Atypical Player Profiles

Anyone looking for strange ducks in the pond known as the World Series of Poker (WSOP) can throw a chip in any direction and be pretty sure of hitting one. Each of the top pros has a unique story to tell, and the aspiring bracelet seekers are no less stranger.

Take, for example, 2009 World Championship runner-up Darvin “Gump” Moon. The technology-averse lumberman from Maryland celebrated his $5 million cash by buying his wife a special gift—a lawnmower. The rest, he said, went in the bank—not exactly your typical winner’s celebration.

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When Different Is Normal

It certainly seems like the more diverse the entries at WSOP events become, the more difficult it becomes to stand out from the crowd. What once was unthinkable has quickly become commonplace. A case in point is the rise of the “poker geek.”

Since 2003, when Chris Moneymaker went from winning an online satellite tournament to the undisputed World Champion, players at WSOP events are just as likely to have paid their dues online as in smoke-filled poker rooms. Old-timers like Doyle Brunson have to vie with fresh-out-of-school youngsters who’ve studied theoretical mathematics, computer engineering or rocket science.

A case in point is “Gobboboy” Jimmy Fricke. The 25-year-old Illinois native dropped out of college to play online poker fulltime. After meeting with success on the Internet, he went “live,” winning A$1 million in the Aussie Millions tournament in 2007. The big fellow has cashed at nine WSOP events since then and now resides permanently in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, the world of poker has been getting smaller. There once was a time when a non-American winning the WSOP Main Event made big news, but not so any longer. Since 2007, only Joe Cada has managed to carry the Stars and Stripes to victory (2009), preceded by Denmark’s Peter Eastgate (2008) and followed by Canada’s Jonathan Duhamel (2010) and Germany’s Pius Heinz (2011).

Taking Atypical to New Levels

To be noticed within WSOP circles nowadays, you’ve got have something really special. For instance, being vegetarian, like Howard Lederer, is no longer atypical enough. Players who want to make food statement have to go full-on vegan, like Daniel Negreanu did in 2006. Among other notable card-savvy vegans are 2003 bracelet winner Prahlad Friedman and poker author Ed Miller.

Odd looks certainly aren’t unusual at WSOP events, either. There are always plenty of funny outfits, weird hats and even crazed-looking players clashing cymbals at the start of play. Among consistently unique wardrobes, the Wild West desperado outfit of Chris “Jesus” Ferguson is definitely worth noting. Much the same, 2004 bracelet-winner Greg Raymer deserves a nod. The patent attorney nicknamed “Fossil Man” always wears his trademark holographic glasses at the table, a fashion statement no one can miss.

Be First or Only

Women at the WSOP final tables are no longer uncommon; to be noteworthy you have to be ground-breaking or unique, like Barbara Enright. She was the first woman to win an open WSOP event (1996 Pot Limit Hold’em), the first woman to win three WSOP bracelets, and (so far) the only woman to have made it to the final table of the Main Event.

There are lots of film stars at the WSOP table nowadays, but Jennifer Tilly became the first Academy Award-nominated actress to slip on a WSOP bracelet (2005). Similarly, players don’t talk a lot about their sexual preferences, which made Vanessa Selbst atypical as the first uncloseted lesbian to win a bracelet (2008).

Thuy Doan had the distinction of being the first female amputee to reach a WSOP final table. Before losing her battle with cancer in September 2011 at age 25, the gutsy Vietnamese immigrant cashed four times between 2008 and 2010. Her courage was an inspiration to the likes of Barry Greenstein, Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey.

Just as inspiring has been the poker play of Mike “The Foot” Wilson. He was born in 1951 without arms or a left leg, yet he became a successful stock broker, skilled in both backgammon and bridge. He holds cards between the toes of his right foot. While playing online at PartyPoker in 2006, Wilson won a $10,000 entry to the WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas, where he failed to cash.

Two years later, the broker returned to play in the WSOP on his own dime and met his personal hero, Daniel Negreanu. The poker pro was in awe of the amateur and autographed a book for him, writing “Play Good, Mike ‘The Foot’ Wilson – The Most AMAZING Poker Player in the World.”