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Kevin Smith Shines Again at World Series of Poker

1 June 2004

If there was any doubt about the staying power of online poker, it was answered Friday night in Las Vegas when, for the second year in a row, an online qualifier won the biggest event in poker, the Texas No Limit Hold'Em final of the World Series of Poker.

"The way I see it, we are taking over their event"
- Dan Goldman

Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, a patent lawyer from Stonington, Conn., earned a spot in the 35th annual event after winning a $150 satellite tournament at Last year's champion, Chris Moneymaker, also qualified through a tournament.

But unlike Moneymaker, Raymer is an experienced tournament poker player who has taken part in land-based tournaments at Foxwoods Casino near his home and has traveled to play in other major events. He finished in third place in 2001 at the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods.

Moneymaker last year turned a $39 entry into a bottom-level satellite tournament into a $2.5 million windfall. The first tourney win bought him a seat in a $1,000 buy-in event with the winner advancing to the WSOP.

Raymer's route was different. He entered eight different PokerStars events and spent $2,600 before qualifying for the WSOP two days before it started.

"If I had lost that one, I was going to just pay the $10,000 to enter," Raymer said.

The WSOP is turning into a great publicity machine for, but new tournament policies could change that in coming years. Harrah's Entertainment, the company overseeing the event after purchasing Binion's Horseshoe Casino, prohibited players from wearing branded apparel during the final table.

The decision, made a few hours before final-table action began, caught PokerStars off guard. Dan Goldman, the vice president of marketing for PokerStars, said Harrah's officials told them the policy was implemented because online sites were "taking over their event."

"The way I see it, we are taking over their event," Goldman said. "Two years in a row now the winner has come from our site, and now this year we had the top two finishers."

Not only did PokerStars have the top two players in the event, but it was represented by four of the nine players at the final table. Twenty-eight PokerStars players finished in the money, with $11 million awarded to players form the site. Through its qualifiers, PokerStars represented 12 percent of the field. That group took home 40 percent of the prize money, most of it going to the final two players.

The site started sending players to the WSOP finals last year, when more than 40 players won seats through the site's qualifying tournaments. This year the site sent 316 players (more than any other site) to the final.

"I think 2004 will be a watershed year in the way the Internet player is viewed. The evidence is overwhelming. These guys got game."
- John Vorhaus

Nearly 40 percent of the 2,500-plus entrants to the tournament won their place in the final event by qualifying online. PokerStars was one of many sites--including Party Poker, Paradise Poker, Pacific Poker, Golden Palace and others--represented throughout the six days of the final event.

Raymer, who got his nickname after he started bringing part of his fossil collection to the table with him while he played, said PokerStars allowed him to play 100 to 200 hands during a session. What would take him a day at a land-based casino he could knock out in a couple of hours online.

"I spend a lot of time online," he said. "Online poker has been a big part of my development as a player."

Goldman said the practice that players can now get online has taken away a lot of the competitive advantage that seasoned pros once had.

"Players can get a huge amount of experience in a short time playing online and can translate that into success in major tournaments," he said.

Raymer also attributed his win to a run of good luck that lasted all week.

"I played the best poker of my life, and I got as lucky as I've ever gotten in my life for such a sustained period of time," Raymer said. "I was able to advance past a lot of great, great players."

Raymer, 39, was joined at the final table by fellow PokerStars qualifiers David Anthony Williams, 23, Matt Dean, 25, and Mike McClain, a 39-year-old pro. They finished second, seventh and ninth respectively.

PokerStars will host the largest online poker tournament in the world, the World Championship of Online Poker, next month. The tournament will guarantee $4 million in payouts and is expected to draw over 20,000 players into its 12 events.

The Online Presence

As play progressed on Thursday and the field was narrowed down to the final nine, the presence of online poker sites was felt.

Only two renowned players, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Dan Harrington, remained. Both former WSOP winners, only Harrington made it to the final table. And even Harrington won his spot in the main event by winning an online tournament at Pacific

But online qualifiers are quickly getting a reputation as aggressive players, and Harrington got first-hand knowledge of this at the final table.

Harrington, the 1995 World Series of Poker champion, was knocked out by Williams right before the dinner break Friday evening. Williams had just a pair of deuces with two cards left to show, but kept pressing and knocked Harrington out when the fifth and final community card gave Williams a full house.

Andrew Glazer, an editor for Card Player Magazine, who also writes a gambling column for the Detroit Free Press, said that Internet players tend to be more fearless when it comes to going all-in during tournaments.

"Internet players move their chips all in more frequently than players who frequent card rooms or casinos," Glazer said. "They understand you can take a lot of skill out of the game by turning it into big-bet poker."

John Vorhaus, who writes for and is the author of "Killer Poker," a book on game strategies, said this year's victory proves the Internet winner is no fluke.

"I think 2004 will be a watershed year in the way the Internet player is viewed," Vorhaus said. "The evidence is overwhelming. These guys got game."

Mike Sexton, a longtime poker pro and now host of the weekly World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel, also said anyone overlooking an Internet player is making a big mistake.

"The first thing these longtime pros do that is wrong is look at an Internet player and don't take them seriously," Sexton, who is also the spokesperson for Party, said. "These players aren't dead money anymore. If anything, they know strategy more than a lot of the pros who work off of just reading other players." Shines Again at World Series of Poker is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith