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By Emily Ingram  |  June 15, 2010; 8:05 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
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Posted at 2:31 AM ET, 11/10/2009

Moon chopped down by Cada, finishes second

darvincadaThe champ is here. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Reuters)

LAS VEGAS -- Darvin Moon's storybook run at the World Series of Poker Main Event did not have a happy ending for the lumberjack from Oakland, Md.

The self-effacing, self-taught amateur who repeatedly said he didn't really know how to play the game finished second at poker's marquee event, losing a see-saw heads-up battle to Joe Cada, a wunderkind from Shelby Township, Mich., who, at 21, became the youngest champion in the 40-year history of the World Series.

Moon, who'd won his $10,000 World Series seat at a $130 buy-in tournament at West Virginia's Wheeling Island Casino, received $5,182,928.

But the consolation prize was a disappointment given that Moon held a three-to-one chip advantage over Cada as the Monday-night match stretched into Tuesday morning.

Moon got picked off running a semi-bluff on the night's 79th 80th hand, which gave the chip lead back to Cada. Not long thereafter, Moon gambled by calling off all of his chips with a drawing hand -- the queen and jack of diamonds -- against Cada's nines. Moon did not improve his hand and lost the tournament that had turned him into something of a folk hero.

Cada's prize: $8,547,042 and a place in poker history.

"It don't bother me one bit," Moon said. "It's only money. But don't get me wrong -- the money's nice. ...

"Am I sad about it? Am I depressed? Hell no."

ESPN will air an edited version of the Main Event finale tonight at 9. The broadcast will mostly center on the grueling nine-way session that began Saturday afternoon and stretched into a sleepy Sunday morning before there were just two players remaining. But the ESPN program will also include at least several hands from Monday's heads-up showdown, for which Moon earned raves from poker pros and analysts.

"I'm proud of you, Darvin," poker star Phil Hellmuth told Moon immediately after the match.

ESPN's Bernard Lee told Moon that he played Cada "like a pro."

"I had a really good feel for the game this evening; I still feel good," Moon said.

Moon will return to Oakland later this week and get right back to reality: He said he plans to work on Friday then blow off a little steam by playing in the bi-weekly tournament at Elks Lodge #2841. Entry is $30 and first place will pay something like $600. Not storybook, but it's something.

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 10, 2009; 2:31 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (16)
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Posted at 7:19 PM ET, 11/ 9/2009

Twittering Darvin Moon's World Series Quest

After a lengthy hiatus, the WSOP Main Event finally resumed Saturday at the Rio in Las Vegas. Darvin Moon -- the self-effacing, self-employed logger from the woods in Western Maryland ("the Paul Bunyan of Texas hold 'em," as dubbed by the WaPo Style desk) -- is close to giving his storybook run at the World Series a fairytale ending: He survived a marathon roller coaster ride of a session and currently sits at second in chips. Moon will play internet whiz Joe Cada heads-up Monday night for the champion's bracelet and the $8,546,435 first-place prize. Check here for real-time developments, or follow me at for the same updates.

Previous Updates »

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 9, 2009; 7:19 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
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Posted at 2:31 PM ET, 11/ 9/2009

Sponsors + Darvin Moon just don't add up

darvinfinaltableNo companies could convince Darvin Moon to let them land their logos on his WSOP clothing in exchange for money. He's happy, however, to rep the New Orleans Saints and Wheeling Island Casino for free. (Photo by Laura Rauch/AP)

LAS VEGAS -- And now, a word from Darvin Moon's paid sponsors:

(Cue chirping crickets.)

When the World Series of Poker Main Event resumed Saturday, all nine players wore black shirts with baseball caps, and there were logos everywhere -- mostly for Internet poker sites.

Phil Ivey, Steve Begleiter and James Akenhead had Full Tilt logos on their shirts and hats. Joe Cada, Kevin Schaffel and Eric Buchman were serving as real-life poker stars for Poker Stars. Jeff Shulman was repping Spade Club, while Antoine Saout was backed by Everest Poker.

And by backed, I mean paid handsomely: The Internet poker sites pay the players at the Main Event final table top dollar to serve as human billboards for their brands, with six-figure deals the industry standard and win-it-all bonuses that can reach seven figures, according to one poker agent. (As one of poker's biggest stars, Ivey has a long-standing deal with Full Tilt; Akenhead had signed on with Full Tilt, too, before the World Series began.)

