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Online Poker News Archives - September 26, 2005

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Copyright 2005 The Winston-Salem Journal

September 26, 2005

Full House: Pro poker players go from disrespect to celebrity

Doyle Brunson, 72, can remember when being a professional poker player meant being an embarrassment.

The Texan recalls old friends crossing to the other side of the street when they saw him coming, and pulling out of the finals of a televised high-stakes tournament in 1972 because he didn't want to shame his family by advertising what he did for a living.

All of which made Brunson's situation on Friday night that much more interesting. With his trademark cowboy hat and his drawl as thick as Texas heat, he was the esteemed elder statesman at the "High Rollers Steak Dinner," one of the opening-night events at this year's New Yorker Festival.

More than 100 people paid $200 a plate to sit in a dark, wood-paneled room at Gallagher's steakhouse and listen - and sometimes loudly react - to tales about the suddenly trendy world of poker from Brunson and fellow players Phil Hellmuth, Howard Lederer and David Williams.

"There's no life like the life I've lived," said Brunson, a 10-time World Series of Poker champion.

"You're free like a cloud floating up in the sky."

The festival, in its sixth year, is three days of interviews, panel discussions, readings and musical performances. Writers such as Stephen King, Pulitzer Prize winners Michael Chabon, Jhumpa Lahiri and Edward P. Jones, musicians Ric Ocasek and Ani DiFranco, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and many others are among those scheduled to appear before it ends today. The weekend festival also has actor Steve Martin leading a banjo concert and a benefit for hurricane victims.

With the influx of players who have honed their game on the Internet and the proliferation of poker shows on TV, professional poker has changed dramatically in the past few years and many of the world's top players have become minor celebrities.

Tournament players are at record numbers, making winning more difficult for longtime pros.

"It's like hitting the lottery," Brunson said. "We've got more tickets than everybody, but you've still got to hit."

For Williams, who made more than $4 million playing poker while still in college and finished second at the 2004 World Series of Poker championship at the age of 23 after qualifying online, the emergence of poker into the national consciousness is both good and bad.

"It's so popular, which is great, but people don't see the bad side to poker," he said, talking about how he gets e-mails from kids who are ready to drop out of school and risk all the money they have to try for a win in a high-stakes tournament.

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