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Jamie Gold says he's now ready to concentrate on becoming a better poker player.
That comment might seem like an odd statement coming from the defending world poker champion who collected a record prize of $12 million by winning the main event in last year's World Series of Poker.
"Over the last few months, I've really been dedicating myself to the game," said Gold, a 37-year-old Hollywood producer and Malibu, Calif., resident who will participate in today's opening of the 38th World Series of Poker at the Rio.
Gold won't play in the $5,000 buy-in Mixed Hold'em Championship, the first of 55 planned events scheduled for the World Series, but he will shout out the "shuffle up and deal" order to start the game.
Gold was a poker unknown and considered something of a novice player a year ago. He was coached by two-time world poker champion Johnny Chan and didn't just win the 2006 world poker championship. He dominated the main event.
Gold bested a field of 8,773 entries over two weeks of play, holding the chip lead more than 70 percent of the time. At the final table of nine players, Gold entered with such a seemingly insurmountable lead, it was a foregone conclusion to those in the room that he would walk away with the world poker crown.
However, Gold has spent the past year earning the respect of long-time poker professionals, who were openly rooting against him at the final table.
"I think I was trying to prove something to myself last year," Gold said. "A lot of the poker pros, who were a little unsure of me last year, have said recently they couldn't believe how much my game has improved. One of the more outspoken pros said I may be the best bluffer out there."
Gold has rededicated himself to the game in the past few months, playing in several high-stakes tournaments while also going against some of poker's well-known names in different televised poker events such as "High Stakes Poker" and "Poker After Dark."
The first few months after winning the tournament were a little more time-consuming.
Gold dedicated his world championship to his father, who was suffering from the later stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. In a hushed poker room immediately following the win, Gold placed an emotional phone call to his father in New Jersey, saying, "Hi Dad. It's Jamie. I just won."
Gold's father died in December.
"That was tough, but I got to spend a lot of time with him and I was able to help him out," Gold said.
In August, Gold was sued by a fellow poker player who claimed Gold had promised to split half of his winnings if the player would help recruit minor celebrities to play in the main event for Gold's Internet gaming sponsor, Bodog.net.
In February, the lawsuit was settled out of court.
"The lawsuit didn't exist except in the media," Gold said. "It was a misunderstanding and unfortunate, but once we sat down and talked it out, it was immediately cleared up. It was really just a tax issue."
Meanwhile, Congress passed a ban on Internet gaming that was signed by President Bush, causing Gold and his fellow poker players to lose out on their lucrative Internet gaming endorsements.
Gold, who had signed a two-year deal with Bodog only to see it vanish, said he is entering the World Series without any sponsors.
"I fulfilled my part of the contract with Bodog, and it's nice not to be the face of something," Gold said. "I don't really think of myself as a Bodog kind of guy."
In March, World Series of Poker officials said they wouldn't punish Gold for rules infractions that occurred during the main event.
With the past behind him, Gold now wants to concentrate on the game and earn a living as a poker professional. He is also keeping his hands in Hollywood; the first seven episodes of a reality television series produced by the production company he co-owns have been filmed.
Gold plans to play in at least five or six of the World Series events, including an attempt to defend his world poker crown in the main event. Gold also plans to head to Europe later this year to compete in the first World Series of Poker Europe tournament.
Gold also wants to play in several charity events throughout the year.
"I'm always learning and it's an honor to play against some these guys," Gold said. "I'm trying to do all the poker television shows and I'm looking forward to playing in Europe. I've become pretty focused."
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