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Poker News: July 31, 2006

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Copyright © 2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

HEADLINE: 'Fossilman' brings poker to the masses


In this poker hall, Greg Raymer is a star - signing autographs, posing for pictures and wading through hundreds of slaps on the back and attaboys as he makes his way to his seat.

Such is life for one of the men who has rewritten what the World Series of Poker is all about.

Once a patent attorney who played poker as a hobby, Raymer won the WSOP main event in 2004, pocketed $5 million and confirmed that, no, you didn't have to be a professional card shark to make it big in this wild world of gambling.

"It's odd," Raymer said Sunday, his first day in this year's main event, of the fame that has come with his big win. "I'm just a poker player. It's not like I do anything unbelievable, or anything that anyone else can't do. It's not a 40-foot long jump."

But to win a first prize that will eclipse $11 million this year - a figure bolstered in large part by the success of guys like Raymer - it will take lottery-like luck, to say nothing of tremendous patience and stamina.

There are more than 8,600 entrants for this Texas Hold 'Em tournament, a field so big it has been divided into four for first-round play, which began Friday. Those who advance are grouped together and the field is pared down daily until the final table, scheduled for Aug. 10.

Surely that group of nine will contain a few Raymers. Odds are one of them will win. Raymer, also known as the "Fossilman," was sandwiched between Chris Moneymaker and Joe Hachem, an accountant and a chiropractor who won poker's richest event in 2003 and 2005.

"They're all decent poker players, but not what you'd call world-class poker players," said Doyle Brunson, the 72-year-old poker great who was eliminated by an amateur on Saturday. "The lucky thing for poker is that they're three nice guys, outstanding young men. But it's true, I've seen some very weird things happen in the World Series of Poker. I've seen people win that you'd bet your life couldn't win."

Raymer got off to a rough start Sunday, down to about half his original 10,000 chips as the five-hour mark approached. Play was expected to end around 3 a.m.

He was better off than Sam Farha, a poker pro who has become a household name in card-playing circles in the wake of this game's boom. Farha was gone within an hour, after his full house lost to four 6s, a hand that shows up about once out of every 400.

"Better early than later, right?" Farha said as he made his surprisingly early exit.

Also gone was movie star Jennifer Tilly, widely considered one of the best celebs and female players in the game. Comedian Louie Anderson was still alive, telling stories about his days hosting "Family Feud," and once getting in trouble - a 10-minute ban from the table - for cursing.

Poker pros Phil Gordon, Daniel Negreanu, T.J. Cloutier and Steve Dannenmann were all in Sunday's field and still playing as sunset approached. So was Mike "The Mouth" Matusow.

For better or worse, Matusow is a big part of the reason poker thrives. He is great TV - bombastic, mouthy and always seemingly a moment away from a "Matusow Meltdown," which is why ESPN chose him and the others at his table to move to the "feature table."

Set away from the main action, play at the studio-like "poker table in the round" is taped, then later edited and voiced over for the ESPN telecast. On TV, every player's hole card will be visible to the viewers, courtesy of the "pocket cam," small cameras in the tables that revolutionized the telecasts. The main event is presented in soap opera style, every Tuesday night beginning Aug. 22.

Raymer doesn't have the look of a TV star, but he has become one.

He insists that hasn't changed his outlook when he heads to the table.

"The only goal I have when I play poker, no matter what the game or the event, is to play each hand as perfectly as possible," he said. "Beyond that, I don't worry about it. If I do that and it goes good, then good. If it doesn't, then I can be disappointed about it, but not upset."

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