As for Darvin Moon, he was wearing his usual New Orleans Saints cap with the team's fleur-de-lis emblem on the front and a black polo shirt emblazoned with subtle, stitched purple-and-gold logos for Wheeling Island, the West Virginia casino where Moon won his WSOP seat in a satellite tournament. "I'm just doing it out of respect," he says.

The Saints aren't paying Moon, either, but the team has sent him a bunch of free hats and shirts and has invited him to be their guest at multiple games. "We don't have any formal agreement with Darvin," says Greg Bensel, the team's vice president of communications. "I just reached out to him because he's a committed Saints fan who lives in the middle of Steelers country and has done something special at the World Series of Poker."

Surrounded by so many bigger, brighter logos, Moon looked a little bit like the guy driving the family sedan in a NASCAR race when the final table convened on Saturday.

The Internet poker sites wanted to land him, of course -- even if he's never played a single hand of poker online (and, in fact, doesn't even use the Internet, not even for email). The sites kept making offers to get Moon to slap their logos on his outfits, and he or his lawyer Jack Turney kept saying no, thanks.

The money was good (one even offered a small ownership stake), but it was never going to be good enough, Moon says, given that deals would have obligated him to travel to poker tournaments in places he didn't want to be and participate in other sponsor events that just didn't interest him.

"When I'm done with this tournament, I'm done," he says. "But these guys want to sign me for a year and say: 'You've gotta do this, you've gotta do that.' You become their" property. (Moon actually used a more forceful word that rhymes with "rich.")

"I've been self-employed my whole life. I've never had a boss, I never want to have a boss. I do what I want to do every day. I'm turning down a lot of money, but I don't really care about it. I told them: 'You don't have enough money to sign me and tell me what I have to do.'"

At least one poker site eventually offered Moon six figures for a final table deal in which he'd wear their logos on Saturday and Monday at the final table and then they'd be done with each other. But the deal stipulated that the company would pay Moon's $10,000 buy-in at the 2010 Main Event and give him a five-figure bonus to wear its logos again. "They said there were no strings attached, but I told Jack, my lawyer, to throw it in the trash. They'd have me tied up for next year. How is that no strings attached?"

Moon's stance has made him both a curiosity and a hero in the poker world, as he's been told repeatedly here how great it is that he's so principled and isn't selling himself out. Not that the overtures and offers have stopped; during a break at the marathon final table session on Saturday night/Sunday morning, for instance, poker pro Phil Hellmuth told Moon that he'd really like to find a way to get Moon signed to Ultimate Bet. Moon told Hellmuth that they couldn't afford him.

"My freedom and my happiness isn't worth all the money in the world," Moon said after Hellmuth walked away

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 9, 2009; 2:31 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 11/ 8/2009

Darvin Moon will face Joe Cada for the WSOP title

darvinfinaltableCan you guess which one's the lumberjack? (Photo by Laura Rauch/AP)

Darvin Moon, everybody's* favorite poker-playing logger from Oakland, Md., was one of two survivors of the wild final-table session at the World Series of Poker's Main Event in Las Vegas over the weekend.

The 46-year-old amateur will play 21-year-old internet-poker whiz Joe Cada heads-up for the world championship late Monday night.

Here's my report on the longest final table in Main Event history:
"The lumberjack fells some giants in Las Vegas"

* Phil Ivey and Steven Begleiter might not love Moon, who hit three-outers against both players to eliminate them from the tournament. Moon's AQ ran down Ivey's AK and his AQ ran down Begleiter's pocket queens.

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 8, 2009; 12:45 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Poker Stars  
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Posted at 12:15 PM ET, 11/ 6/2009

World Series of Poker for dummies: A primer

LAS VEGAS -- If "expected value," "double-gutted straight draw," "Durr" and "Lon McEachern" mean something to you, stop reading this post right now.

If, however, you're interested in the ballad of Darvin Moon but don't understand the lyrics, well ... this one's for you.

The primer is after the jump.

Continue reading this post »

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 6, 2009; 12:15 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 11/ 6/2009

Darvin says he's got no game. Is he bluffing?

darvinmoonwoods.jpgMoon slashed his way through the Main Event field in July, but he keeps saying he doesn't really know how to play poker. (By Ricky Carioti/TWP)

LAS VEGAS -- Not long after the World Series of Poker Main Event broke for its 114-day hiatus in July, a production company contacted chip leader Darvin Moon about flying down to Florida to record a poker-strategy video. Moon declined.

"I don't have a strategy," he told me yesterday. "To be honest with you, I don't really know what I'm doing when I play poker." Then, repeating a joke he's told me dozens of times during our various conversations, he added: "I'm not real intelligent." Beat. "Be sure to put that in there."

