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Winner Take All

After a week of bad beats and big bets, the 2004 World Series of Poker championship came down to a table of mostly unknown names
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

(continued from page 3)

After a week of bad beats, big bets, thousands of spectators, hundreds of reporters from around the world and continually escalating blinds, the World Series comes down to a final table of nine players—and it seems anticlimactic. Except for former champ Dan Harrington (ironically nicknamed Gamblin' Dan, for the legendary tightness with which he plays), it's all unknowns (most of whom qualified online), making ESPN's worst nightmare come true. The chip leader is a 39-year-old patent attorney from Connecticut named Greg "Fossilman" Raymer. He's a big guy who collects fossils and wears flashing hologrammed sunglasses, purchased a couple years ago at Walt Disney World's Tower of Terror ride: "Some people couldn't stand to look at me. One guy told me that the glasses made him sick to his stomach. That was good."

Raymer, who won his entry on PokerStars, has $8,215,000 in chips before him, nearly twice as many as his closest competitor, Texas college student Matt Dean, who also qualified on PokerStars. "I was in good shape throughout the tournament," Raymer says. "I won a small pot on the first hand I played and was chip leader at my table for the majority of the tournament. Only on day three did I get to a table where somebody else was ahead of me. I went from $300,000 to $200,000 in about 10 minutes. I was up and down like a yo-yo that day. Otherwise, though, it all went quite smoothly."

Raymer whittles down his opponents quickly and methodically, and wins the Series in what seems like no time at all, taking home $5 million without once being in danger of blowing it. (See story, page 82.) "My only problem when I got to the final table," he later says, "is I had to temper myself from pounding too hard. But I still went after the blinds more than once per orbit."

After winning the Series, with a pair of pocket 8s that gave him a full house, Raymer is invited to join a posse of top pros who are going to party at the Hard Rock Casino. He declines, as he's allergic to alcohol and not particularly fond of the bar scene. Folks at the Horseshoe want to upgrade him to a suite, and he rejects that, insisting that the bed in his standard room is perfectly comfortable. An agent who represents a number of poker pros for endorsement deals wants to discuss the possibility of signing up Raymer. Raymer tells the guy to mail him the information. This is not somebody who lets a poker championship go to his head. When tournament organizers offer to box up the money, so Raymer can take his prize in cash (or secure it in a Horseshoe lockbox), Raymer tells them to hang on to the money for now. He'll work things out in the morning. He has something else he needs to do: "I was tired," Raymer says a week later. "I went to my room, hung out with my family, watched myself on the news and went to bed."

Michael Kaplan is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist.

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