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"It was just one of those light-bulb moments. I told myself, ‘Okay, stop trying to play like the individual pros, their style is different from yours, you’re not going to be comfortable playing like them, but what can you learn from them that you can take and use in your own game?'"
Kelli Shields: Human Resources Specialist Puts Daughter Through College on Poker Winnings
Kelli Shields had played for several years in home games and at her local bar league in Fort Worth. But the real turning point in her poker play came when she took a WPT Boot Camp.
“It was such a wonderful experience!” she says. But it actually took Kelli a little while to figure out how to make the most of what Boot Camp had to offer.
“When I first got there, I was attending all the sessions, learning from each of the pros, hearing their stories, their strategies, and their method of play,” she recalls. “I’m taking notes frantically.” Kelli’s main concern was to take advantage of the wealth of poker knowledge so she could apply it to her own play.
The next day, she was excited about trying out all her new ideas at the Boot Camp’s single-table tournament. “And I just did awful!” she says. “And I was like, ‘I can’t believe this! What a waste of money! I can’t believe I spent my money on this thing. I played better when I played my own game.’”
Discouraged, Kelli even considered leaving the camp, but she had come with a friend and did not really want to take such a drastic step. Still, she was not sure how to reconcile her initial excitement with that morning’s disappointment.
Then came lunch, and another talk from one of the pro instructors.
“The instructor said, ‘If you sit down and simply start imitating the pros, you’re going to lose!’” Kelli recalls. “She said we should use what we learned, not just imitate it. She told us that we each had to find a style we felt comfortable with—and then integrate what we learned at Boot Camp into that style.”
At the end of the day, Kelli went back to her hotel room to process what she had learned. “I realized that’s where I had gone wrong,” she says. “In that single-table tournament, I had put myself too far out of my comfort zone. No wonder I hadn’t done well–I had tried to imitate everything I saw, instead of focusing on the key things I needed to change.”
The next day, Kelli played another single-table tournament, but instead of simply trying to imitate the pros, she asked herself a different question. “I asked, ‘What did I learn from each of those pros that I can take and incorporate into my own game?’"
“It was just one of those light-bulb moments,” she says. “I told myself, ‘Okay, stop trying to play like the individual pros, their style is different from yours, you’re not going to be comfortable playing like them, but what can you learn from them that you can take and use in your own game?’”
Kelli ended up winning her single-table tournament, a triumph that reinforced the lesson she had learned: to develop your own game, you have to learn from the best. “I looked at the whole Boot Camp differently for the rest of the time we were there,” she says. “I kept asking, what does this pro or that one do that I can kind of steal? What can I take from them that will help me?”
Making Boot Camp’s lessons her own made Kelli more comfortable. It also meant that her new lessons stuck with her. “Even today, there’s little things I still think about,” she says. “When I sit down at a table today, even when it’s a home game and I’m just playing with friends, there’s little snippets that I always think of.”
For example, Kelli says, one of the pros told her that 70 percent of the time in a heads-up situation, at least one of the players will miss the flop. “So when it’s heads-up and I have the lead, I’m going to bet, because the majority of the time I’m going to win,” she says.
Kelli realized that she felt more comfortable with the more conservative players, whose style more closely matched her own. The looser players, however, had even more to teach her. “They may not have the same style that I do,” she says, “but I can sit there and listen to their strategy, and if I’m sitting at a table, I can see the looseness in other players. So I understand their strategies and can use that knowledge to my advantage.”
Before Boot Camp, Kelli had never really played any large tournaments, and even afterwards, it took her a while to get started. She played a few smaller tournaments at Winstar Casino in nearby Thackerville, Oklahoma, and did pretty well, but it never would have occurred to her to pay a $2000 buy-in to enter the $3 million guarantee tournament known as “The River”. She was, however, willing to play the $55 qualifier tournament, which won her a seat to the big game.
To her astonishment, Kelli made it to the tournament’s final day and knew she was going to cash. The lessons from Boot Camp were “invaluable” she says, and became even more so as she moved slowly up to the final table, and then to fourth, third, and finally second place. When the tournament was done, Kelli had won the number-two spot—and she was taking home $370,000.
“Honestly, with my daughter at Baylor, it is so nice not to have her apply for student loans,” Kelli says. “It’s just such a refreshing feeling to know that her college is taken care of.”
Kelli isn’t ready to put the rest of her winnings into her poker bankroll quite yet. She’s still serious about poker, though, and continues to play locally. And, she says, “It’s nice to know that money is there for anytime I actually want to use it.” Meanwhile, she still thanks WPT Boot Camp for one of the most memorable experiences of her life.