No wonder poker nerds have taken to calling him "Darvin Gump."

Moon has made this a major part of his WSOP narrative, hard-selling the angle to anybody who will listen, including his fellow players. Especially them. He repeatedly plays up his lack of poker-playing experience and skill, noting that he accumulated nearly a third of the chips at the final table simply by getting great cards: "I had just an unbelievable run for eight days." Better to be lucky than good, etc.

During an interview yesterday with ESPN for Tuesday's final table broadcast, Moon told producers that he prefers Texas Hold 'Em over Omaha and other forms of poker, because "it's the only game I know how to play -- and I'm not sure I understand it." (Never mind that he learned to play stud as a kid, long before picking up Texas Hold 'Em.) Moon observed that he's the worst player among the November Nine. He insisted that he'd prove nothing by winning the Main Event's $8.5 million first-place prize, other than this: "I got lucky one year."

After the taping, he was walking near the casino floor at the Rio, where the World Series is staged, when a fan wished him luck. "I'm gonna need all the luck I can get," Moon said. During a short gambling session at a table game based on Hold 'Em, he joked to last year's big-fish-out-of-water, third-place finisher Dennis Phillips, that he was still hoping to learn how to play poker before the final table convenes Saturday.

Later, when the November Nine came together at the Rio's 51st floor outdoor patio for a group video shoot, Moon continued to work the angle, insisting to poker pros Eric Buchman (second in chips at the final table), Kevin Schaffel (sixth) and James Akenhead (ninth) that he'd be willing to fold pocket aces before the flop if his tournament life depended on it. In so many words, they gently told him he was nuts and tried to explain why that's an incorrect play.

So is Moon really a fish (a favored poker term meaning lousy player; synonymous with "donkey") who just got hit with the deck unbelievably hard in July? Or is he a sandbagging card shark? Or something in between?

"He's probably the worst player at the table, but he loves to advertise that," ESPN poker announcer Norman Chad said. "He's a wolf in sheep's clothing. He does some things that suggest he has a higher skill level than he gives himself credit for. There's a little shark in him, a little pool hustler in there."

Phil Ivey, the game's most famous and feared player (seventh in chips), called Moon's bluff at the VooDoo Lounge last night. "You don't know how to play? B.S." Ivey told the amateur.

Jeff Shulman, the president of Card Player Media, who has the fourth-most chips at the final table, told me in September that there's more to Moon's game than he's letting on. "Darvin tries to say he's not that good, he's just an amateur who got lucky and ran really well for eight days. But at some point, you can't say you're just lucky. He was making good decisions."

Shulman cited the final hand played in July, when Moon busted Jordan Smith in 10th place. Smith had pocket aces and re-raised before the flop. Moon called, caught a third eight on the flop and bet into Smith, who moved all in with the second-place hand. "A lot of inexperienced players would check in Darvin's position," Shulman said. "But if he's putting Smith on a big hand like aces, he might be able to get all of his chips if he leads out (with a bet). It was an extremely advanced move for somebody who says he is not advanced."

Andrew Feldman, the poker editor for, told me last night that he's been thinking quite a bit about Moon's self-deprecating image as a luckbox who will be in trouble if he actually has to play real poker at the final table. Feldman has come to this conclusion: "Darvin is playing a meta game that we haven't seen before. He's trying to portray himself as this complete aw-shucks amateur who's going to let the other players run over him. But I feel that he might be setting them up."

Or is he?

"I don't think he's sandbagging," said Bernard Lee, co-host of's poker program, "Inside Deal." "I think he's better than he's giving himself credit for publicly, but he's also being realistic when he says there are eight better players. I think what he's maybe saying is that they have more experience playing in these tournaments, and that's true. Let's be honest: He got great cards, and he's going to need to keep getting them to win."

For what it's worth, late last night, in between bites of beef tenderloin and sips of Bud Light, Moon said that he's written down some of his strategies -- the ones he says he doesn't have -- and is thinking about the possibility of releasing a book should he do the unthinkable and win the Main Event. "It'll be called, 'How an Amateur Can Win the World Series of Poker,'" said Moon, who boasts that he's never actually read a poker strategy book himself.

Was he bluffing? I didn't get a good read on him. I must not be very intelligent, either.

