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Jamie Gold: A Wire to Wire Winner at the WSOP

At the recently concluded 2006 World Series of Poker Jamie Gold did what no other competitor at the WSOP ever did, and in the process he shattered a number of myths and misconceptions about how this event is won. He was as close to a wire-to-wire winner as you’ll ever see, grabbing the chip lead on Day 3 and holding onto it all the way through the final table. It wasn’t a small lead either. When Jamie ended Day 4 with $3.7 million in chips he led second place competitor Max Reele, who held $2.358 million in chips, by more than $1.3 million.

When the final table began, Jamie’s $26,650,000 in chips topped Allen Cunningham, his nearest competitor with $17,770,000 chips, by $8,880,000.

Old poker hands will tell you that you can’t win the World Series of Poker in the early stages, but you can lose it. That’s their way of saying that you shouldn’t take big risks early on — that survival on the early days is paramount — in order to put yourself in position to get lucky in the event’s later stages, go on a rush, accumulate chips, and win the event in a final sprint. That’s been the conventional wisdom for a long time now, and until this year it’s always held up.

Early chips leaders routinely fell by the wayside, and it wasn’t uncommon to see early round chance-takers eliminated on subsequent days, when they played a bit too aggressively and saw all the chips they worked so long and hard to gather wind up in someone else’s stacks on one or two defining hands.

But Jamie Gold worked aggressively to gather chips during every phase of the main event, despite conventional wisdom urging players to avoid major confrontations early in what amounts to a marathon of an event.

Although a virtual unknown to many of the poker playing public and fans that followed the WSOP’s main event in the news or on ESPN’s pay-per-view broadcasts, Gold was not unknown to most of the tournament regulars in Southern California, where he had 16 in-the-money finishes over the past two years — including a $54,225 first place payday at the Stars and Strips no-limit hold’em championship. Although these tournaments pale in comparison to the World Series of Poker, a top-notch track record in these second echelon events often foretell success in the big, major events — tournaments that even the casual poker fans pay attention to, like the main event of the World Series of Poker.

The SoCal contingent all knew that Jamie Gold could play poker, even if he was a stranger to the rest of the world. Jamie knew he could play too. But when you have more than 8,000 opponents to conquer before victory is yours, it’s hard to be really sure of anything.

Gold’s run for glory began inauspiciously. “I was down to $5,000 by the dinner break,” Jamie said. “I lost six races where either I had A-K and my opponent had a pair and I never improved, or I had the pair, and my opponents had A-K and improved to beat me. I was ready to write this off, and didn’t think I was going to make it.”

Nevertheless, Gold came to the tournament with high hopes, based on his sterling tournament record in Southern California during the past few years. “I really felt like I had a shot, not to win but, to make it to the final table. But after the first half of the first day, I was ahead in six races and lost every single one of them. And I just thought nothing was going my way. If I don’t get any luck, I’m done.”

But in poker, as in life, luck has a way of balancing out, and for Jamie Gold, it came at just the right time. “I was desperate. I had about 3000 chips left and I finally started hitting some hands. I was able to build up my stack to about 50,000 chips with a couple of hours left in the first day. And then somebody else with 50,000 chips put me all in. I saw something in his face that told me that he was really nervous. I made a pretty amazing call. And that was probably the defining hand of the whole tournament for me.

“From that moment on, I never had all my chips at risk. I was never all-in after that. In the first couple of days, I wasn’t the chip leader, but I was among the leaders. By the end of the third day, I took over the chip lead and kept it for the rest of the tournament. But the defining moment for me actually happened on that very first day.”

So what’s the secret of Gold’s success? How did he stand the poker world on its ear? It’s worth looking at the number to get a feel for Jamie Gold’s amazing run. During this time, he led for the final four rounds of the tournament, which lasted an entire week.

Jamie Gold’s Amazing Run

At the end of Day 4:
1st place: Jamie Gold - $3,700,000
2nd place: Max Reele - $2,358,000

At the end of Day 5:
1st place: Jamie Gold - $7,330,000
2nd place: Eric Freiberg - $5,905,000

At the end of Day 6:
1st place: Jamie Gold - $13,000,000
2nd place: Eric Freiberg - $7,735,000

At the end of Day 7:
1st place: Jamie Gold - $26,650,000
2nd place: Allen Cunningham - $17,770,000

Final Table:
1st place: Jamie Gold - $88,000,000

Jamie Gold defied convention al wisdom. “I played a lot of hands,” he said, “especially at the final table when there wasn’t a lot of raising before the flop. I was able to look at flops, fold when I thought I might get in trouble, and win big pots when I made big hands.”

