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'Shuffle up and deal'

W.Va. poker players have eyes on big prize

W.Va. poker players have eyes on big prize

April 25, 2004|By BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - Martinsburg, W.Va., residents Jim Boyd and Howard Mann have been friends for about two decades.

But that doesn't mean these two world-class poker players won't do anything to beat each other in a hand.

"When we're away from the table, we'll have lunch or have a beer," said Boyd, a former Sharpsburg resident and a 1971 graduate of Boonsboro High School. "But when we're at the table, we're trying to bust each other."

"I don't soft-play anyone," said Mann, a 1965 graduate of Martinsburg High School. "When I started in this, I said I'd check-raise my grandmother at the poker table."

Boyd, a professional poker player, and Mann, who has amateur poker status, both left for Las Vegas last week in hopes of winning preliminary events at The World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe Hotel and Casino. Both are trying to win a $10,000 per-entry seat in the tournament's championship event by taking first in a smaller stakes tournament.

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Being Martinsburg residents is not the only thing in common between the men.

Boyd and Mann both have won multiple tournaments throughout the country.

Among other notches on their poker belts, Boyd won Best All Around at the Queens Poker Classic in Las Vegas in 1994, and Mann took first in the World Poker Championship tournament in Atlantic City, N.J., in 2002.

Both also have won preliminary tournaments at the World Series of Poker, regarded as the most prestigious event in poker, and played multiple times in its championship event.

They've also been subject to plenty of jokes about West Virginia along the way.

"People used to come up to us and say, 'You must be the only two people in Martinsburg that know how to play poker,'" Boyd said. "Or they'd say, 'Sure, I've been to Martinsville' (which actually is in Virginia)."

Still, Boyd and Mann have different approaches to poker, both on and off the table.

Boyd, who has played professionally for nearly 20 years, talks almost constantly while he plays and relies on reading the "tells" ? mannerisms ? of other players before he makes a bet. Mann, who makes his living as an accountant, is quiet when he plays and uses mathematical odds of his own hand to determine whether he will bet.

If the level of their competition in recent years is any indication of whether they are ready to win at the series this year, they certainly are.

Both have played on tables with Phil Hellmuth Jr., known by many as "The Poker Brat," Kathy Liebert, one of the most successful women currently playing poker, and Howard Lederer, who Boyd regards as the toughest player in the game.

"You can't get better unless you play with the best," said Boyd, who was an advertising account executive with The Journal in Martinsburg before turning professional.

Mann, who goes by the appropriate nickname "The Tax Mann" when playing poker online, said it is every serious poker player's goal to "win the bracelet" and the cash, more than $2 million for first place, at the World Series.

Mann said no other tournament generates more buzz once players are in the room.

"There's an excitement in the air, and it gets really exciting when they say 'shuffle up and deal,'" Mann said. "Everyone has that dream that they'll be standing there at the end."

Mann joked that his first championship event was far from that "dream" when he got knocked out on the first day of the tournament. He had three of a kind, but an opponent had a full house.

"Once you plunk down that $10,000 and get knocked out in an hour, you start to think of all the things you could have done with that money," Mann said.

Mann recently befriended the player who did walk away from last year's series with the top prize, Chris Moneymaker. Going into last year, both were accountants with amateur poker status and past experience in the restaurant industry.

Mann said the success of Moneymaker, who won an online tournament that gave him a free seat in the series, in his first attempt and increased television coverage has helped poker's popularity spike during the last year.

"He turned $39 into $2.5 million," he said. "It's amazing how no limit Texas Hold'em took off since Moneymaker's story. It's not just at the series."

Boyd, who used to spend about six months on the road each year for tournaments, warns potential professionals and dreamers that it is not always as fun as it may look on television.

"It's a hard way to make an easy living," Boyd said.

"I used to weigh 180 pounds," he said with a laugh. "The chips don't weigh enough."

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