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 6, 2009; 10:43 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Sandbagging  
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Posted at 2:05 PM ET, 11/ 5/2009

The Other Eight: Rating the final table field

novembernine.jpgThe November Niners look chummy here, but they'll be in full-on combat mode this weekend when they fight for poker's biggest prize. L to R: James Akenhead, Jeff Shulman, Phil Ivey, Antoine Saout, Darvin Moon, Joe Cada, Steve Begleiter, Kevin Schaffel, Eric Buchman.

There are, of course, eight other players at the World Series Of Poker Main Event final table in addition to that Darvin Moon guy.

In case you haven't been following the action and storylines on ESPN or elsewhere, here's a rundown of the rest of the field, with WSOP chip counts, Bodog's odds for each player to win the Main Event and scouting reports/observations from ESPN's poker announcers Norman Chad and Lon McEachern.

Each player is already guaranteed at least $1.26 million; top prize of $8.5 million goes to the player with all the chips at the end of the tournament. (Moon currently has about a third of the chips in play.)

Eric Buchman, New York poker pro, 34,800,000 chips, 3:1 odds to win
"Early in Main Event, he was a non-factor," McEachern says. "We saw him go all-in and had to catch lucky to stick around. But with almost 35 million chips, this is the guy that I think has the best chance to win. He is just a quality player with a number of strong finishes on his poker resume. He has a great even-tempered attitude, never gets too high, never gets too low. He's sitting pretty in second place. He's got some short stacks off to his left that he can maybe take advantage of. I would fear Eric Buchman if I were the other eight players."

Steven Begleiter, former head of corporate strategy for Bear Stearns, 29,885,000 chips, 11:2 odds to win
"Probably the lightning rod player at the table," Chad says. "Most of the poker community has a bigger opinion on him than anybody else, partly because of his Wall Street background, party because of the hands he played that we saw in which he got pretty lucky. He had a lot of gamble in him. He was fortunate to win in some situations in which he should have lost. He knows how to play big chips. He's the second oldest player at the table, at 47."

Jeff Shulman, president of Card Player Media, 19,580,000 chips, 4:1 odds to win
"He doesn't have a lot of results, but he certainly knows the game," McEachern says. "He learned from past mistakes. He made the final table of the Main Event in 2000, the year Chris Ferguson won it. He's said he was not ready for that experience. That was the first World Series event he played, and he had his lunch handed to him. He looks back on that as a great learning time. Obviously, in his role as editor of Card Player, he's steeped in the game. He talks to the players; he plays the game. It was his time again this year. Obviously, very solid. He's going to be a very dangerous force."

(Phil Ivey, James Akenhead and more after the jump.)

Continue reading this post »

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 5, 2009; 2:05 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
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Posted at 10:32 AM ET, 11/ 5/2009

Would a Darvin Moon win be good for poker?

moonelks.jpgSpreading the gospel of poker, one local Elks tourney at a time. (By Ricky Carioti/TWP)

So, would a Darvin Moon win be good for poker? There's been much debate about this in recent weeks, especially on pokernerd forums such as Two Plus Two.

A representative yes "vote": "I say good because every working class man in the US is going to try playing poker if they haven't already." .Or, to put it more colorfully: "darvin moon wins = more fish."." That math is based on what happened after the 2003 Main Event, when Chris Moneymaker, the perfectly named Tennessee accountant and poker hobbyist, improbably took the World Series title and help trigger a post-millennial poker explosion that swelled the game's ranks. (One obvious bit of evidence: The 2003 Main Event attracted 839 entrants; in 2004, the number was 2,576. This year's field was 6,494 players deep.)

On the "no" side, one Two Plus Two poster writes: "Moon is not going to do anything to promote the game. He's just gonna retreat into his country hamlet in Maryland. But more importantly, Moon's victory severely undercuts the argument that poker is primarily a game of skill. And that is bad right now because Congress will soon debate Barney Frank's proposed legislation restricting Internet gambling. Thus far, Moon has been the biggest luckbox of this WSOP and perhaps in main event history, next to Hal Fowler in 1979."

The anti-Moon crowd usually suggests that the best possible outcome this year -- if not the only acceptable one -- would be a Main Event win for poker pro Phil Ivey, who is widely considered the game's best player. If Ivey wins, the thinking goes, it might help prove to lawmakers considering legislation to regulate Internet gaming that poker is not, in fact, a form of gambling, because skill trumps luck.

Who's right? Maybe everybody.

"I see huge upsides for both players winning," ESPN poker announcer Lon McEchern says. "I'm not sure you're going to have a Moneymaker effect with Darvin Moon, but it's going to re-instill the hope with people who are your everyday up-at-6 work-till-dark players who are watching these shows that they have a chance. As for Phil Ivey winning, obviously it would be one of the best things to ever happen to the game and you might have another resurgence."

