering online players' questions about who was winning "Become a Pro", play-by-play chip counts, and what it was like to play poker aboard a gigantic ship.

"He went out so quickly we wanted to offer him a consolation prize and get him into the Web sites' biggest weekly tournament," Cademartori said. "This way we were able to keep him in the room and have him communicate with our community. It served a two-fold purpose and it seemed to make him happy."

Already one of the most popular players on the site, the cash prize of $708 from his finish in the "Big Deal" was but a modest addition to Birchby's bankroll, nothing compared to the "Become a Poker Pro" package. However, Birchby said it was a nice distraction.

Interestingly, Birchby again had pocket aces while playing online, this time while playing a "Ace of Aces" tournament. Again, he made a big raise pre-flop and was called, only to see his rockets fall to an inferior hand.

His opponent held pocket eights and when the river card fell, Birchby was yelling "no eight." Of course, the eight fell and Birchby could only laugh. Throughout the day's bad beats, Birchby held a winning attitude.

"If you're going to lose a tournament, you might as well do it somewhere tropical," Birchby said.

Playing online under the alias MarvinGarden, Birchby said he tries to sit at the computer 5-6 days a week, but finds it difficult considering he's starting his own business in his native Southern California.

Birchby will open his Coola Sunscreen Company in two months with his girlfriend and business partner Kristen Burrows, who also was a cruise guest (and did quite well in the "Friends and Media Tournament" on Saturday night).

Birchby's products are currently available for viewing at

Most of his original business investments for the sun block company came from online poker winnings. He promised his girlfriend when he started playing poker that they would do something together to make up for the time spent in front of computer monitors.

A new joint business seemed agreeable to both.

If all goes to plan, Birchby hopes to make poker a full-time career in the next couple years using profits from the new business to further his bankroll.

"We're really excited about the company launch and we've received a ton of support from friends and players in the community," Birchby said. "I'd love to be a professional player, but I have other things I want to accomplish first."

At the "Become a Poker Pro" tournament's conclusion, Birchby was there to see Jim Davenport win the inaugural title, offering the new champion a high-five and warning the other players that it would be his crown next year.

He echoed this sentiment later that night in the final toast, telling his competitors-turned-friends that they should all make plans to be back again next year.

"This was a great event and even if I knew that I was going to be the first one out, I'd still have come," Birchby said. "I hope they have this event again next year. I'll definitely be trying hard to get back."

Birchby said he still plans to play plenty of online poker. His current obsession is qualifying for the World Series of Poker through's Ace of Aces tournaments running all this month.

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