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Poker pros recall playing against Einhorn

David Einhorn competes in the 2006 World Series

David Einhorn competes in the 2006 World Series of Poker at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. (Aug. 7, 2006) (Credit: Getty Images)

My nephew, Aaron Gustavson, is a poker pro, and between his connections and the sleuthing work of our own Jim Baumbach I was able Friday to track down several accomplished players to talk about David Einhorn's 18th place finish at the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2006.

Three of the people I talked to actually played against Einhorn that year as the future part-owner of the Mets finished 18th to win $659,730, all of which he donated to charity.

Here is some of what was said:

Dan Nassif, who finished ninth in the 2006 WSOP, winning $1,566,858, said he spent many hours playing at the same table as Einhorn, and found him to be a “really, really nice guy,’’ who gave no hint of being a financial titan.

“I had no idea who he was,’’ Nassif said. “He didn’t come across as someone who would have $200 million. He was very laid back, respectful and down to earth. He was a solid, solid player. I remember he knew the math. You could tell that. He was definitely a player you had to look out for.’’

Nassif, 37, now is in medical sales in St. Louis, where he also owns two restaurants. He no longer plays poker regularly. He said he recalled Einhorn when he heard the news Thursday that he was the preferred buyer for a minority interest in the Mets.

“That was neat,’’ he said, adding that while he is a Cardinals fan his two best friends are Mets fans originally from Brooklyn and Massapequa. “I wish him the best of luck with the Mets.’’

Like several other players from the 2006 Main Event, Michael Binger recalled Einhorn’s unusual attire. “I remember his colorful shirt with the painted handprints from his children,’’ said Binger, who finished third and collected $4.123 million in prize money.

“He seemed like a nice guy. I was somewhat aware that he was a rich hedge fund guy and was playing for charity. I don’t want to be negative. He was a very nice guy. But he definitely was an amateur player, so I was certainly looking forward to playing with him. He wasn’t terribly experienced from what I recall.’’

So how did he get that far? “It’s all probabilities,’’ Binger said. “The person who won that year, Jamie Gold, hasn’t done anything since then and frankly was one of the worst players ever to win, according to most accounts. There is a lot of luck in the short term in tournament poker. On average the better players will make it further and deeper, but that doesn’t preclude an outlier.’’

Binger said he played with Einhorn only for one day, when the field was trimmed from 27 to nine.

Prahlad Friedman, a poker pro who finished 20th in the 2006 event, initially wasn’t sure he recalled playing against Einhorn. Then he asked whether Einhorn was the guy with the handprints on his sweatshirt who “kind of looks like ‘The 40-year Old Virgin,’’’ – actor Steve Carell.

Bingo!

“I remember he was a real nice guy and was doing some good charity work,’’ Friedman said. “We knew he was some type of wealthy guy. I thought [giving away his winnings] was awesome. Obviously if he’s got millions if not billions, 650,000 relative to him is not a whole lot. But it was an incredibly generous donation.’’

Like other pros, Friedman said the WSOP Main Event is not the best way to measure poker acumen. “Jamie Gold won that year [in ‘06],’’ Friedman said. “He was not a very good player. There have been some players in the past that aren’t that great that have won the whole thing. Just because he made a deep run doesn’t mean he’s a winning poker player who could do it for a living.’’

Melanie Weisner, another professional, said the Main Event at the World Series of Poker, because it attracts so many non-pros, is among the easier events for an amateur to finish among the leaders.

That is because the higher the percentage of amateurs involved the more likely they are to be playing against other amateurs and advancing. That makes it more plausible, she said, to advance for “someone with a general knowledge of poker, assuming they are not playing like a complete idiot.’’

Pros often find playing against amateurs difficult because they are unpredictable, Weisner said. In any case, she said, finishing 18th in the Main Event is “definitely an accomplishment.’’

Ben Wilinofsky, who last month won 825,000 euros as champion of the Berlin stop on the European Poker Tour, said, “It becomes a numbers game where if there are maybe 500 or 600 professional players in the pool and 5,000 or 6,000 amateurs there is mathematically a good chance of one of those amateurs making a deep run or even making the final table.’’

On the other hand, Wilinofsky said, for an amateur to advance as far as Einhorn did in an event as large as the World Series of Poker, he or she must be on the ball.

“I would expect him to be a very smart guy to be managing a hedge fun,’’ Wilinofsky said. “It’s very likely that just by being an extremely intelligent person he’s better at poker than a lot of amateurs in the field. It’s definitely an impressive accomplishment for anyone to make it that far. But I’m sure he had a lot of luck on his side as well.”

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