The moments immediately after the World Series of Poker Main Event reaches a final table are all kinds chaotic for the nine players who have just become millionaires.
ESPN needs some interviews on live television and WSOP executives are giving instructions how the next day will go and photographers are trying to coordinate a group shot and the media on hand are trying to grab quick interviews and the players have to confirm their chip count with the dealer and bag up their chips. It can be, to say the least, overwhelming.
On Wednesday night, after all of that madness subsided, after the railbirds had left and the camera crew had turned off the lights on the ESPN mothership, Tony Miles, the last of the nine 2018 final tablists to leave, sat in the five seat while Jenn Gene, a friend of eight years, sat next to him in the six seat.
The conversation between the two lasted two, maybe three minutes and ended with a hug.
“We just took a moment,” Gene says.
Gene met Miles at a poker tournament at Isle Casino at Pompano Beach, Florida. Just a recreational player, Gene ended up seated at the same table as Miles, who was just starting to play professionally at the time.
“We just had one of those connections where you just meet someone cool and there’s a lot of great people in poker, but when you find someone super special, you just connect,” Gene says. “I came home and told my husband, ‘I met this really great guy tonight’. He said, ‘Invite him over for dinner’. Tony came and grilled with us and here we are eight years later.”
Miles remembers that first meeting as well and was taken aback by a random act of kindness from this stranger sitting across the table from him.
“She offered me a scarf for my legs because it was so cold in the room,” Miles says. “I’m pretty good at reading people, I knew she was a good person and then she invited me over for dinner and offered to do my laundry and she’s great.”
Gene’s kids, age 3 and 5, have also taken to Miles and made him an unofficial member of the family.
“My kids call him Uncle Tony,” Gene says. “He’s been Facetiming with them. He Facetimed with them tonight and my five-year-old said, ‘Why are you still playing so long?’ He just kind of laughed and said, ‘We’ll be home soon. I’ll send Mom home.’”
Since that day at Pompano, Miles and Gene have shared a lot of moments, some good, some bad. Anybody who has tuned into the ESPN broadcast over the past several days has heard a little bit about the personal struggles Miles has faced. The 32-year-old has beaten drug and alcohol addictions and throughout all of that, Miles’s family and friends stayed by his side and supported the fight, Gene included.
“I mean it’s a very challenging thing to go through as a friend, especially when you know someone whose heart is as good as his is and what an incredible person he is. And just to see him struggle is challenging,” Gene admits. “It’s really hard to show someone your core and be okay with it, but his core is so good that he just needed to see that in himself. He needed to be reminded and I’m lucky that he was surrounded by a great family and some really awesome friends that stuck by him through that and knew that it was just a period and that he would beat it.”
Gene made her way out to Las Vegas after a phone call with Miles on Monday night. Miles, who was one of 25 qualifiers that bestbet Jacksonville sent to the Main Event this year, told her that he had a feeling that he was about to go on a really deep run and he asked her if there was any way she could come and support him from the rail. Gene didn’t think she’d be able to pull it off with two young kids at home and a full-time job.
“The next day my husband said, ‘You’re leaving today, Tony needs you there. Get on the plane’,” Gene says. She flew out and joined Miles’ rail along with his mom, step-dad, brother, and grandparents. At that point, there was still over 100 players in the Main Event and while that might seem like it’s close to the end, it’s actually just the halfway point of the 10-day tournament. The final table was still days away but Miles realized he was playing well and wanted those closest to him to be there.
“I think it was just a feeling that I was just kind of seeing things in a different light. I had a broader perspective when I was playing hands with my strategy. So that feeling was just a feeling of confidence,” Miles says.
After arriving in Las Vegas, Gene understood what Miles meant about that feeling he had, but it had less to do with any strategic adjustments he was making and more to do with the attitude and the manner in which he approached every day.
“His skill isn’t what’s got him here. I’m happy putting that in writing because it’s true. I think it’s his heart. I think it’s his determination, his courage, his strength,” Gene says. “He’s playing from a place of gratitude. He’s playing from a place of, ‘I’m blessed just to be here another day. I’m thankful to be here. I am appreciative of these amazing players around me’. I mean who says that at the final table?”
This isn’t the first time Gene has been in Las Vegas supporting Miles during the WSOP. She was in town last year and a quick search for Miles’ 2017 results shows no tournament success. He took the time after the summer wrapped up to take a vacation and once he got back, Gene saw that the trip gave him new energy and maybe a different perspective.
“He had gone through a tough period and he went on this incredible trip to Australia and had some really cool life moments and I remember having a conversation with him like ‘This is it. Things have changed. This is it, this is the year’,” Gene says. “I don’t think either of us knew what that meant poker-wise, I think it was just ‘Wow, look where we’ve been, look where we’re going, put the past behind us, and take everything one day at a time.”
Miles took the chip lead on Friday night and returns to the table with just two opponents standing between himself and the $8.8 million first-place prize money and the title of World Champion. His rail, which swelled to include other family and friends who flew out on Thursday, the day the final table started, is decked out in shirts with #TeamMiles on the back and ‘One Day at a Time’ on the front. Miles asked Gene to help him pick the slogan for the front of the shirt and rejected the first couple of suggestions before throwing out ‘One Day at a Time’.
“He said, ‘That’s it. That’s it. This tournament has been one day at a time. Every day of my life is one day at a time and if I don’t take this opportunity to start opening up the platform to people to show them that you can get knocked down seven times and get back up on the eighth, then I wouldn’t be doing myself justice’,” Gene says.
Miles, who is now two years clean, is conscious of and has embraced that idea that other people that have dealt with or are dealing with the throes of addiction are finding inspiration in what he’s managed to accomplish, no matter how Saturday night turns out.
“Any time you’re struggling, you just have to take life one day at a time. Especially when you’re down in the depths of despair. You just have to keep that mindset that you just have to get through that day and focus on that,” Miles says. “I’ve been meditating a lot and a big focus of the meditation is to be present and not stress about the future, not worry about the past and I think that our shirts are a reflection of that.”
Even as Miles has recently faced even more adversity, including the passing of his step-mother in June, he’s rejected any notion of being angry at the world. Instead, he’s turned his energy to becoming a better person, but even that is a process.
“Love wins. Love conquers. If someone’s being mean to you, kill them with kindness. It’s just been an epiphany that I’ve had in the last six months that I just want to be kind to everyone,” Miles says. “It’s been a combination of different factors, but I had to be humble enough to realize that I wanted to be a better person.”
Even before Miles wrapped up play Friday night with almost 61% of the chips in play, Gene believed that everything her friend had gone through in life and the way the tournament had progressed for him was leading up to something special.
“Honestly, I think it was written in the stars for him,” Gene says. “I just think it is. I think it’s his time. I think these were some incredible players. I think he’s met some great people, in the last few days and I just think it’s his time.”