There’s talk in sports of “having the balls to lay it all on the line” in high-pressure situations. But imagine being in one of those situations and literally having to risk one of your balls on top of it.
Just six remained from 937 after three full days of poker at the World Poker Tour (WPT) Venetian $5,000 Main Event earlier in March. Pokercode community and Grindhouse member Roland Rokita had finished his third straight day of poker with the second-largest stack of the six players remaining, and he trailed only 2015 WSOP Main Event champion Joe McKeehen with a life-changing amount of more than $750,000 for the winner set to be determined the next day.
Before play could resume though, Roland had another life-changing event occur.
This was Roland’s third trip to Las Vegas, and unlike the first two in June and December 2019, it wasn’t exactly planned. In fact, he wasn’t even allowed to go straight from Europe to the United States due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Instead, he made plans to travel to Costa Rica for over a month in order to grind MTTs with a group of poker friends, taking advantage of a more favorable time zone for online tournaments in the process. Only two weeks needed to pass before they were eligible to travel stateside, and during the month in Central America, they looked to see what live tournaments were coming up in Las Vegas.
WPT Venetian was on the docket along with a few other events worth traveling for. Long story short, everyone was due for a trip to the desert.
WPT Venetian had two starting flights and unlimited re-entries, but Roland needed one bullet to make Day 2. (It proved to be the only one he would fire all trip.) He coasted through the first two days to reach the final four tables with 32 players remaining, finishing in the middle of the pack at the end of both days of play. Roland steadily accumulated chips the whole time, achieving a state of flow through much of it that made time fly by.
He came into Day 3 with a stack of 1.17 million with 45 minutes remaining at the 15,000/25,000/25,000 level and scored a quick knockout when his ace-queen hit trip aces on the river against king-nine after stacks got in on an ace-king-nine flop to put him up to 1.85 million. The final three tables were reached shortly into the next level and by then he had amassed a stack of 3.3 million, good for the chip lead.
By the final two tables, Roland’s stack was 3.1 million, putting him fourth in chips out of the 16 remaining players. Stefan 'Nemi' Nemetz, who Roland traveled with was also still in contention, and the two found themselves seated at the same table for the first time all tournament. Unfortunately, Stefan was eliminated in ninth place after his kings lost to McKeehen’s jacks in an all-in preflop situation that saw the board run out with a backdoor gutter to give McKeehan a jack-high straight.
An announcement was then made with eight players remaining that the seven-handed final table bubble was reached, with it coming a controversial ruling that said the bubble would play out as two four-handed tables. Short stack Jared Jaffee was eventually eliminated in eighth place, but not before Roland hit a straight against the trips of McKeehen and ultimately chipped up to 4.85 million for the final seven.
One more elimination needed to occur to reach the end of the day with six remaining, and it took 98 hands for that to happen. During that time, Roland increased his stack to 8.45 million, good for a second-place stack behind only McKeehen’s 10.85 million going into the final day of play with over $750,000 on the line.
As Roland described it, “At the day of the final table, I woke up and had pain in my testicle, and I called my brother. My brother is a doctor and he told me to immediately go to the hospital to check it because there is the danger of testicular torsion.”
Nothing about the words “testicular torsion” sounds good, but for those of you who don’t know, testicular torsion involves one of your balls twisting in a manner that cuts off blood flow to it. It can affect any male and is unclear as to how it’s caused, but if left unaddressed can result in needing to have the testicle removed.
So, despite being two of six going into a WPT final table with $750K on the line, Roland went to the hospital. And the news was not what he was hoping for: he was diagnosed with testicular torsion.
In most cases, such a diagnosis requires immediate surgery. Having a brother as a doctor, Roland reached out once more and was put in touch with a specialist that listened to his symptoms. During this time, Roland’s pain had actually subsided, lasting only an hour in total, and due to this atypical set of symptoms they did not 100% trust the diagnosis.
