Earning a few bucks between semesters is what a lot of college kids hope to do during the summer. And Jeff Madsen, a senior at Cal State-Santa Barbara, is no different.
Except in Madsen's case, the haul this summer has been a little more than $1.4 million - and counting.
The 21-year-old film student not only became the youngest person ever to win a World Series of Poker championship, but he has done it twice.
About a week ago, he set the age record when he took down a no-limit hold 'em $2,000 buy-in tournament at the Rio All-Suites Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The 45-tournament poker World Series, which began in late June, culminates with the famous no-limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship that runs from Friday through Aug. 10.
Madsen was 21 years, 1 month and 9 days old when he slipped on his first championship bracelet July 16 after besting a field of 1,578 other players. Remarkably, on Saturday, he won still another tournament, a short-handed no-limit hold 'em $5,000 buy-in event, outlasting high-profile professional Eric Lindgren in a heads-up showdown. Both wins were worth more than $600,000.
Even before those victories, Madsen had made a final table in an Omaha tournament that was good for nearly $100,000. The previous youngest WSOP winner was Eric Froelich at 21 years, 3 months, 3 days, last year.
Of course, the main event is still ahead for Madsen, but he has told WSOP officials that he still intends to return to college in the fall.
Becoming the poker World Series' youngest champion was the ambition of McDaniel College senior and Howard County resident Peter Calvo. Calvo had built a $60,000 war chest from Internet poker play and has been spending the summer in Vegas in tournaments and cash games.
Calvo, whose 21st birthday was June 20, still has a few days to edge Madsen but the window is closing rapidly.
Calvo's only World Series cash-in occurred over the weekend in a no-limit hold 'em $2,000 buy-in event where he placed 193rd in a 2,050-person field, which was good for $1,632. He has also won a single-table satellite that earned him a $10,000 seat in the upcoming World Series main event.
Among the thousands of players prepping for the poker world championship is Odenton resident Cindy Wesley.
Wesley qualified for poker's biggest tournament with a $16 buy-in for an Internet satellite on PokerStars. Two of the past three main event champions, Chris Moneymaker in 2003 and Greg Raymer in 2004, started the trek to poker's summit on the same Web site.
A Defense Department employee who works in logistics, Wesley said she once played in an all-women's tournament in Reno and occasionally sits in at cash games in Atlantic City casinos but that most of her experience is online and in home games. She earned her seat in the World Series while on vacation in Bethany Beach, Del.
Wesley said that when she began playing poker on the computer, she had an agreement with her 9-year-old daughter that they would split any winnings but now that the prize they're talking about could be as much as $10 million, "we've had to negotiate that down," Wesley said.
"I'm just going to go [to Las Vegas] and do my best, hopefully have a little luck and have some positive energy from the people rooting for me," Wesley said.
Participation in the World Series main event has grown exponentially over the past few years. From 2003 to 2005, the number of entrants rocketed from 839 to 5,619. Harrah's Entertainment, which owns the tournament, is bracing for as many as 8,000 players this year.
But despite the burgeoning popularity of poker, live events are still overwhelmingly dominated by male participants and in World Series history, only one woman has made it to the main event final table - Barbara Enright, who finished fifth in 1995.
Wesley, who describes her playing style as "tight but at the same time try to be intimidating," says the predominantly male composition of the field doesn't concern her.
"I grew up in sports playing softball, soccer with men and women," she said. "I've played [women's] rugby in college, so it's no big deal to me. The way I look at, I'm just one of the people out there."
Another Maryland accountant has made his mark at the poker World Series. Last year, Severn CPA Steve Dannenmann finished second in the main event, winning $4.25 million. This year, Benjamin Lin, a Rockville accountant, won a seven-card stud $5,000 buy-in event worth $256,620. Finishing two-three at that final table were pros Sean Sheikhan and Cyndy Violette, respectively.
And Gaithersburg's Farzad Rouhani finished second in a no-limit hold 'em $2,000 buy-in tournament, winning more than $429,000.