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Poker News: December 11, 2006

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Copyright © 2006 Tennessean

HEADLINE: Pro poker tougher than it looks

Nashville's Sonny Perry stoodin the Gold Strike Casino and took a drag from his cigarette.

As he talked of his young poker career, he fisheda big gold ring out of his denim overalls. He won it, and $110,000, playing poker in New Orleans.

Not a bad way to make a living, huh?

"There's nothing better than this," Perry said. "You can make money and you don't have to do no sweating."

The hundreds of players at the World Poker Tour Open that January afternoon probably would have agreed.

Perry was one of 326 entrants, each hoping a $500 buy-in would win them the $969,421 first-place prize.

The four-day tournament was just a piece of the big picture. Poker remains hotter than a royal flush.

TV popularizes poker

With the introduction of the World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker to national television, the game has shed its backroom image.

In its fourth season, from May 2005 through April 2006, the World Poker Tour made 17 stops and awarded $85.12 million in prize money. Millions watched broadcasts in 147 countries and territories. Everybody had dreams of making millions playing cards.

A little more than two years ago, Perry saw Nashville's Chris Moneymaker win $2.5 million in the World Series of Poker championship.

Here was Perry, a 60-something Nashville man with a limousine service. There was Moneymaker, a 20-something Music City accountant with a huge chunk of wealth via gambling.

If Moneymaker could do it, why not Perry?

"When he won that championship, that is when everyone in Nashville got interested in it," said Perry, who by Septemberthis year had cashed in on eight tournaments for $325,888. "Somebody who is used to no money can win $3 million or $4 million at a time. That's what made me want to do it."

Josh Tieman started playing poker in his dorm room at Illinois Wesleyan. After seeing the 2003 World Series of Poker on ESPN, he joined several online games and kept winning.

Then he lost $500 on one game, which was a lot on his college budget.

"I was pretty mad at the game," he said. "But after a few days I wanted to play again. It is something I love to do."

The young Lake Zurich, Ill., native finished 14th in Tunica and won $31,464. In August he topped that with a third-place finish — highest of his pro career — in a World Series of Poker event and won $52,525.

Pro says it's stressful life

Despite its monetary draw, playing big-time professional poker can be tougher than it looks.

Now in her early 30s, Liz Lieu started playing when she was 18, helping an ex-boyfriend set up a home game. She learned how to play, she dealt, she ran the game. Then she turned pro and eventually moved to Las Vegas.

Now she is a professional poker fixture. Her petite frame, supermodel-skinny body and blond-streaked raven hair make her impossible to miss on the tournament floor. She shuffles poker chips between French manicured fingernails and listens to her iPod as she tries to outwit her opponents, most of whom are male.

"A lot of people think it is easy money, an easy life, and an easy way out, but actually it isn't. It's not at all. It's very stressful," Lieu said. "I feel like I have aged 10 years in the last year. I have lost weight. I am not eating right. When you win it's all good, but when you lose you can't sleep.

"Now it's televised, so a lot of people want to start and become famous. It's not worth it. The majority of the players will go broke. In these tournaments if you play the whole year or you follow the circuit, if you add it up it's probably about half a million dollars. That's a lot of money if you don't win."

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