Outside the hospital, the final table was still scheduled to begin soon. Despite being just miles from the venue, word made its way almost 10,000 km back to Austria in an effort to have accommodations made for the rare circumstance. Even Fedor Holz was on top of it.
The good news? Roland felt like he could play. He actually now had more pain in his back from tweaking it upon waking up to his testicular pain, so the doctors gave him a little something for his back and sent him on his way.
Ultimately, the decision was made that the final table could not be postponed to a later date. The other five players did agree, however, to delay the start time by an hour, resulting in Roland missing no action at the final table of six.
The first five orbits of play saw Roland’s stack dip from 8.45 million down to below 6 million, but the 32nd hand of the day saw him shove the river on a J-3-3-3-8 board over a bet from American Kou Vang that got a snap fold and put him above where he started on the day.
Trace Henderson fell in sixth a few hands later and Vang went out in fifth nearly 50 hands later when Vang’s ace-king lost to McKeehen’s pocket eights. Roland’s stack was still around 8 million, putting him third in chips as eventual champion Qing Liu had climbed to 8.8 million.
Fifteen minutes and as many hands later, McKeehen knocked out the short-stacked Jack Hardcastle in fourth place, and in less than three hours from the time cards went into the air, Roland found himself in the final three. Official chip counts came out after six more hands of play, and Roland had 4.9 million, while Liu had 10.8 million and McKeehen 21.8 million.
It seemed like Roland’s day may come to an end just moments thereafter when he jammed just under 18 big blinds with pocket fours in the big blind over a small-blind completion from McKeehen, who did so with pocket tens. Luckily, a four came on the turn to keep him alive. He then pulled into second place briefly after taking a pot from Liu with trip nines, but soon after lost around 40% of his stack to Liu after being forced to fold to a big river bet in the following hand.
Then he got a chunk back three hands later, winning a pot of 4.5 million at showdown with ten-high, but was forced to fold to another big river bet from Liu half an hour later as time expired in the level.
Left with just 4 million with a big blind now up to 300,000, Roland picked up pocket fives in the big blind on the second hand of the new level. He found himself facing a shove from McKeehen in the small blind and called. McKeehen turned over jack-eight offsuit and turned a straight, ending Roland’s run in third place and earning him a payday of $363,235.
With no decisions left at the poker table, it was time to get back to the much more serious decision in Roland’s life. His testicular pain never came back, both during the final table and throughout the course of the next two days. He had hoped it would get better over that time, but it never really felt normal so he consulted with a urologist.
As mentioned, testicular torsion can result in the loss of a testicle if not immediately addressed. The urologist confirmed one of his balls was effectively dead, meaning he would need to have it removed. He was informed though that it was not life-threatening. It needed to happen as soon as possible, but it did not need to be immediate.
Thus, Roland opted to take the available first flight back to Austria to have the surgery performed in his home country. By the time he got home a few days later, his brother had set up everything he needed for the procedure.
Everything went well with the ball removal and Roland found himself with almost no pain from the procedure, even less than a week after it happened. There are also no future complications that could be tied to it all. It just sort of happened one day and two weeks later is now just a part of his life’s story.
As for mental or emotional pain? None of that either.
It turns out that having one testicle is just as good as two. (Unlike in poker, having one ace in the hole is not as good as having two.) He has no functional disadvantages from the loss of his testicle, whatsoever.
“It was crazy timing,” Roland said of how it all went down. Clearly, much of the situation was out of his control, and even still he was able to keep his cool even with one of his balls literally on the line. At the end of the day, he won $363,235 but it cost him one of his nuts.
Maybe it was just the universe showing us all a lesson in how subjective the value we place on things in life can be. After all, even Roland losing one of his balls isn’t going to hurt his ability to do anything he wants.
At the end of the day, it’s a remarkable story in his life that he will be able to share in the decades to come. If he’s already able to laugh about it less than a week after the surgery, it’s sure to bring more laughter in the future. Not to mention, firing one bullet on an entire Vegas trip and coming out some $350,000 in profit isn’t bad either.