The March Madness of world championship poker, the 64-man NBC After Dark series took place this past weekend at Caesars Palace, but it had a special significance for the 65th player.
“I thought it was some kind of scam,” said Bruce Miller, a 71-year-old retired real estate broker who left San Jose for Las Vegas in 1998 to hone his gambling strategy in both poker and blackjack. “I am the only one here who made it through a contest.”
We don’t believe Manti T’eo played a part in the contest, but it is clear Miller’s entry was very legitimate.
“The contest was held in Las Vegas and Reno,” Miller said. “NBC Channel 3 locally was in on it. You had to watch the 4 and 11 p.m. news. A password was given out, which I entered on line. It entered me in the contest so I downloaded the World Series of Poker software and played it for over a month.”
Two weeks ago Miller received an e-mail from Michigan saying he had won. He didn’t believe it. Then came another e-mail from a Caesars Palace representative who left a phone number.
“That convinced me this might be on the up and up,” Miller said. “I filled out an application, showed proof of Nevada residency, got it faxed off and here I am.
“Here I am” was Gossy’s Room at Cleopatra’s Barge this past Wednesday night where NBC and Caesars hosted a pre-tourney gathering.
“It’s great to have NBC Heads Up back at Caesars,” said the network’s host Mike Sexton. “It’s good for poker. Anyone can win and that is what makes it so much fun. Caesars Palace is a top notch facility, obviously. They put the players up at the hotel for a few days, give them spending money for food and chip in a lot to the tournament.”
The Series will be shown over the NBC Sports Network in March, having taken place last Friday through Sunday. The total prize pool was $1.65 million of which $700,000 went to the winner along with a separate $50,000 from NBC.
Sexton wouldn’t predict a winner, though did offer a view many agree with regarding the state of world championship poker.
“On the WSOP Tour, it seems like it’s all guys in their 20’s who make the final table,” he said.
The players were bracketed much like the NCAA basketball tournament with Miller being the odd man in. A dream come true, you betcha.
“It feels awfully lucky to me,” said Miller, who has won events in blackjack and has played in several major poker tourneys on the Heartland tour at Red Rock Casino (2010) and the Palms (2012). “I mean WSOP, c’mon. My first sitdown game with other guys was in 1962. Back then we played draw poker and stud. There was no such thing as Texas Hold’em then.”
Miller said he would play the WSOP Tour fulltime if fortunate enough to defeat the elite field, which included Annie Duke, Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Antonio Esfandiari, Jonathan Duhamel, Jennifer Harman, Daniel Negreanu, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Erik Seidel and actress Jennifer Tilly.
“The biggest name I was ever seated with was Orel Hershiser (past Cy Young winner with the L.A. Dodgers) at the Red Rock tournament three years ago,” Miller said. “He’s a real nice guy to talk to, but can’t play worth a darn. He went through money faster than water through a stream.”
Miller’s strategy would remain the same, play strictly how you feel.
“It takes concentration in poker and blackjack,” he said. “In blackjack you are seated with five or six people. If you think you are going to win every hand, you are going out early. In poker, it’s strictly a feel. Does the other person have it or not?”
Miller did not stay at Caesars, but his $25,000 buy-in was covered and he received $12,000 in expenses.
“I’d like to make it to the top 16 and cash,” he said. “Playing here is definitely one of the highlights of my life.”
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected]