30 October 2009

Las Vegas: MOTs play poker

Tracing the Tribe is not always about genealogy, per se. It also covers the achievements of members of the tribe in various fields. Today it's poker.

A certain generation of us remember our male relatives playing cards (friendly or for money), and our female relatives playing cards or mah jong. But, as noted before, those weren't places where millions of dollars changed hands. They were decidedly small stake games.

Today, we trace the MOTs even to Las Vegas, where four (out of nine) are in the finals of a really big stakes poker tournament.

The Forward's story, by Ron Dicker, called them "Chai Rollers."
In defiance of the odds on a scale of, say, holding a royal flush, four of the nine players who will be sitting at the final table at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas are Jewish.
The competition begins November 7, with a $8.6 million top prize.

Where did some of these top players pick up their skills?

While many Jewish studies say that Jewish summer camps are one of the best ways to transmit and preserve Jewish values, Tracing the Tribe didn't know poker was part of it, although that's where one finalist learned the ropes.

Jeff Shulman, 34, learned the basics of poker at B’nai B’rith summer camp in Neotsu, Ore. He quickly parted bunkmates and their money. “It was fairly natural for me.”
You maybe thought that extra money for your camper was going for ice cream?

And although the Talmud says that a father must teach his son to swim, I hadn't heard that the next line was "teach him to play cards for big money." Jeff's father, Barry Shulman, is also a top player and took home $1.3 million at the World Series European Championship, on October 1 in London. The tournament was halted for a day because of Yom Kippur.

Jeff studied with his father to master the high stakes game, and in 2000 he also qualified for the World Series championship table, and finished seventh. He says he's always believed he was a good money manager, and doesn't think of it as Jewish.

Shulman lives in Las Vegas. The other three MOT finalists are Steven Begleiter, 47, (Chappaqua, N.Y.), Eric Buchman (Valley Stream, N.Y.) and Kevin Schaffel (Coral Springs, Fla.), are the latest to reach the top level of a game with a large number of Jewish participants. These top nine players are what's left of 6,500 people from 115 countries who entered the competition months ago.

“We simply can’t explain this statistic,” World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and tournament director Jack Effel said through a spokesman. Bo Bernhard, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s director of gaming research, also was stumped, and said he could offer “zero explanation.”
Other MOTs who have won big recently are Hollywood agent Jamie Gold, who took home $12 million at the 2006 World Series Main Event. Player of the year for 2006 Michael Mizrachi won almost $7 million.

How are other MOTs involved? World Series titleholder David Sklansky has written poker theory books. Brother-and-sister duo World Series event winners, Howard Lederer and Annie Duke still play at a top level. Read about the Babe Ruth of high-stakes poker Stu Ungar in the complete article.

The story quotes Tel Aviv University sociologist Giora Rahav:

“I’d say that there is reason to believe that Jews have a higher rate of participation in gambling than their neighbors. As for making money by gambling, the only thing I can think of is that the [Jewish] tradition of well-controlled drinking applies here as well. If they are well controlled, they lose less.”
A woman eliminated early on, Martha Frankel, noticed the preponderance of MOTs:
“You look around that room at the World Series of Poker,” she said. “If somebody started speaking in Yiddish, half of us would have looked up.”
Read about Frankel's life and her book in the complete article.

Begleiter got involved in middle school, but made a commitment in the suburbs, playing in a basement poker league with his friends, who are also benefiting from his participation. Read about his profit-sharing arrangement with his friends in the article.

Rounding out the story, Begleiter pointed out that no matter each player's nationality or religion, the main point was luck. Mazal is a good thing!

“We all had our share of good fortune in getting here,” he said. “The Red Sea definitely parted for me a couple of times.”
Read the complete article at the link above.

1 comment:

  1. I knew Shulman was a solid player by watching Poker Superstars competition a few years back, but since he has been out of the limelight for so long, it was hard to believe he made it so far. I think Shulman and Ivey were the class of the table and Moon and Cada succeeded simply from hitting a lot of timely hands.