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The $12m man who struck gold...and found himself

Hollywood agent Jamie Gold beat more than 8,700 players at the 2006 World Series of Poker to win $12m - the richest prize for any sports or TV event in history. So how did he hold his nerve - and what drove him on? Richard Jeffries reports.

by The Suited Connector PokerJolt June, 3rd 2010
Overall: 3.89
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Jamie Gold collects $12m at the 2006 World Series of Poker

Above: Jamie Gold collects $12m at the 2006 World Series of Poker

While the other players are trying to get the best cards - I'm trying to figure out how to beat people

Most poker players would be crowing for decades if they had destroyed the best players on the planet to become World Champion.

Not Jamie Gold.

The 40-year-old may have won more in a single tournament than any player in history, but four years on from his incredible victory in Las Vegas, Gold insists he still has a lot to learn.

And the Californian still insists he out-psyched, rather than out-played, his opponents at the Rio Hotel and Casino that famous summer.

"I sit down at every table with the same strategy. I want to find out how my opponents are playing - and work out how to beat them,” he says.

"While the other players are trying to get the best cards - I'm trying to figure out how to beat people.

"And sooner or later I seem to be able to trick most of them into giving me all their money!”

When he says he “tricks” his opponents, Gold actually means he winds them up. His style of play was dubbed “controlled chaos” by some observers at the 2006 WSOP - and it’s easy to see why.

He talks as much as any of the great players - including motor mouth Greg “Fossilman” Raymer - and eliminated countless players on his route to victory by irritating them into playing loose - or persuading them to call when he had the best hand.

“That’s how I play,” admits Gold.

“At home, in cash games, at casinos - that’s what I do. I know it bothers some people, but I have to do it. I have to confuse people - nobody ever knows what I’m doing, and I usually figure out what they’re up to.

“Somehow I need to get them to throw away the best hand - or call with the worst hand. That’s what happened in heads-up on the final table against Paul Wasicka. I won because I got him to call with the worst of it. That’s a decent skill.

“Some players are accomplished because they’re the best poker players. I’m great at the psychological part of the game. But I’m also still trying to learn to become a great poker player.”

Poker isn’t like other sports - winning the WSOP main event takes a lot of talent - but just as much luck.

Roger Federer is the World No.1 and the best tennis player on the planet. Gold might be World Poker Champion, but he’s not in the same league as the very top players. And he knows it.

It was a point hammered home on the way to his victory when he came up against three-time WSOP gold bracelet winner and friend of Pokerjolt Daniel Negreanu.

“Everyday I would think about my table and I crushed every table I played,” he says. “Except for one. The one I was on with Danny Negreanu. I could not beat him. He was amazing.

“I think he's incredible. I tried to bluff him and he caught me with the one hand we were in together - thank God he wasn't at the final table! I can't play as well as he plays, but I played pretty well in that tournament.”

Gold only won one tournament prior to being crowned World Champion - the $200 No Limit Hold’em Stars and Stripes in Los Angeles in 2005 - but was hardly new to the game.

He grew up in a family of card players and his mother, who stood with Chan to cheer her son on throughout the final few days - was a fanatical poker player herself.

Gold’s grandfather was a gin rummy champion. More importantly, Gold himself had been a long-time devotee, playing nearly 40 hours a week online and in LA card rooms.

“Whenever I'm not working, all I do is play poker, and I really love it,” he says.

Gold has worked a an agent for big-name stars including Lucy Liu and Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman and after his unlikely win he was able to add another A-lister to his books. Himself.

So was he ready to be a star? “No, not at all,” chuckles Gold.

“There was a moment when I thought I didn’t want to win. I didn’t want the celebrity that came along with it.

“But then I realised that I did really want it, to prove to myself that I could do it. That it would probably never happen again."

When anyone wins big at anything, the cliches inevitably start about it not “being all about the money”.

In Gold’s case, it was true.

Minutes after his win he made an emotional telephone call to his step-father, 76-year-old Robert, who was suffering from advanced motor neurone disease, a devastating muscle wasting illness. He died in December 2006, just months later.

Now Gold runs his own charity foundation aimed at raising money for various causes, including the brutal disease that killed his father.

" I watched my father suffer for six and a half years and I felt helpless and lost," he says.

"When you win the WSOP you have to make choices about how you’re going to spend your time.

"I came to realise I could either devote myself to playing on the professional poker tour or I could devote myself to helping others.

"I get so much out of doing these things for personal reasons.

"It’s the satisfaction of helping people, rather than just playing poker all the time."

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