Nick Sliwinski had a plan when he moved to Las Vegas three weeks ago: go to dealer school and become a poker dealer. But like it has done with so many others before, Sin City refused to cooperate.
 
Instead of spending his days learning to toss cards, the 23-year-old has spent the last week on the other side of the table, building his chip stack in the World Series of Poker Main Event.

"It's surreal," Sliwinski said. "I've got no experience in the WSOP. This is the first WSOP tournament I've ever played."

Sliwinski has a similar story to many young poker players these days. In his dorm room in Pittsburgh during his freshman year of college, Sliwinski watched the ESPN broadcast of Chris Moneymaker's improbable 2003 Main Event victory.

"Just like eighty percent of the people here today, that inspired me," Sliwinski said. "That's when I started seriously getting into it."

Four years later Sliwinski graduated with a degree in psychology, spent a few weeks with friends and family, then packed his life into a rented trailer and made the long drive West. "I pulled a U-Haul trailer that weighed about as much as my car all the way across the country."

Sliwinski spent the first couple of weeks acclimatizing to Las Vegas and, of course, playing a lot of poker.

"I was just so excited to be here that I just played a lot," Sliwinski said.

The first couple of weeks went so well at the tables that Sliwinski decided to come to the Rio and take a shot at a $330 mega satellite. The tournament payed out one $10,000 Main Event seat for every 34 players and Sliwinski managed to navigate his way to one of the seats. He was so excited with the win that he decided to come back the next night and play a second satellite. Again, he outlasted the field and won another seat.    

Despite the fact that he had just won two $10,000 Main Event seats for a $660 investment, Sliwinski wasn't going to play the Main Event.

"The first two the money was too important to me," he said. "The first two, the money I won was most of my bankroll. It was my bankroll."

Sliwinski sold the two seats but decided to play a few more satellites and promised himself that if he won a third seat, he would keep it and play the Main Event.

It took him four more tries, but at 6:30 am on the Sunday before the Main Event, Sliwinski bagged another seat.

"From there on it was like 'alright, maybe I'm a little bit better player than I thought I was'."

The Main Event buy-in was ten times larger than that of any tournament Sliwinski had played in the past and on Day 1 he said he played extremely tight. "All I wanted to do is survive. I went from 20,000 to 29,000 and I was happy." But on Day 2 Sliwinski had a revelation. "I realized that the tournament was not best fit for tightwads, it was best fit for people that are going to play it like a deep stack cash game. Play it like a deep stack cash game, see a lot of flops and fold a lot of flops."

The other important factor, Sliwinski realized, was to set up a good table image.

"Show your bluffs," he said. "They can forget one bluff, but they're never going to forget three."

By showing his bluffs Sliwinski has been paid off in plenty of hands that he perhaps wouldn't have been otherwise.

"People always just assume I'm a loose player, but really I don't dedicate many chips to a pot unless I'm sure I'm in the lead."

A prime example of Sliwinski's style came late on Day 5. Sliwinski raised with 9-7 suited and flopped an open ended straight flush draw. His opponent bet out and Sliwinski called. Sliwinski turned a straight and stacked his opponent, winning a big pot and creating quite a buzz around his table.

"I like to gauge the reaction of people once the cards are already out. If you're going to win with that kind of style, you have to see a lot of flops. You just have to," Sliwinski said. "You're always going to cringe when you miss an opportunity with that seven-nine suited and you flop an open ended straight flush draw. There's two other people playing the pot and you're sitting there thinking 'why didn't I play seven-nine', it's because you're being a tightwad."

Sliwinski's style of play hasn't made him many friends at the table, but it has built him a big stack mid-way through Day 6. He drew the ESPN feature table and although he's thousands of miles away from home, Sliwinski has his own cheering section in the Amazon, made up of his two sisters and a group of friends imported straight from Pennsylvania.

"I've flown all of them in on my dime," Sliwinski said. "It's great, I've got a cheering section and I'm three thousand miles away from my former home."

With just 50 players left, Sliwinski has already exceeded his expectations for the Main Event and the money he's guaranteed to earn will make for a fairy tale start to his Las Vegas dreams; He'll walk away from the tournament with at least $135,100, the kind of money that could have taken him years to make as a dealer.

"This kind of just happened all at once, and here I am."

You can follow Sliwinski and all the Main Event players right here on WorldSeriesofPoker.com's up-to-the-minute chip counts and live updates.