Millionaire-to-be Dannenmann uses trump card: humor

At World Series final table, accountant from Maryland is providing entertainment


July 16, 2005|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - Anne Arundel accountant-cum-poker phenom Steve Dannenmann has a seat at the table.

That's the final table.

The one that began last night at the World Series of Poker's main event in Las Vegas and where the winner gets $7.5 million.

The marathon No-Limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship began nine days ago and has claimed most of the game's greatest players, sometimes with cruel turns. On Thursday after the 5,619-player field had been reduced to 27, defending champion Greg Raymer was bounced in 25th place when his pocket kings were beaten by a flush on the final card.

But the unflappable Dannenmann - who carries a crumpled piece of paper with poker hints in his pocket - methodically built his stack to 5.46 million chips, putting him in fifth place among the final nine competitors as play began at the final table, which was expected to last until the early hours of this morning. He already is assured of at least $1 million.

Heading into the final table, the chip leader was Aaron Kanter with 10.7 million. The only recognizable pro left was Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, who was in fourth place with 7.4 million chips. Poker whiz kid Phil Ivey was sent packing Thursday in 20th place.

Early during play at the final table, Dannenmann lost several pots and took his stack down to about 2 million chips but was at the center of drama in a showdown with Matusow.

Dannenmann put Matusow all in and caught an inside straight - to beat Matusow's pocket 10s and scoop up about 3.5 million chips.

That put Matusow out of the tournament and gave Dannenmann about 5.8 million chips.

"The guy tried to bluff me, and I looked him dead in his eye," Matusow said. "I made the best read of my life, and I was a 4-to-1 favorite."

While most of his opponents approach the game with grim determination, Dannenmann's style has been a mix of humorous self-deprecation and bravado. At one point Thursday when 10 players were jockeying to see who would be eliminated to form the final table - a minimum difference in prize money of $400,000 - Dannenmann approached his supporters nearby and deadpanned, "You know, I figure I'm the worst player at this table because I'm the only one who can't shuffle his chips with one hand."

When two friends who play in Dannenmann's home game arrived after catching a flight from Baltimore and racing to Binion's Casino in downtown Las Vegas where the tournament finale is being held, the 38-year-old certified public accountant said: "Next year, we have to bring everyone from the game here ... we'll have four guys at the final table. These guys are horrible."

Quips aside, Dannenmann has played an impressively solid, conservative style to put himself in contention for poker's biggest prize and what would certainly be instant celebrity. He has consistently played good cards, judiciously raising, and usually convincing his opponents to fold. And he has tossed away any hand when he didn't firmly believe he had the best of it.

After he made the final table at the 12-hour session ending early yesterday morning, he pulled out the crumpled paper with the card-playing dos and don'ts on it. He pointed to one rule that underscored his conservative play: Failing to call a raise is only a small mistake. And then scrawled at the top was his goal for the day - 6 million chips. In accountant-like fashion, he has carefully upped his benchmark each day in careful measures to match whatever he thought it would take to advance to the next day.

Another Marylander who made it to the final three tables on Thursday, John Howard, a 32-year-old drywall contractor from Lexington Park in St. Mary's County, was eliminated in 16th place. Howard, who earned his seat in the $10,000 buy-in championship event by winning a qualifier in a private tournament, won $350,000.

Asked if he had plans for the money, the disappointed Howard said, "No, I had plans for the $7.5 million."

"It wasn't about the money really," Howard added. "It was about winning." Soon after Howard's pocket queens were beaten by Kanter's straight on the last card, the final woman in the tournament, attorney Tiffany Williamson, was eliminated in 15th place, good for $400,000. Williamson, whose advancement in the championship as a woman was eclipsed only by Barbara Enright who went to the final table 10 years ago, lives in London but grew up in Columbia, S.C., and has family living in Columbia, Md.

Meanwhile, Dannenmann kept his steady march through the tournament on track with solid play punctuated by the same sort of disarming table hijinks he pulls in his Tuesday night home game.

During a 2.5 million-chip pot Wednesday, an opponent was fretting over whether to call Dannenmann's considerable raise. The CPA first peeked at his cards and comically wiped his brow, then put on his sunglasses - in the fashion of the more serious players who try to hide their reactions with menacing shades - and chuckled, finally taking them off.

His opponent folded.

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