Frankenberger beats Ivey to win WSOP Pot-Limit Hold'em title, $445K

14 June 2012

Some people are simply born to succeed in whatever they do. Andy Frankenberger is such a man.

Consider the remarkable story of the Major League Baseball game that Frankenberger attended several years ago. The Boston Red Sox were playing the New York Yankees. One of 60,000 fans crammed into Yankee Stadium that day, Frankenberger caught a foul ball. No big deal, right?

Then, he caught another.

That’s right – two foul balls in one game. Not just any game, a Yankees-Red Sox game. To put this into some perspective, most fans – even season ticket holders – would rarely snap up more than a single ball in an entire baseball season, if that. But as we said, Andy Frankenberger lives a charmed life.

This is not to say he’s lived an easy life, nor has he skated through what self-imposed challenges he's faced -- whether it was getting his education, an early career on Wall Street - or playing poker at the highest level. Frankenberger is the latest World Series of Poker gold bracelet winner – make that two-time winner. He won the $10,000 buy-in Pot-Limit Hold'em World Championship, overcoming several chip disadvantages along the way, not the least of which was against the player many call the best in the world.

Frankenberger collected the hefty sum of $455,899 in prize money. However, the notion of nearly a half-million dollars awaiting him in the cashier cage seemed almost an afterthought, as Frankenberger beamed beneath the bright lights of the ESPN television stage, proudly displaying the luminous treasure from his second WSOP victory.

No doubt, the 39-year-old professional poker player is one of this year’s most intriguing personalities. A native New Yorker, Frankenberger actually grew up in Massachusetts and later lived in Siberia (yes, as in Russia) for one year, as an exchange student. He learned to speak Russian fluently and remains conversant in the language. Frankenberger attended and graduated from Duke University, earning his degree in economics.

Following graduation, Frankenberger took his ambition and energy to Wall Street and succeeded as an equity derivatives trader. He made a lot of money. He loved his job. Then, during the absolute pinnacle of his success as a trader, Frankenberger did the unthinkable.

He quit.

Frankenberger's decision to leave a highly-successful and lucrative career on Wall Street reveals a lot about the man he is, and what he most values in life. Frankenberger explained his decision this way: He could have hung around for another year or two and continued to make a lot of money. But he felt he was not growing as a person. He sought new challenges.

After taking some time off and exploring the world, Frankenberger began playing tournament poker. He played in several mid-grade tournaments around the country. Much to his surprise and delight, he quickly discovered an affinity for the game. He also discovered a new passion. Indeed, the lessons he had learned from his previous life -- of risk management, maintaining emotional control, and complex problem solving – served him well at the poker table.

"I left Wall Street having no idea that I was going to play poker professionally," said Frankenberger. "With the successes, I decided to do so. And it was a great decision. I’m really enjoying myself. I’m traveling, playing poker. And I couldn’t be any happier with the decision."

Two years ago, Frankenberger started playing full-time on the tournament circuit. He traveled around to major tournaments. He won two major events in 2010, in the process earning an honor as the World Poker Tour (WPT) Player of the Year. But as impressive as Frankenberger’s rapid ascent seemed, he had yet to prove himself on poker’s grandest stage.

That all changed last year in a $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em event when Frankenberger won his first WSOP title and the whopping sum of $599,153 in prize money.

But incredibly, for all his seemingly instant success, there were still detractors. Annoyed at a playing style that can only be described as unorthodox, Frankenberger's unique methodology flew in the face of just about every poker principle. He seems to bet when others thought he should fold. He'd raise when others thought he should call. He'd fold when others thought he should call.

Of course, the "others" of this Frankenberger morality tale -- loud and as obnoxious as they were and are -- remain mostly cyber-anonymous, behaving like jealous schoolboys after seeing the other guy get the girl and the gold.

And so -- preposterous as it may sound, despite winning multiple major tournaments including a WSOP gold bracelet a year ago, Frankenberger still thought he had something left to prove. He got his chance to do just that in the most challenging test in the grandest arena possible.

Frankenberger could not have written a more perfect script to not only quiet his critics but to kick them in the groin and laugh all the way to the bank. He final-tabled one of the toughest tournaments of the series, and then managed in gradual succession to topple Hoyt Corkins, Daniel Weinman, Matt Marafioti, Shaun Deeb, Manuel Bevand, Alexander Venovski, Ali Eslami, and then finally, Phil Ivey.

From the look on Phil Ivey’s face at the conclusion of the Pot-Limit Hold’em World Championship, one couldn’t tell if he had actually won or lost. The expression always stays the same.

Ivey’s cold and calculating stare – omnipresent and always so intimidating – masked what was likely great disappointment. The poker icon, famous for once asking after a previous gold bracelet victory, “Hey, how much is the prize money? I have no idea how much it is,” demonstrated that the passion to win and succeed sometimes isn’t enough. (In this case, second place paid $275,559.) This is especially true when the player sitting at the other side of the table, in this case the ultra-unorthodox and supremely sharp Andy Frankenberger, is equally driven to win.

Afterward, Ivey walked away without saying a word. Within minutes, he’d left the building. To where? No one knows.

But Ivey will be back. He will inevitably take center stage again at some point in the future and will play at the very highest level, completely indifferent to the rest of us watching in awe of his natural talent.

Indeed, with all eyes focused on "the man," Frankenberger dug in, dug down, and played the heads-up match of his life. He was down to Ivey a few times during the duel, but still managed to scratch and claw back. Finally, Frankenberger got it all in after the flop with a pair of aces. Ivey found himself on a draw for his tournament life. It was Ivey that needed to get lucky. But, that wasn't going to happen. Not against Frankenberger. Not on this night. Not with stakes this high.

"Winning a bracelet is everyone’s dream, but beating Phil Ivey is like a fairytale," said Frankenberger. "I can’t even believe it just happened. He’s such a great player; I learned a lot from playing with him at the final table. I adjusted my game. He plays unlike anyone else that I’ve ever played. Obviously, I have a very short career, but I tried to adjust my game to his style."

Alas, a second gold bracelet now belongs to Frankenberger, representing two WSOP victories. Which again brings up an incredible story. Did you ever hear about the guy who went to a Yankees-Red Sox game and caught two foul balls?

Eslami's payday for third was $199,623, Venovski claimed $147,345 for fourth, and Bevand earned $110,731 for fifth.

With 179 players in the tournament, the top-18 finished in the money. Antonio Esfandiara (12th) and Bertrand "ElKy" Grospellier (18th) cashed but did not make the final table.

Last year, this tournament drew 249 players. This year, turnout dropped more than 28 percent.

Modified from tournament notes provided by WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla.

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