LAS VEGAS - When Anne Arundel County accountant Steve Dannenmann fell tantalizingly short of winning the World Series of Poker main event yesterday, his reaction was as unwaveringly upbeat - and humorous - as it had been throughout his giddy weeklong run.
After losing an all-in hand to Australian poker pro Joseph Hachem, Dannenmann said: "How could I be disappointed? ... I was the best American player in the World Series of Poker."
In addition to that qualified distinction, Dannenmann had several million other reasons to be happy. The $4.25 million he won for finishing second was eclipsed in series history only by the record-setting $7.5 million pocketed by Hachem and the $5 million awarded to last year's champion, Greg Raymer.
Dannenmann immediately made good on his promise to split his winnings with friend Jerry Ditzel of Severna Park, who put up half of Dannenmann's $10,000 buy-in for the poker tournament.
"He's the only fool who would bet on me," the 38-year-old Severn resident and Brooklyn Park native said.
This year's No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em Championship was decided in the longest poker World Series final table ever, 13 hours, 56 minutes, that started late Friday afternoon and ended after daybreak in Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel in downtown Las Vegas.
Dannenmann and Hachem had outlasted seven other competitors at the final table, and more than 5,600 players overall who began the event July 7.
In the end, after five hands of head-to-head play between the two, Hachem - who had about a 2-to-1 chip lead over Dannenmann - made an all-in bet after four community cards had been dealt: first the flop, 4, 5 and 6, and then the turn, an ace. The Australian's hole cards were 3 and 7, for a straight. Dannenmann held ace, 3, good for a pair of aces. The local CPA needed a 7 on the last card, the river, to tie and split the pot, but another 4 fell, giving him two pair.
"Thank you, America," said Hachem, who had been supported by a boisterous group of his countrymen who chanted "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi," every time he won a hand.
"I was on a mission, not just for myself but for them as well," he said. "From what I've been told by my friends here, Australia has gone mad."
Dannenmann had his own rooting section of friends and relatives, including his wife, Anita, Ditzel and a handful of pals from a Tuesday night poker game that represents the bulk of the accountant's poker-playing experience.
"I'm not even a Friday night poker guy, I'm a Tuesday night guy," Dannenmann said in the same self-deprecating fashion he has used to describe his poker expertise all week.
"I don't even play much Internet poker," he added, "because you can't talk to other people. And you can't yell, `Cocktails!'"
Indeed, Dannenmann's charge into contention among the mammoth field began Tuesday when he increased his chip stack about tenfold, to a little more than 2 million, while downing a steady stream of bloody marys and ending the evening with a limousine expedition to the Hard Rock Casino that lasted until 4:30 a.m.
The next day, nursing a hangover and switching to bottled water, he doubled his stack again. Over the next two days, he went back to his favorite cocktail, taken with extra olives, albeit considerably diluted.
What never changed, though, was Dannenmann's adherence to the No. 1 tenet on a list of self-prescribed advice he kept in his pocket: Have fun.
During breaks in the overnight final table session, while other players stewed over their particular circumstances and the cash at stake, Dannenmann called his mother, Mary, in Glen Burnie, with updates. "And Mom, don't forget that trash day is Monday, so get the trash out for me," he ended one conversation, "and please pick up the newspaper from the lawn."
At one point, while he climbed the tournament ladder and his winnings mounted, the tax preparer told an onlooker:
"A million things are going through my mind up there - alternative minimum taxes, write-offs and, you know, this is messing up my vacation in Ocean City. I'm supposed to go fishing and golfing."
Dannenmann, wife Anita and 6-year-old stepson Cody are scheduled to head to the Shore today.
Another time during a break he asked Ditzel for some cash to tip the cocktail waitress who brought drinks to the players. Ditzel, who runs a hazardous-waste removal firm, peeled off a $100 bill. Dannenmann looked at it and said, "Jerry, I'm going to want more than one bottle of water."
While Dannenmann never took himself seriously, his opponents certainly did. The only name poker pro at the final table of nine was Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, and he was the first one eliminated when Dannenmann successfully drew to an inside straight.
Earlier in the tournament, Dannenmann bounced former world champion Russ Hamilton.