An amateur poker player found himself rubbing elbows with the big boys at the Seminole Rock ’N’ Roll Poker Open in Florida, just a few seats away from making the final table of six players in a tournament that began with 900.
One problem for the unlikely challenger on Day 4: His chip stack was getting low and he was nearing the time to go all-in. He was dealt a decent hand of pocket nines, did a quick consultation with the math in his brain and the feeling in his gut, and pushed the entirety of his stack to the middle of the table.
The man, a tall and fit fellow wearing a gray Minnesota United FC shirt, watched as the next player at the table called his bet, meaning he'd be out if he lost the hand. As he flipped his cards to reveal a pair of nines, his competitor flashed a pair of tens. So close, but the run was over.
That amateur poker player was none other than Loons defender Brent Kallman, enjoying a hobby in the offseason.
"I think I played it right, for sure," Kallman told MLSsoccer.com Thursday, dissecting his decisions. "There were plenty of hands that I wish I could have back, but that isn't one of them."
Kallman analyzes his poker performances the same way he would his performances in a Loons jersey on a weekend in MLS. Like misplacing a pass, he uses mistakes to improve himself.
"That's one of the processes you go through to getting better," Kallman said as he explained the parallels. "In soccer you play games, sometimes you make mistakes, you go back and learn from them. It's the same thing in poker. Like I said, there's hands I'm still thinking about that I know I didn't play optimally. Hopefully I learn from that and in the future, hopefully, I do better."
Not that he has a ton of mistakes to learn from on the poker table. The amateur cashed $62,000 for finishing in eighth place at the Seminole Rock ’N’ Roll Poker Open this week, not half bad for a hobby.
Kallman's infatuation with poker dates back a decade and a half, when he just entered his teenage years. It was when he first caught the World Series of Poker on television that he and his older brother, Brad, began watching and playing online.
In 2013, Kallman's poker career got its first big break when he won a tournament in Minneapolis. On top of a cash prize in the range of $5,000, he won an entry fee to a main event with a $1,100 buy-in. At that tournament he finished in third, winning $33,000.
"That's when I realized, you know what, I really enjoy doing this, I'm having a lot of fun, and also have the ability to make some deep runs in more of these tournaments," Kallman said.
Kallman still leans on the man who was there when he first started playing: his older brother.
"He's a good person to have around because he's really intelligent. We can talk about poker and bounce ideas off each other," Kallman said.
Has the younger Brent caught and overtaken Brad on the poker table?
"I'm better – only because I play a lot more," Kallman laughed. "He has a lot more responsibility than me, with four children five or younger, so he has his hands full and doesn't get to play very much. He's still someone that I call up and shoot ideas to. We talk strategy and theory. He's a great resource I have."
A Creighton University alumnus who studied entrepreneurship, math is something Kallman is more than comfortable with.
"It's big," he said. "Game theory is important. There's math involved. There's an element of feeling out situations and reading people. I try to trust my gut and my instincts. It's helped me at times but it's also backfired. Sometimes you're wrong, sometimes you're right, you just have to go with it and trust yourself."
He even doesn't mind math. In fact, he goes as far to say that he enjoys it – as long as it's on the poker table.
"I do [enjoy math], especially when it comes to poker it's something that I like," Kallman said. "I don't think if I was doing algebra right now that I'd be enjoying myself, but calculating pot odds and stuff like that, I enjoy it."
Despite his poker exploits, fear not, Loons faithful: Kallman has no plans of making a career out of poker, not even when his soccer career comes to its natural conclusion.
"I've thought about it, but after playing so much and having conversations with people, I don't think it's for me," he said. "It's something I'll just continue to do on the side as a hobby."
Kallman, 28, has made 47 appearances over two seasons in MLS with the Loons and just inked a new contract, keeping the local kid at his hometown team for the foreseeable future.
"I was super happy, really excited," Kallman said of his contract. "I've been there a long time, they know me really well, it feels really good that they value me, like me and want to have me around. The feeling is mutual, I want to be there. I really enjoy playing for the club. I was really happy that we were able to get a deal done."
Kallman hasn't set his next tournament yet. He's got a busy few weeks coming up with a bachelor party, wedding and MLS Players Association meeting in Las Vegas, but he knows where he'll be a year from now.
"I'll definitely be back," Kallman said of the Seminole Rock ’N’ Roll Poker Open.