His place at the World Series table means nothing to his buddies at their weekly games.

Las Vegas a far cry from poker with pals

July 15, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Steve Dannenmann has come a long way from his Tuesday night poker games in Anne Arundel County.

When last night's round began, he was one of 27 players still alive in the famed No Limit Texas Hold 'Em Championship - part of the World Series of Poker held annually in Las Vegas. The winner gets $7.5 million.

Dannenmann, a 38-year-old accountant who lives in Severn, was guaranteed to win at least $304,680. The tournament started with a field of 5,619.

One would think a player with such skill would be hard to beat in the weekly local game. But that's not the case.

"He doesn't really dominate it," said Jerry Ditzel, 62, who also plays Tuesdays. "He's a good player, but we have a lot of good players in the group. And I don't think anybody would play if one guy won all the time."

The game is casual, it is all men and the players range from mid-20s to mid-60s, Ditzel said.

"It is just a bunch of guys who know each other playing cards," he said. "It's friends of friends, guys who play golf together."

Ditzel declined to provide the names of the other dozen or so players in the game. He also would not say where the games are played.

"I don't want that in the paper," he said. "I don't want to get busted. This is just a good, friendly neighborhood game."

Members of any poker group in the state have good reason to be cautious. All card games where the winner takes a cash prize are illegal in Maryland, said Shawn Urbas, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County police.

Breaking the law is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in prison, he said. There is no minimum cash limit for enforcement of the rule, and his department investigates all complaints, Urbas said.

Dannenmann's Tuesday group has played for roughly two years. They play Texas Hold 'Em - a game where each player is dealt two cards of his own and must combine those with five "community" cards - or cards that every player uses. The player who assembles the best five-card hand wins.

The Tuesday night games that Dannenmann and Ditzel play in start at 7 p.m. and go until about 11:30 p.m., enough time for two tournaments.

Such relatively short games were hardly adequate conditioning for Vegas, where Dannenmann has had to play for 12-hour stretches.

"It is a lot of stress," said Ditzel, who was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas at 8:30 this morning to support his friend. Other members of the Tuesday group were set to arrive late last night.

Dannenmann and Ditzel split the $10,000 that most must pay to secure a seat in the Las Vegas tournament. Money is paid out to the top 560 finishers.

"I expected him to do well," Ditzel said. "I wouldn't have put up the money otherwise."

Still, Ditzel insists that practicing for the World Series hasn't been a goal for the group.

"We're not big-time poker people," Ditzel said.

He paused for a moment and then added, "I mean, I'm not."

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