Dannenmann pockets money, refuses change

After World Series of Poker, life isn't drastically different for runner-up from Severn


August 26, 2005|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN STAFF

During the early morning limo ride to pick up a $4.25 million check after finishing second in the World Series of Poker main event in Las Vegas last month, Anne Arundel accountant Steve Dannenmann lapsed into a moment of philosophical musing.

"You know, I never play the lottery," said Dannenmann, an amateur player who had outlasted more than 5,600 competitors. "Because with my luck, I'd win - and it might change my life."

If Dannenmann, 39, really has such fears, he'd better be braced.

Having done something certainly akin to hitting the lottery, Dannenmann has already seen his life changed in small ways. Still to come, though, is the far greater fame, and perhaps opportunities, that might follow once the portion of the WSOP in which Dannenmann played is aired on ESPN later in fall. And aired. And aired.

Previous championships have been rerun dozens of times, making the most prominent players more identifiable than many pro baseball or football stars.

"People keep saying that, that I won't be able to go anywhere without people recognizing me," Dannenmann said. "I'm not sure how I feel about that."

Already, Dannenmann is a local poker celebrity - and, occasionally, a target at the table. And like everyone else with an ounce of public cache these days, he has an agent who is trying to make the most of the CPA's current fame.

Since the poker World Series, Dannenmann has played in a handful of medium-level tournaments in Atlantic City, N.J., where the buy-ins are $200 to $500. And he still plays in his usual Tuesday night home games where the stakes are a couple hundred bucks.

At the casinos, players occasionally recognize Dannenmann, possibly from his photo on poker Internet sites, and the buzz goes around the table.

"It helps and it hurts," he said. "On the one hand, when I put in a big bet, I might get a little more respect. But then everyone wants to be able to go home and tell their buddies that they knocked out the runner-up in the World Series of Poker."

Dannenmann's Vegas story was as improbable as any in the history of the legendary poker event. Mainly a home player with just a few years of experience, he bought his way into the $10,000 main event with a friend, Jerry Ditzel, putting up half the cash.

A carefree course

While most other players sweated and fretted over every hand in the marathon tournament, Dannenmann blithely made his way through the field over the course of eight days sipping Bloody Marys, wearing the same shirt and visor for more than a week, chatting up fellow players, frequently jumping up from the table to call friends and family in Baltimore, and handing out ever bigger tips as he advanced through the tournament.

In short, he was having a good time.

When on the final hand his two pair was beaten by Australian pro Joe Hachem's straight at 6:45 a.m. on July 16 at Binion's Gambling Hall, Dannenmann immediately split the winnings with Ditzel, commandeered a craps table at the Rio casino, and bankrolled a coterie of well-wishers for a round of tossing the bones.

"I always said that if I hit it big, I wanted to splurge on the craps table," the accountant said.

Since returning home, Dannenmann, who was married in January, hasn't made any large purchases.

"I bought a pair of new shoes," he deadpanned. He also plans to finish his basement at his Severn home. And he has plans for a new sprinkler system for his yard. But that stuff, he said, was in the works prior to his big week in Vegas.

That's not to say that Dannenmann doesn't have further poker ambitions.

He plans to enter two more $10,000 buy-in tournaments in Atlantic City over the next few months, the World Poker Tour stop at the Borgata in September, and the U.S. Poker Championship at the Trump Taj Mahal in October. He also has invitations to play in two free tournaments in November and next June back in Vegas, the 2005 and 2006 Tournament of Champions, as a result of his WSOP finish.

And his agent, Ira Rainess, who is the business manager for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and used to work on behalf of former Oriole Cal Ripken, is scouting for potential deals, such as endorsements and sponsorships for poker tournaments. In some cases, Internet poker rooms have bankrolled the travel and entry fees for star players to represent the Web sites, just like a golfer wearing a logo cap or shirt.

"The advent of TV in the world of poker has taken the game to an entirely different level. And poker players, with the exposure they're getting, have an extremely high Q rating," Rainess said, referring to the measure of a celebrity's name recognition. "Come October, when Steve is on the air, he will get significant recognition."

Seeking sponsors

Already, poker pros have been signed by spirits and beer companies for advertising, and Rainess sees watchmakers and sunglass manufacturers as obvious endorsement opportunities, because those products can get enormous exposure in televised poker.

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