Trying to be lone star at Texas Hold 'em table

Poker: Seventy-six Marylanders are among the more than 5,000 competitors at the World Series of Poker.

Poker

July 09, 2005|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - When 2003 World Series of Poker champion Chris Moneymaker won $2.5 million in the world's most prestigious gambling event two years ago, Marylander Kyle Morse hadn't even played Texas Hold 'em, the game used to determine the famous card title.

Now, Morse hopes to replicate the long-shot victory by Moneymaker, then a 27-year-old accountant who won his seat in the $10,000 buy-in event with a $39 investment in an online qualifying tournament.

Morse, a 24-year-old restaurant manager from Abingdon in Harford County, has a seat in the poker World Series main event currently being held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas after winning a $40 buy-in tournament on PokerRoom.com, an Internet poker site.

"It's awesome, all expenses paid," said Morse, who got his first look yesterday at the mammoth poker room where at least 76 Marylanders will vie with about 5,600 competitors for an estimated $7 million first-place prize and overall cash pool of more than $50 million.

The field of seasoned poker pros, wide-eyed Internet unknowns and Hollywood and sports celebrities - including former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe - is so large, event organizers are starting the tournament in flights over three days beginning yesterday. Morse begins today, hoping to survive a week of grueling play that is expected to end next Saturday at Binion's Casino.

In Texas Hold 'em, each player is dealt two cards. Five cards, called community cards, are dealt in the middle of the table. Players use any combination to make the best five-card poker hand.

Morse said he has been playing Texas Hold 'em for only about a year, putting in close to 10 hours a week, and the largest tournament he has participated in was an online game with 2,000 players.

"I went to the final table in that one," he said. "I have that Internet style where if I get stacked up [meaning lots of chips], I'll start playing aggressively. If I'm even, I'll sit back and when an opportunity comes up, I'll take my shots."

Another local amateur, but with considerably more live experience, who starts tomorrow is David Silverman, a Canton mortgage broker. Silverman, a cash game player in Atlantic City casinos and elsewhere, bought his seat for $10,000 as an early registrant months ago.

However, Silverman, 37, has been here for more than a week playing in side games and tournaments, and he won a free main event seat in a qualifier Tuesday. That meant Silverman had his $10,000 buy-in returned from Harrah's Entertainment, which owns the World Series of Poker.

"I'm trying to not look too far ahead. I just want to get through Day One and go from there," said Silverman, who has played against some top pros since arriving in Las Vegas. "I think the hardest thing for people who have not played in tournaments this large is the patience that's required."

In Texas Hold 'em, the wagering is started by forced bets called blinds. In most online tournaments, the blinds increase quickly, say every 15 minutes, forcing players to take chances even when they do not have exceptional hands. If a player does nothing, the increasing blinds will erode his starting stack of chips. In the World Series main event, a betting level lasts 100 minutes.

"So you don't have to be overly aggressive," Silverman said.

While players who have qualified on the Internet have won the past two World Series of Poker main events - Moneymaker and Greg Raymer last year - poker expert Phil Gordon thinks this is the year a pro will wrest back the title, even with thousands of unpredictable amateurs gunning for the famous faces.

"There is a lot of really soft money here," said Gordon, the analyst for TV's Celebrity Poker Showdown. Gordon has gone to final tables in two World Series preliminary events leading up to the main event; the six-week World Series includes 44 other tournaments in addition to the main one.

"In every event I've been in, I've managed to double up in the first level," Gordon said. "This year, there are people just giving their money away."

Dave Gamberoni, 42, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission employee from Gaithersburg who calls himself "Teddy Vegas," bought his seat with about $1,500 in backing money from friends. He took a private poker lesson and got a massage Thursday to prep for his start yesterday.

Last year, Gamberoni won $3,555, finishing third among 226 players in Reno, Nev. Before leaving for the World Series, he was already planning how he would spend the winner's millions. It included putting his backers' children through college, buying his wife a house in Philadelphia, purchasing a Mustang GT and becoming a school teacher.

"The math part of poker is not so much the challenge for me," Gamberoni said. "It's the people part of it. You have to be able to read your opponents."

Morse, the young Internet qualifier, realizes that his opponents have typically been friends in live games and anonymous cyber foes online. Now, he faces the prospect of having to face poker legends, such as Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan.

"You can always say that it doesn't matter," Morse said, "but you know it does. If that happens, I'm going to take a few minutes and get over my nervousness. Then, I'll try to look at them as someone with two cards and I have two cards, and we're all trying to make the best five-card hand."

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