He also played against type. Most poker players bluff by acting weak with strong hands and pretending to have very big hands when they have no hand at all. Gold did just the opposite.

“I told the truth just about every single time on every single hand,” Jamie said.

“I played about 80 percent of my hands, which of course you’re not supposed to do. I talked a lot too, which you’re also not supposed to do. I bluffed a ton, which you’re not supposed to do. And I played the kind of hands that you’re not supposed to play. I would play deuce-three all the time. So I did all the things you’re not supposed to do and still seemed to dominate the tournament.

“So maybe you can throw some of those things out the window. I think that what happened is that I played such a different game, it caught everybody off guard. Nobody had seen someone tell the truth every time. It really flipped people out. “

Whatever he had been doing, it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that when Gold asked poker legend Johnny Chan for advice during an overnight skull session, Chan told him to keep doing whatever it was that he had done so far. “It’s working,” said Chan, “and you don’t want to change a thing.”

Gold, a former Hollywood agent turned television producer, met Chan more than a year ago when the two of them chatted about creating a poker show for television. They kept in touch and Gold kept picking Chan’s brain for poker advice whenever he could. But when Chan advised him to keep on doing just what he had been doing all along, Gold knew he was doing all the right things and that they were working to perfection.

“I had such a big chip lead at the final table, that many of my competitors were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win, and that helped me too,” he said. That’s understandable and fairly common. Because the difference between finishing one rung above another on the pay ladder can be significant — and in the final event of the WSOP even a jump of one rung represents more money that most players will ever hope to win in a single tournament — the idea of playing conservatively in hopes that an opponent or two will play recklessly and bust out, thereby propelling you a few notches up on the pay ladder makes intuitive sense to many players who are on the verge of a life-changing pay day.

Jamie Gold not only accumulated an overwhelming chip lead, he played a big stack about as well as it’s possible to play one. He knew which opponents were willing to confront him and which ones weren’t, and he went after those who were trying to fold their way up the pay ladder and kept accumulating chips with a vengeance.

In the end, Gold outlasted a record field of 8,773 players who anted up the $10,000 buy-in for the Main Event, creating an unprecedented prize pool of $82.5 million. The final event, poker’s Big Kahuna, was the culmination of the 46-event World Series of Poker, which generated more than $158 million in prize money.

Gold, the chip leader since Day 3 of the 10-day Main Event, said “I just feel very fortunate that things went my way. I was playing the best poker of my life. I was in a zone where I just felt like I could manipulate people.”

When Gold’s pair of queens beat Westminster, Colorado, resident Paul Wasicka’s pair of tens on the final hand, Wasicka earned $6,102,499 million for his second-place finish, and Gold was a $12 million man, topping the previous record of 5,619 players that was set at the 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event, when Joseph Hachem of Melbourne, Australia won a then-record $7.5 million.

But before Jamie could pick up his winnings, Crispin Leyser, who met Gold in Las Vegas in July, just a few weeks before the tournament began, filed suit claiming that Jamie — who was sponsored by Bodog.com, the online poker site — promised him half of his winnings for snagging a few celebrities to wear Bodog logo gear during the tournament.

Leyser allegedly has voicemails from Gold promising him 50 percent of his final table winnings.

A judge in Las Vegas issued a temporary order freezing all of Gold’s winnings, but at a hearing early in September, six of the twelve million dollar prize was released to Jamie Gold. The remaining funds are frozen pending resolution of Leyser’s allegations.

So Jamie Gold, an engaging, witty, man with a monumental achievement at the poker table under his belt begins his reign as poker’s world champion and his year as the worldwide face of poker under something of a cloud. He has $6 million in hand, another $6 million held up by the courts, and plans to start a foundation to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s disease, which afflicts his father.

Gold also has plans to be an active voice for poker during his reign as champion, and a desire to play in major events all over the world. However, he’ll have to remove this cloud over his head in order to carry the poker community’s goodwill during the next 12 months.

Nevertheless, he’s ready to play some poker. With $6 million in hand and another $6 million to be allocated based on a court’s decision, plus a recently signed contract with Bodog.com that Gold claims is the richest poker sponsorship deal ever made, he’s armed, dangerous and itching to be dealt in.

And if you find yourself facing Jamie Gold across the poker table and you’re not quite sure what kind of a hand he’s holding, go ahead and ask him. He’ll tell you, and it might just be the truth too. After all, he told everyone the truth at the World Series of Poker and that worked out rather nicely for him, didn’t it?
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