Former U.S. Marine and Iraqi war veteran wins gold bracelet at WSOP

29 June 2011

Poker often uses the terminology of warfare, which is ridiculous. Poker is not war. War is war.

Ken Griffin knows this fact all too well. He was once a proud United States Marine, where he served his country for 10 years. He served in various military posts around the world -- including Iraq. Following his distinguished service, Griffin’s career duties shifted to the role of civilian. Yet he remained committed to supporting the efforts of servicemen and women, many of whom were not simply his clients or business associates – but his close friends.

Now employed as a defense contractor, Griffin has spent considerable time traveling to and from both Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s seen more than his share of life-threatening situations, and loss. Griffin knows all too well, that war has no winners -- only losers.

Yet, Griffin perhaps more than anyone also realizes and understands the fragile balance between incremental success and looming failure. War is not like any card game, where there’s a fundamental respect for a common set of rules. War is not like poker, where some sense of victory is assured. Unlike poker, war does not bestow fame or riches upon those who partake in it.

Ken Griffin took a well-earned leave of absence from all that is wrong in some parts of the world, in an effort to reconnect with what's right and enjoyable to millions of his fellow citizens. He arrived back in the United States and decided to attend the 2011 World Series of Poker for a couple of days. Griffin hoped to play in an event, or perhaps two.

Griffin entered the most recent $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament, which was packed to near capacity with 2,890 players. The fact was, Ken Griffin was but one of thousands of mostly nameless faces in a very large crowd of dreamers.

Three days later, Griffin’s face is no longer nameless. He’s become a decorated poker champion. Griffin defeated a tough final table lineup and won what he considers to be a life-changing amount of prize money -- $455,356. He also received his first WSOP gold bracelet, a well-deserved amulet that he will wear just as proudly as the many medals he’s earned in battle.

Griffin is 34-years-old. He lives in Houston, Texas, when he's not working overseas. Incredibly, this marked the first time Griffin has ever cashed in a WSOP tournament of any kind.

Griffin’s journey from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the Rio in Las Vegas and the world’s most prestigious poker event is almost a surreal disconnect from his daily reality. Yet his voyage does not end with his victory. In fact, the real winner of this tournament may very well be his mother.

Sadly, Griffin’s mother was recently diagnosed with a very serious illness. He is back in the U.S., in part, to make sure his mother will receive the proper medical treatment she needs. Following his victory, Griffin revealed his plans for the prize money he won – and it’s not to enter dozens more poker tournaments.

“I’m going to take care of her and be closer to home,” Griffin said in a post-tournament interview. “I’m going to be transferring money into her account as soon as I get it. You know, she’s a senior, working-class, she’s going through some chemotherapy and medicine is expensive. She lives paycheck to paycheck, so I’m really looking forward to helping her out.”

Supposedly, there are fairly tale endings. Then, there are real life stories of good things happening to good people like Ken Griffin – a war hero, a devoted family man, and now, a WSOP champion.

Frenchman Jean Luc Marais was the runner-up, claiming $282,676, and Philip Hammerling from Baden, Germany was third for $199,366. Eric Baudry from Pasadena, Calif., was fourth for $143,991, and Andrew Teng from London was fifth for $105,262. Jonathan Lane from Menasha, Wisc., was sixth, former bracelet winner Antonio Esfandiari was seventh, Aaron Massey of Chicago was eighth, and Jeremiah Siegmund of Pittsburgh, Pa., was ninth.

The top 297 finishers collected prize money. Phil Hellmuth Jr. finished 28th in this event, marking his 83rd career cash at the WSOP. He is the all-time leader in that category.

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

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