McEchren's broadcast partner, Norman Chad, makes Ivey his annual pick to win the World Series. He ranks Moon ninth in skill level among the November Nine.

Yet he's hardly rooting against the amateur from Oakland, Md. -- unlike the 2003 Main Event, when Chad wanted the flamboyant poker pro Sam Farha to beat Moneymaker when they were heads-up for the Main Event title.

"I was rooting for Sammy Farha. Why? I was an idiot. I was stupid and did not see the effect that a Chris Moneymaker win would have. It's not the same thing here, not as drastic. But if Darvin can pull it off, I think it becomes the stuff of storybooks."

Moon's take? Let everybody else argue about his impact on the game should he manage to win the World Series. He'll be too busy laying low in the woods of Western Maryland to throw himself into the debate.

"I don't think I'd be bad for poker, but I wouldn't be good for it," he tells me. "I'm not going to be an ambassador for poker like Dennis Phillips is. I'll play in the World Series next year, but that'll probably be the only big tournament I'll play in. As soon as I finish up [this year], I'll come back home and go into the woods. I'm not gonna run and hide; I'm just going back to work cutting timber. And that probably doesn't make me good for poker."

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 5, 2009; 10:32 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
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Posted at 11:41 AM ET, 11/ 4/2009

Dennis Phillips to Darvin Moon: 'Relax'

dennisphillipspoker.jpgDennis Phillips -- the original Darvin Moon -- has some advice for this year's chip leader. (And no, it's not 'don't bluff off your stack when you completely miss the flop with T9 off.')

If there's one person who knows what Darvin Moon is going through right now, it's Dennis Phillips, the Darvin Moon of the 2008 World Series of Poker. (Or is Moon merely the Dennis Phillips of 2009?)

When the 2008 tournament broke for an unprecedented, months-long hype-building hiatus, Phillips had the chip lead -- and all the attendant attention and pressure. The 26,295,000 poker chips, he liked. The rest of it, not so much.

"It's a whole collage of feelings that nobody can prepare you for," Philips said over the telephone on Wednesday. "You're apprehensive, because you really don't know what to expect. You're worried that you'll have a poor showing. You've got everybody and their brother throwing their advice at you. You're in the middle of a media blitz that you've never experienced before and probably won't experience again.

"It's no fun."

Last year, Phillips was an anonymous amateur card player who worked as an account manager for a commercial trucking company in St. Louis. Then he became the breakout star at poker's marquee tournament, though he wound up busting out in third place to collect $4,517,773.

Moon was an anonymous amateur card player from Oakland, Md., where he (still) works as a self-employed logger. He's reluctantly become the breakout star at this year's World Series of Poker Main Event, which resumes in Las Vegas on Saturday, when nine players will vie for the $8.5 million first-place prize.

But playing poker on the game's biggest stage won't even be the half of it when Moon flies back to Las Vegas tomorrow, Phillips said.

"It will be like nothing he's ever experienced. He's going to get hit from all sides, microphones stuffed under his face, everybody asking what he's going to do, how he's going to play, cameras flashing, autographs. It's just crazy. If he sits down, catches a hand within the first hour or so and doesn't play it well, it's all they're going to talk about. There were times [last year] when it got a little ridiculous.

"I was extremely lucky that I was surrounded by a big group of friends who would step in when it got crazy, almost forming a bodyguard circle around me when I was trying to get from place to place. It was unbelievable. When we had a break during the final table, they had to make a circle formation around me to get me through the crowd. Otherwise, I never would have been able to get away to get any free time."

Phillips has chatted with Moon on the phone several times since the 2009 World Series was paused in July. They've discussed poker strategy and media strategy, Phillips said, and they've also talked about dealing with the pressures and demands of being the top dog among the November Nine.

As Moon told The Washington Post in a front-page profile, he spent a good chunk of October in the woods, hunting with friends in Wyoming. Sound strategy, according to Phillips.

"With his type of attitude and life structure and such, I think that was a good thing to do. He went on out West and just disappeared for a couple of weeks and tried to clear his mind. I agree with him on that.

"I've also recommended that he get some free time in Vegas. He has my phone number and knows I'm coming out tomorrow. I fully expect at some time that he'll call me and we'll sit down and talk. I don't give a damn if we talk about elk hunting; he just has to talk about something non-poker. He has to relax."

By J. Freedom du Lac  |  November 4, 2009; 11:41 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Poker Stars  
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