With fame, Dannenmann still plays the same hand


LAS VEGAS -- Last summer after winning $4.25 million for finishing second in the World Series of Poker championship event, Anne Arundel County accountant Steve Dannenmann vowed that the unexpected fortune and likely fame would not change his life.

It hasn't.

Unless you count being stopped by strangers who want to have their picture taken with him.

Or attending charity poker events at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.

Or playing in golf tournaments with Baltimore Ravens.

Or being recognized at fancy parties by Hollywood celebrities who want to chat.

Well, you get the idea.

The likable Dannenmann - who begins play in this year's WSOP No-limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship today - has stayed true to his promise to "not quit my day job" as a tax preparer and financial consultant. But it was also inevitable that his improbable odyssey in the suddenly popular and intriguing world of high stakes tournament poker would have its effect.

"I said in the beginning, 'Nothing is going to change, nothing is going to change' but you can't help some things," the 40-year-old CPA said. "People come up to you and give you their business card because they want you to get in a business venture with them or they invite you to their country clubs. ... That's cool, but I haven't taken them up on it."

Dannenmann often joked during last year's poker championship that he wasn't even the best player at his suburban Baltimore home game and on a little card of advice, his No. 1 rule was, "Have fun." That self-deprecating, good-natured attitude has been portrayed on ESPN's presentation of last year's WSOP dozens of times and as a result, fans see him as approachable.

It has its inconveniences - interrupted conversations and strolls to a poker room now take three times longer.

But the celebrity also has perks. In Las Vegas, Dannenmann gets restaurant tables quickly when there's a line. Last winter, he was invited to a Playboy Mansion charity card tournament where Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, also a poker player, stopped his own conversation to seek out Dannenmann. Earlier this week, when former baseball star Jose Canseco was trying to get some friends inside the velvet ropes at a Las Vegas event and was rebuffed, Dannenmann had the clout to help him out.

"In the poker world, in the casinos, the poker players are the celebrities," said Mark Schaech, one of Dannenmann's home game buddies who has been on the poker trail often with the accountant since last summer. "Even the celebrities think the poker players are the celebrities. ... Here, the poker players rule."

Schaech, who owns a local body shop, is one of eight players from the now-famous Severn home game who is in Las Vegas for the poker world championship that requires a $10,000 buy-in.

The event is approaching record-shattering participation. There will be a field of nearly 9,000 players entered when tournament owner Harrah's Entertainment stops taking entries tomorrow. There were 5,619 last year. The event has gotten so huge, four starting days are required, and it'll run through Aug. 10. The winner will earn more than $11 million.

The Baltimore group - called the New Cut Crew from the street where the home game is played - has already been singled out by ESPN. Arrangements have been made for all of them to start today, the third starting day, so that camera crews can follow their play.

Also on the New Cut Crew and playing in the main event this year is Jerry Ditzell, who put up half of Dannenmann's entry fee last year and shared equally in the $4.25 million prize.

Another crew member is David Silverman, a Canton mortgage broker, who finished 201st in last year's championship, winning more than $33,000. Silverman, who won his WSOP entry this year at a country club tournament, has had shirts made for the Baltimore crew with a logo and player names on the back.

"I'm convinced at least one of us is going to do well," Silverman said.

Since his big payday last year, Dannenmann has played solidly in bigger tournaments and earned another $100,000 after making the final table at a Tournament of Champions event during the winter. And he has qualified for the Professional Poker Tour, which allows him to play in lucrative tournaments without putting up an entry fee. But so far at the current World Series, Dannenmann has not made it into the money in the dozen or so tournaments he has played.

The WSOP is actually a collection of 45 events, which began in late June, and Schaech is the only New Cut Crew member to have a 2006 World Series cash-in so far, winning more than $11,000 for finishing 33rd in an early hold 'em tournament.

New Cut player Nick Angelo, who manages a family-owned liquor business, arrived in Vegas on Friday and immediately dove into a poker tournament at the Bellagio casino with Schaech and Dannenmann as a warm-up for today.

"The most important thing is to have fun," Angelo said, echoing Dannenmann's credo from a year ago. "Everything else is a bonus. That's the great thing about our group of guys, they all have the same attitude."

"It's not about the money," Schaech added. "It's about the camaraderie, the enjoyment, the competition. My goal this week is just like Steve's - No. 1, have fun."


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