Cancer survivor gets second chance, wins WSOP Triple Chance event

10 June 2011

Every so often the World Series of Poker spawns a very special story that transcends card playing and places towering bundles of prize money and shiny new gold bracelets into their proper context.

David Diaz has provided such a story.

Beneath the glow of the Las Vegas Strip, Diaz won the $1,500 Triple-Chance No-Limit Hold’em Championship, collecting $352,808 in cash and a WSOP gold bracelet. But Diaz’ greatest lifetime victory took place 22 years ago.

As a child growing up in Honduras, Diaz was accustomed to daily struggle. His family’s daily ritual didn’t include casino gambling or entering big-time poker tournaments. Staying alive and remaining healthy were the equal to be being dealt pocket kings and aces.

For a little boy named David -- beset with the griping trials of incessant poverty, lack of nutritious food, and little opportunity for education or advancement – things were about to go from bad to worse. The four-year-old was hit with his biggest challenge of all when he was diagnosed with cancer.

At the time, for most children living in Central America, a cancer prognosis might as well have been a death sentence. Diaz had few medical facilities that could treat his condition. Worse, his family did not have the money to pay for proper treatment.

But Diaz and his family got a big break. In poker parlance, they hit a proverbial one-outer on the river. The “dealer” in the game of life and death was none other than the late, great actor and philanthropist Danny Thomas and the extraordinary medical facility he helped to create, called St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It was quite literally young David's salvation.

Diaz was taken from Honduras to Memphis, Tenn., to undergo medical treatment. Some years later, he was cured and cancer free.

Diaz and his family eventually went on to settle down as legal residents in the United States They moved to New Jersey, where he attended school. Diaz learned English. He made new friends.

Now, at the age of 26, Diaz is a professional poker player. He’s become a self-described “grinder,” which means he spends countless hours squeezing out a profit playing in cash games. In recent years, Diaz has traveled around the tournament circuit. Wherever the action may be, Diaz shows up. He could usually be found sitting in juicy cash games or hanging out with one of his many friends, who tend to congregate around major card rooms located in the American South.

Even with some modest success as a player, no one could have possibly foreseen the monster-sized score he would earn at this year’s WSOP. Diaz entered a $1,500 buy-in poker tournament with 1,340 entrants. Three days later, he was the new champion.

Late on a Thursday night, as Diaz reached across the green felt of the final table he had just conquered preparing to snap on his gold bracelet for the first time, what the rest of the world didn't know was -- he was a two-time winner.

The runner-up was Anders Meli from Norway. He is a 25-year-old student making his first WSOP in-the money finish. Meli made this one count, good for $218,183.

Andrea Dato, a 32-year-old poker pro from Rome, Italy, finished third for $138,044, while two-time gold bracelet winner Bill Chen finished fourth for $100,200. Corey Hastings, a 35-year-old manager from Amarillo, Texas, finished fifth, Richard Trigg, 1 26-year-old poker pro from Sheffield, U.K., was sixth, Justin Sternberg, from Post Falls, Idaho was seventh, 24-year-old poker pro Nicholas Rampone from Las Vegas, Nev., was eighth, and Matthew Henson, a 30-year-old Navy veteran and poker pro from Joliet, Ill., was ninth.

The top 144 finishers collected prize money. In addition to Chen, former WSOP gold bracelet winners who cashed in this event included: J.C. Tran (28th), Cliff Josephy (37th), Carlos Mortensen (40th), Ted Forrest (80th), and David Sklansky (142nd).

Remarkably, all of the first dozen gold bracelet winners have been first-time winners. In fact, several tournaments (five of 12) were won by players who had never previously finished in-the-money in any WSOP tournament.

Tournament summary provided by Nolan Dalla, WSOP Media Director, reprinted by permission.

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