Rockville's Butler gets back into the big game


Insurance salesman takes his place at World Series of Poker's final table



Surviving a week-and-a-half card-playing marathon, a Dundalk native who now lives in Rockville joins eight other players today at the final table of the World Series of Poker Texas Hold 'em World Championship where the first-place prize will be $12 million.

Rhett Butler, a 45-year old insurance agent who spent his early childhood in the Baltimore area but has lived in Rockville for most of his life, enters the final round of the tournament with the seventh largest chip stack, nearly 2.4 million chips. He is already assured of at least $1.56 million for having gotten this far in an event that began July 28 with a record field of 8,773 players at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.

The chip leader is a 36-year Malibu TV producer, Jamie Gold, who has 25.6 million chips. In second place is the only name professional remaining, four-time WSOP bracelet winner Allen Cunningham, with 17.7 million. The remainder of the field is an eclectic group including a financial consultant with an economics degree from Duke, a former bartender and restaurant manager, and a theoretical physicist with a doctorate degree from Stanford.

The tall, lanky soft-spoken Butler is no stranger to the green felt. Before he was married 17 years ago, the father of three considered himself a "serious" poker player in the Washington area where he occasionally played with sports writer and current ESPN poker analyst Norman Chad.

In fact, Chad said that he believed the underground card game he played in 20 years ago was actually run by Butler. Butler said that he was only a player the few times he was with Chad. The two chatted briefly before Tuesday's 15-hour round when the field was narrowed from 27 players to the final nine. Yesterday was an off day for the players.

Chad said he hadn't seen Butler since the mid-1980s when he knew him from a poker game in a Connecticut Avenue apartment building.

"So even though right now that he sells insurance - which is another gamble he always wins - he plays poker and golf all day long. He tells me that they play liar's poker at lunch, he just likes to have a good time," Chad said. "But he has a family and three kids, so he's pretty responsible."

Butler concedes he enjoys golf - he's about a 6-handicap - and that he's become involved with online poker over the last year and wagers for lunch, but insisted that his life revolves around his wife, two sons and daughter, and his job.

As far as those card games in Washington, he recalls Chad as a solid player.

"I probably only saw him two or three times," Butler said. "When he was playing, he'd play an hour and his wife would play an hour. It was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen."

For the poker World Series, Butler - who said he got the cinematic name because his mother was convinced he'd be a girl and hadn't picked out a boy's name - said he has several investors who have claim to about 45 percent of his earnings. His big breakthrough came over the weekend when he increased his chips from about 300,000 to 3 million.

He started Tuesday with about 6 million chips but saw his pile eroded as he battled on tables with Gold, who was on a torrid winning streak. Early yesterday morning with 10 players left and needing one more player elimination before the final table was set, Butler won a key hand against Gold when the insurance agent went all-in for his final 2 million chips and the chip leader folded.

"It's going to be difficult, I'm a short stack," he said. "Nobody is playing badly ... But if I can double my chips early, I'll be OK."

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