Md. poker player puts money on fun

July 14, 2005|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - Steve Dannenmann, an Anne Arundel accountant, has a strategy for winning the World Series of Poker main event.

It involves riding only in cabs whose serial number ends in an even digit, taking the same route from his hotel to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino where the tournament is being played, wearing the same tan shirt daily and not ever allowing his wife to watch.

And, oh yeah, there's the same brand of socks that say, "Champion," but those he changes.

And there's this crumpled-up paper with a list of poker do's and don'ts, such as, "Avoid coin flips when you have the big stack." These are rules the 38-year-old CPA from Severn freely shares with his competitors, including some of the world's greatest players, in this no-limit Texas Hold-'em tournament.

And although it's not part of the strategy, while his opponents are sipping spring water and Coke, Dannenmann is standing at his table yelling, "Cocktails!"

He likes Bloody Marys with a rim of Old Bay seasoning. Lot's of 'em. For a time Tuesday night, he had one drink in his hand and two at his feet.

So, naturally, Dannenmann - whose poker experience comes mostly from home games on Tuesday nights - ended Tuesday as the fourth-leading chip holder among 58 survivors from a World Series championship field that started last week with 5,619 players. The local poker wunderkind had more than 2.1 million chips, the overall leader more than 3 million.

So far, Dannenmann has played at the ESPN feature table with superstar Howard Lederer, now long gone from the tournament. About midnight Tuesday, Dannenmann knocked out Russ Hamilton, the 1994 world champ, and scooped up 500,000 chips in the process.

The other Marylander who made it into yesterday's round was John Howard, 32 and self-employed, from Lexington Park in St. Mary's County. Howard was sitting with Dannenmann when the field narrowed to fewer than 35 yesterday, assuring each at least $274,000.

"I'm here just having fun," said Dannenmann, who bought his $10,000 seat in the main event after a poker and golf buddy chipped in half. "Every day that you wake up, everything after that is a bonus. I'm not especially religious but I believe every day is a blessing."

Dannenmann, who grew up in Brooklyn Park, spent his improbable run Tuesday ordering drinks, chatting with other players, kibitzing with fans and even wandering from the table to call his mother, Mary, in Glen Burnie for 15 minutes at a time on a spectator's cell phone because his own had run out of juice.

As he rallied from a low of 280,000 chips, Dannenmann was clearly irritating others at the table - including one dealer who accused him of "disrepecting the game." While Dannenmann was off on one of his cell phone calls to his mother, or his wife, Anita, back at the Mirage resort, or his friends in Baltimore, other players had to toss in Dannenmann's antes.

And although his opponents sometimes stewed, Dannenmann defused some of the annoyance with an affable, aw-shucks demeanor, occasionally rooting for players with whom he faced off in showdowns. Whenever a new player sat down, Dannenmann was a one-man Welcome Wagon extending his hand, "Hiya, I'm Steve. What's your name? Where ya from?"

While table tension mounted, Dannenmann would rummage through a plastic shopping bag of odds and ends, once pulling out a book on Zen philosophy to the delight of onlookers.

So far, the off-beat, sometimes loony approach has worked.

"Look, I'm a bad player; I know that," Dannenmann said on a break between sessions during another 12-hour day of poker Tuesday. "The only way I have any chance here is to get the table on-tilt." In poker parlance, on-tilt means being so agitated that it adversely affects a player's decisions.

It also hasn't hurt that Dannenmann has caught a few cards. In one crucial hand, he doubled up to more than 1.4 million when his pocket fives turned into three-of-a-kind and then four-of-a-kind against another player's two pair.

The World Series main event was expected to be pared to three tables - 27 players - by today, when the event moves to Binion's Casino in downtown Vegas. The final table will be either tomorrow or Saturday, depending on how quickly players are eliminated.

The winner gets $7.5 million; everyone who makes the final table will become a millionaire.

Dannenmann's stay at the poker World Series main event, which began for him Saturday when he played in his first round, has caught him by surprise in more ways than one.

"This is my last pair of clean underwear, but I told my wife to hold off buying new ones until I saw whether I made it this far," he said.

"You know," he added, "I'm missing my Tuesday night game back home because of this."

Dannenmann's friend who split the buy-in, Jerry Ditzel of Severna Park, is in that game.

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