Nine players — four pros, a former talent agent, an insurance broker, an ad salesman, a recent college grad and a retired businessman — were all that remained from a field of more than 8,700 hopefuls vying for poker’s biggest prize of $12 million at the World Series of Poker in Nevada on Wednesday.
Around 2:20 a.m., after a dozen hours of play, Fred Goldberg, a 30-year-old general contractor from Hollywood, Fla., bet all his remaining 2.8 million in chips on the only hope he had left: that no other players had decent cards and that he could pick up the blind bets and antes that left a pot of 440,000 chips for the taking.
Unfortunately for him, Richard Lee, the businessman from San Antonio looked down at his cards and saw pocket kings, and called.
“I wasn’t happy going to the final table without chips,” Goldberg said after being knocked out in 10th place. “I got very unlucky.”
Goldberg’s queen and three received no help from the board, sending him home one seat away from the final table, but with a $1.15 million payday.
Afterward, the surviving players shook hands and congratulated each other for making it to poker’s biggest stage.
Some were youngsters who had honed their skills in one of dozens of Internet poker sites that are based offshore because they are illegal in the United States.
Douglas Kim, a 22-year-old who graduated in May with an economics degree from Duke University, spent $3,000 buying into online satellite tournaments and won the last one available for $650. He’ll start work at a financial consulting firm in New York in September, but said he is trying not to think about anything but the cards and players in front of him.
“I just still can’t believe it right now,” he said.
Dan Nassif, a 33-year-old newspaper ad salesman from St. Louis, qualified for his second World Series main event in two years online. Last year he busted out in five hours. This year, he’s guaranteed to go home a millionaire.
“I’m living my dream,” he said. “My boss even text messaged me, wanting to know if I was quitting. I told him not to worry, that I wasn’t going to.”
The 55-year-old Lee said his wife forced him to get out of the house after retiring from running several businesses eight years ago. He returned to playing poker. It was a game he learned at the age of 14 when his father hosted games at their home with local bigwigs.
“My father would be smiling on me right now,” Lee said.
Rhett Butler, a 45-year-old insurance agent from Rockville, Md., returned to his former profession after a hiatus of several decades during which he got married and had children.
“My buddies put up half the money,” he said. “They’re here rooting me on.”
Heading into the final grueling day of poker on Thursday after a day of rest, former Hollywood talent agent Jamie Gold was chip leader with 25.6 million, four-time World Series bracelet winner Allen Cunningham was second with 17.8 million and Lee was third with 11.8 million.
Nassif had the smallest stack at 2.6 million, while Swedish pro Erik Friberg was 4th with 9.6 million, Internet player Paul Wasicka was fifth with 8 million, Kim was 6th with 6.8 million, and Butler was 7th with 4.8 million.
Michael Binger staved off elimination late in the day, doubling up to about 3.1 million, in eighth place, when his ace and queen caught a miracle ace on the turn, beating Goldberg’s pocket 10s.
“The burden is off,” said the 29-year-old pro from Atherton, Calif. “I’m at the final table and now I can play poker and go for the win.”
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