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Trump Cards: The U.S. Poker Championship

Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Wayne Gretzky, Mar/Apr 97

(continued from page 2)

But funny things can happen when you're playing for $500,000 under the hot television lights, with hundreds of spectators (including the guy who owns the casino) watching your every twitch. Hellmuth begins day three playing his typical game, steamrolling anyone who dares to challenge him. After a string of "bad beats," i.e., unluckily losing hands when he is the odds-on, mathematical favorite, Hellmuth goes "on tilt," as gamblers say, and begins playing poker with his boiling emotions, not his cool head. This is not the recommended method for winning a major championship, whether you're a master of the game or a "Baywatch" nymph. Hellmuth does not last; late in the day, Ken Flaton, from Henderson, Nevada, sends the former world champ packing. Shortly thereafter, Flaton eliminates Surinder Sunar, from Wolverhampton, England, and earns the title of United States Poker Champion.

Flaton tells me he grew up across from Manhattan in North Bergen, New Jersey, and worked briefly as a vendor at Madison Square Garden, where he sold peanuts and popcorn. After a brief career as an accountant and bookkeeper, he took up poker professionally. That was 22 years ago.

"I'm very proud to have won this championship in its first year," Flaton says, elated by his victory. "That's like becoming part of history. I'm going to look forward to coming back here next year as the defending champ. Something tells me," Flaton says, smiling wryly, "that next year is going to be even bigger and better."

Contributing editor Michael Konik is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist. Talking with Trump

Casino and real estate magnate Donald J. Trump has brought big-time poker to the East. His Taj Mahal poker room is the dominant parlor in Atlantic City, and his United States Poker Championship is the second largest poker tournament in the world. Cigar Aficionado met with Trump in the casino's Alexander the Great penthouse suite to talk about this addition to his gambling empire.

Cigar Aficionado: What is your personal poker background?

Trump: My life is a poker match.

CA: Are you a player?

Trump: I've never had time to play seriously. I've been too busy to really focus on poker. But my life is a series of poker games. Ins and outs. Ups and downs. Highs and lows.

CA: Why have you created the United States Poker Championship? Why here and now?


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