Dannenmann's home game is on its way to Las Vegas


The Kickoff

June 27, 2006|By BILL ORDINE

Results from the recent poker Tournament of Champions had a familiar ring - local whiz Steve Dannenmann finished right behind Australian pro Joseph Hachem - but the payoff wasn't nearly as lucrative as it was a year ago.

When those two finished one-two at the World Series of Poker main event last summer, Hachem pocketed $7.5 million and Dannenmann won $4.25 million.

But when both were bounced Sunday in the early stages of the 27-person field of the Tournament of Champions at the Rio casino in Las Vegas, neither got a penny of the $2 million pot. The final table, with Ireland's Andrew Black as the chip leader, began play late yesterday.

Dannenmann and Hachem were actually ousted on the same hand by superstar Daniel Negreanu. With a dwindling stack of chips, Dannenmann went all-in with pocket eights; Hachem did the same with pocket queens, and Negreanu had them covered with an ace-queen. When the flop produced an ace to give Negreanu a pair of aces and the hand, Hachem went to the rail in 22nd place (because he held a chip lead over Dannenmann) and the Severn accountant placed 23rd.

"Looking back, I don't think I had enough patience," Dannenmann said yesterday. "I sat there for six hours and didn't play any hands but I never had any cards or hit any flops. But based on the [escalating bet] structure, when you get low on chips, you have to make a move. Pocket eights was the best hand I had all day."

However, the Tournament of Champions was just the first of several poker events for Dannenmann, who is in Las Vegas for the start of the seven-week, 45-tournament World Series of Poker with the main event scheduled to begin July 28.

A year ago, Dannenmann's popularity derived, in part, from his good-natured self-deprecating attitude, including the observation that he wasn't even the best player at his Tuesday night home game. Well, this year, the Anne Arundel County home game - or a fair contingent from it - will be in Las Vegas to test its mettle.

Today, Dannenmann and four of his home-game buddies will play in the first WSOP open event, a $1,500 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold'em tournament that drew more than 2,300 players a year ago. So far, seven or eight players of the self-dubbed New Cut Crew - named for the street where the home game has been played - plan to enter the $10,000 buy-in main event. Among the New Cut Crew is David Silverman, a Baltimore mortgage lender who earned $33,197 for a 201st-place main-event finish last year.

"As poker players, we would have always loved to be able to someday play in the World Series," said Mark Schaech, who owns a Baltimore auto body repair shop and rushed to Vegas to watch Dannenmann at the final table last July. "But Steve and Dave having done so well, that excited a bunch of the guys in the group. It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal for me ... but being in a casino with Steve is unbelievable."

For both Schaech and Silverman, part of the fun has been watching poker fans react to Dannenmann. It took him 15 minutes to walk the casino hallway to the tournament room at the Rio on Sunday as he signed autographs and posed for pictures.

"It's so surreal for us. ... A year ago, we're here just shooting the bull over cheese steaks and all of a sudden, Steve is world-famous. People come up to him everywhere," said Silverman, who is having team shirts made for the local poker crew to wear during the main event. "And he's the perfect guy to have it happen to because he embraces it. And he's so quick-witted that when people say something to him he has the right thing to fire back."

Silverman, who won his $10,000 seat for the main event at a country club poker tournament and earned $45,000 in an event at the Borgata in Atlantic City, N.J., said the celebrity hasn't made Dannenmann complacent. In fact, Silverman insists, the accountant has sharpened his game considerably since the last World Series.

Dannenmann expects to play in more tournaments than his friends and may even try some other poker styles, such as Omaha, but he said his basic philosophy of "keeping his day job" remains unchanged.

After earning millions at poker last summer - he split the $4.25 million with friend Jerry Ditzel, who provided half of Dannenmann's entry fee - the accountant continued preparing taxes this spring and still provides financial-planning services.

"The way I see it, the people who come to me aren't merely my clients, they're my friends," Dannenmann said. "Giving up my business would be like giving up family members."


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