Around the WSOP: Benevolence at its best

10 June 2008

When the life story of Eric Brooks is written some day, winning a World Series of Poker bracelet will likely be a small footnote.

Not that we want to take away from Brooks' astonishing victory in the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud World Championship yesterday because it was most certainly one of the biggest upsets of the 2008 WSOP. But when you're the co-founder of the one of the largest privately held financial institutions in the world and have made furthering the education of today's youth a primary goal in life, fending off a stellar field of professionals to take home first prize in a poker tournament pales in comparison.

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Amateur poker player Eric Brooks shocked everyone when he announced he was donating all of his winnings to charity. (photo by IMPDI for the 2008 WSOP)

Nonetheless, Brooks, a 48-year-old from Bryn Mawr, Penn., made sure the story of his first cash in a major tournament would be even more memorable when he announced that he would donate the entire $415,856 he won in the event to the Decision Education Foundation.

The DEF is based in Palo Alto, Calif. and, according to its Web site, strives to "improve the lives of young people by teaching them how to make better decisions" via workshops across the country where it trains teachers and mentors by "providing tools for creating and delivering classroom-ready decision skills curricula for students." Brooks serves on the DEF's Board of Directors. Ironically, renowned poker pro Annie Duke is also a member of the board.

"I feel good about what happened today. (The DEF) is an organization that I really believe in," Brooks said after prevailing over an impressive group of 158 players, including former WSOP champs Phil Ivey (9th), Daniel Negreanu (10th), Alexander Kravchenko (13th) and Robert Mizrachi (14th). Of the 16 players who cashed in the tournament, seven have WSOP gold bracelets on their wrists.

"Essentially what we do is we take the science of decision making, which is something that's university level, college course work, and teach the basic principles to grades K-12 around the country.

"Our mission is to make everybody aware that this fantastic curriculum is available and really what I call the forgotten subject of decision making. It's something that gets introduced in a formal matter to the classroom. We had a lot of success with it so far, and being able to add another $400, to it and what their doing in going to be pretty big."

Brooks founded the Susquehanna International Group of Companies (SIG). Since its inception in 1987, SIG has grown from a trading firm on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange to one that employs more than 1,500 people worldwide with offices across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Previously, Brooks spent more than 20 years in the derivatives industry and was a member of, and traded on, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange from 1981 to 1987.

Brooks, who bolted Las Vegas on Tuesday for Oregon to see his father for his 85th birthday, eliminated second-place finisher Fu Wong, a.k.a. "The Grasshopper," in heads-up play. Wong, a professional originally from China, who now lives in Arizona, collected $259,910.

"No, I did not expect to win," admitted Brooks, who in addition to his work with DEF serves as a member of the Board of Trustees at Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia and is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Legislative Education Action Drive (LEAD). "I guess all of us went home last night and thought about winning. We are all certainly hoping to win. But realistically, these are all really good players. You have to get lucky three days in the row, for sure, to win."


Crowd pleaser

Thanks to the presence of Ivey, Negreanu and Erik Seidel, the Seven Card Stud tournament drew the largest gallery of any event at the WSOP this year during Day 2 as fans lined the rails and stayed positioned until the final table was decided at 3 a.m.

Taking that into consideration, the crowds should be even larger when play resumed in Event 18, which is a $5,000 No-Limit 2-7 Deuce-to-Seven Draw Lowball with Rebuys. Heading into Tuesday's action, 39 out of the 85 entries were still alive and the list of notables still alive and kicking is quite impressive. Tom Dwan is the leader with 238,900 chips, but close on his heels are Mike Matusow (174,500), Tom Schneider (153,500) and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson (149,00).

Also in contention are Doyle Brunson (135,000), Phil Ivey (122,300), Chad Brown (117,200), Michael Mizrachi (116,900), Nick Schulman (97,700), Erick Lindgren (94,800), Robert Mizrachi (86,500), Eli Elezra (82,800), Howard Lederer (60,200), Barry Greenstein (57,900) and Todd Brunson (38,900).

It's safe to assume that this has the potential of a compelling final table. Stay tuned.


The Phil Ivey Watch

One of the worst-kept secrets at this year's WSOP is the prop bet that was offered up by Phil Ivey. Reportedly, Ivey has taken 1.8-to-1 odds that he wins a bracelet this year, and rumor has it that many of his fellow pros have taken his action. Considering that Seven Card Stud is one of Ivey's better games and that he was up against a rather small field, he had to be considered one of the favorites to win the $10,000 Stud tournament.

So that huge collective sigh of relief you may have heard bellowing out of the Rio early Monday morning was probably the people who took Ivey's action. Ivey had a big stack when play went to two tables, but eventually busted out in ninth place.

The next big hurdle for Ivey's detractors to clear will be the Deuce-to-Seven tournament where he was in 10th place heading into Day 2.


With friends like these…

An interesting scenario played out at the final table of Event #13 where two friends ended up squaring off against each other.

Canadian pals Duncan Bell and Shawn Buchanan came to Vegas together searching for a WSOP bracelet and both made the final table of this $2,500 No Limit Hold'em event. Bell will head back north with bragging rights as he prevailed and took home the $666,697 first-place prize. Buchanan finished fourth and collected $218,491.

Bell, whose nickname is "Pumper" due to his propensity for aggressive play, knocked off Steven Merrifield of West Virginia in heads up play when his pocket aces held up over Merrifield's pocket tens. This was Bell's first WSOP bracelet but his second cash. He was 318th in the 2005 Main Event.

The final table at this event was memorable for a couple more reasons. First, it was one of the least-experienced final table lineups in WSOP history. In fact, none of the nine finalists had ever played at a WSOP final table before. Four of the nine had never previously cashed in a WSOP event of any kind. The highest prior finish belonged to Nicolas Levi, who took 26th place at last year's WSOP Europe championship.

Secondly, it was the quickest final table so far this year, finishing in slightly more than three hours after just 73 hands. So far at this year's WSOP, the average final table has run about seven hours in duration.

Three former world poker champions entered this event – including Jerry Yang (2007), Jamie Gold (2006) and Phil Hellmuth (1989). None cashed. In addition, talk show host Montel Williams was in the field. Williams, who was one of the chip leaders after Day One in last year's Main Event, says he intends to play in four or five events at this year's WSOP, including the Main Event. Actress Jennifer Tilly also played in the event. Neither Williams nor Tilly cashed.


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