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The Poker Ace

For Greg Raymer, winning the world series of poker took knowledge, skill and a little luck
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

(continued from page 3)

During the first six months, investors lost $12 per share. In the second six-month period the value of Raymer's stock went to $555, and in the third period it rose to $601. "After I won the World Series," says Raymer, "each share hit $36,300. My major investor got a check for $363,000, and I paid out a total of $2.1 million to shareholders."

Asked if he regrets having taken them on, Raymer answers without a moment of hesitation: "I'm happy. Without the backers I might not have been able to play in the Series."

When Greg Raymer arrived in Las Vegas for the 2004 World Series of Poker, he was coming in as a bit of a loser. Though he won his seat via a satellite tournament on, between late February and May he was $45,000 in the hole. Then he dropped an additional $15,000 during the days before the World Series—never mind that he got to Vegas early with the intention of winning money.

However, on the Saturday night before his first day of Series play, Raymer won $5,000 in a satellite tournament at the Horseshoe. "I decided there would be no more poker till the big game," he says. "I wanted to go into the World Series on a win. I'm not superstitious, but it helps to be in a positive frame of mind. Otherwise you might not be making your best decisions."

That did not seem to be Raymer's problem on Sunday, the first day of the Series. He pulled cards when he needed them—flopping a set of 8s, then going all-in against an opponent with two kings—and played loose enough to negotiate some fancy moves, like a reverse bluff against the talented Marcel Luske. "He was under the gun [first to act] and made a raise that was three or four times the big blind—relatively standard. Three or four people needed to act before me. I quickly decided that when it came to me, I would look at my cards and, if I had aces or kings, I would push all-in and grunt. I wanted to do it in a real macho, caveman style, so he'd think I was bluffing. I looked at my cards, I saw aces, and instantly said, 'All-in!' Figuring that I had a bad, no-pair hand, he called me with ace-king, and I picked up more than half of his stack."

Raymer spent the day knocking out players and vacuuming stakes and wound up among the tournament's top 15 chip leaders. On the second day he continued playing gangbusters poker and began the third day, Tuesday, with $297,000. Ironically, despite starting the day in sixth place, he came close to getting knocked out of the Series by Michael "Mike the Mouth" Matusow, a highly emotional professional who finished sixth in the 2001 World Series.

The two players had been mixing it up a bit, and when Matusow raised Raymer in the big blind, Raymer called with jack-ace of diamonds. After the flop came 10-9-3 with two diamonds, Raymer made an unconventional bet: he went all-in, hoping to catch a straight or a flush, realizing that if he made a medium-sized bet, Matusow (who had more chips) would be likely to put him all-in anyway. Raymer hoped that the large bet would induce Matusow to fold.

Matusow became theatrical, begging, "God, this one time, let the good guy win."

He insisted that Raymer had to be on a bluff. After minutes of internal and external debate, Matusow decided to call. "We showed our cards, he had 9-7 for two 9s and jumped up from his seat, thrilled," remembers Raymer. "I asked him why he was so happy, since I was a 60 percent favorite with so many outs. I caught a diamond on the turn, and he kept trying to convince people that I would have made the same call if I had hearts in my hand instead of diamonds. But that was his mistake. I wouldn't have."

The clash with Matusow typified the day that Raymer characterizes as "a real roller coaster."

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