The new WSOP main event champion has divided opinion following his big win, so is Jamie Gold really bluffing the poker world?
|I was showing a lot, I was bluffing a lot and I was talking a lot. I played around 80% of my hands. And that’s what confused people|
You probably feel like you already know Jamie Gold, the new WSOP main event champion. You’ve no doubt read about his background as a Hollywood talent agent, heard about him being sued for half his winnings and been astonished by his self-aggrandising statements. In fact, you may well have drawn a pencil sketch of an arrogant guy who got crazy lucky for one week in August and ended up $12 million richer. But if you have, then you don’t know Jamie Gold at all.
The trouble is, the 36-year-old TV producer from Los Angeles just won’t fit neatly into any of the boxes we may have. He’s not arrogant in the way you might think. When we caught up with him via a phone from his LA base, he certainly wasn’t shy of celebrating his own achievements, but he does so with a degree of wide-eyed wonder. Take the following comment, for example: ‘Norman Chad, the colour commentator on ESPN, told me he would describe it as the greatest performance in poker history. I thought, “Wow, I must’ve done something right.”’ Even though it’s a story he’s told many times, he races through it as if it’s the first time he’s ever had the chance to tell anyone. It’s not his opinion, but he’s thrilled that someone else thinks that way.
It’s not how things are supposed to be done in the poker world, and it’s rubbed some people up the wrong way. You’re supposed to win, shrug your shoulders and carry on with your life. You win some, you lose some. That’s poker. But Jamie Gold is not a grizzled Vegas veteran. He doesn’t live by the gamblers’ code. He’s from Hollywood via New Jersey (neither places renowned for their reticence). He’s an ex-talent agent, managing the careers of stars such as James Gandolfini from The Sopranos. He knows there’s no value in talking down your achievements.
THE FAMILY MAN
But, and this is a crucial distinction, he’s not saying anything that isn’t true. He knows what his place in the poker world is, probably more than most. And when Allen Cunningham’s name is mentioned, Gold unhesitatingly says the pro is the better player. ‘But for that one day I was better,’ he adds. He’s as likely to follow up a line of almost dazzling boastfulness with something sincere, humble and heartfelt. His family clearly mean the world to him, and when Gold talks about wanting to use the money to help his father (who is suffering from motor neurone disease), it’s impossible not to warm to him.
It’s tempting to place Gold in the box most of us already had reserved for the new World Champion – an average guy who got very, very lucky. But what Jamie Gold did was so far beyond this. He led the field for more than 50% of the tournament. He annihilated the final table, knocking out seven of the eight players. And he did it playing a style of poker that was simply astonishingly impressive big-stack poker. Was it good? That really depends on if you believe Gold or his opponents. The way Gold tells it he was in a zone where he was reading players like a book. His actions may look eccentric, even wildly loose, but he insists it was controlled chaos.
It was certainly extraordinary. Not least in relation to his way with words. What began as a way of relaxing and enjoying his time at the table by engaging foes in conversation soon escalated to something almost mystical. He seemed to consistently find ways into his opponents’ heads, talking them into folding or calling – even down to the last hand, where he seemed to hypnotise Paul Wasicka into calling with the worst of it.
Gold thinks the best example of his talking style was when he got 20th place finisher Prahlad Friedman to lay down a hand. ‘I had King-high and he knew it. He put a great read on me and I said, “You’re absolutely right, I’ve got nothing and this is going to be a huge pot.” I kept talking and talking and he said he knew he was right but his hands couldn’t make the call.’
It’s just one example of the way Gold bamboozled his fellow players. He’d tell someone he’d hit trips, they would call. He’d say he had King-high and they would fold like a cheap suit. If it was a cunning double bluff then Gold is a genius. If, as he suggests, it was more ingenuous, then it was still dazzling entertainment. Perhaps because of this, poker fans worldwide have been quick to label him an undeserving champ, and the legal action isn’t helping his cause. But we’re here to talk about poker, so we start by asking how it feels being labelled history’s worst WSOP winner…
THE CHAMP SPEAKS
We caught up with Gold to shed light on the secrets of taking down poker’s richest prize
Does it annoy you that people are now calling you lucky?
It would only be upsetting to me if people who I respect remembered me that way. But you watch Chris Moneymaker – he got really lucky. He also played well, but he got lucky. I never got lucky like that. It wasn’t as if I caught hands on people where I was behind and went all-in. I always had my money in with the best of it. How do you call that luck? It’s ignorance.
Do you think your fellow pros respect your game?
What I have heard from players like Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth and Chris Ferguson is that I put on a masterclass in poker. I played like the best player in the world. Daniel Negreanu was criticising me the whole way on the final table, and by the end he was saying I was playing amazingly. If you really know poker, you will see I made great reads on people. People say that I played really poorly when Allen Cunningham called me with Ace-high. But I made a great play – he made a better call. If you put a read on someone thinking they have nothing (and Ace-high is nothing) and you don’t put a bet in, then you’re playing terribly.
Did you go in thinking you could win it?
Each day I took it on as a challenge to beat the players at my table. I wasn’t thinking about being the chip leader, I wasn’t thinking about anything other than just getting through my table. For the first day I got no cards and I got very unlucky. I played pretty good short-stack poker. I was 0-6 in heads-up confrontations, but somehow I survived. And then on day three I went on a good run.
When did you start thinking about winning?
From day four the press was calling me the winner. In the beginning, I felt like it made no sense. Show me a chip leader in the middle of the tournament and I’ll show you a guy who didn’t win. But I had a chip lead, every day I would double that lead and soon I started to feel like it was mine to lose. I was never all-in after three hours from the end of the first day. Nobody has ever come close to dominating the tournament like that before.
Once you got that chip lead how did your playing style change?
I was showing a lot, I was bluffing a lot and I was talking a lot. I played around 80% of my hands. And that’s what confused people. I decided I was going to do everything I was not supposed to do. It’s the way that I play cash games. I usually don’t play tournaments that way because I don’t normally have such a chip lead. I’d hate for people to copy this style, because they will be losing players. It’s a terrible way to play, but it was the right way at the right time. Everything has to be aligned and everyone has to play the way you want and everything has to go your way for that to work. And I’ll probably never do that again.
Were you not tempted to ease off a little on the final table?
Every pro said sit back, you don’t have to play a hand and you’re guaranteed second place. But I was not planning on sitting there for 24 hours and grinding it out with Allen Cunningham. I knew I was in this incredible zone – I had a read on every player I was playing with and I wanted to go after them. It may never happen again, but my strategy was to take each and every one of them out.
One of your final table opponents, Richard Lee, has criticised the play you made when, holding pocket Queens, you called his all-in push with pocket Jacks. What do you make of that?
He made a big mistake and I trapped him. That was my plan for four hours – to get a decent hand and trap him. I knew 100% in my mind my Queens were good, and you can see that in how quickly I called. I understand that he is bitter, but how can you make a mistake by calling with the best hand? I still have a lot of respect for him. Maybe he doesn’t think I deserve respect, but I still like him and he was the player I was most afraid of. That’s why it took me four hours to beat him.
Before the final table you said you didn’t want to win because of the fame, but when you got there you played as if it was all that mattered to you. What changed?
I wanted to win – I really did not want the fame. If it came with no fame that would have been great. But it doesn’t, and I badly wanted to win. Now I will happily take the fame as I don’t want to discount the value of the WSOP champion. I’m also very loyal to my sponsor Bodog, who have treated me more kindly than they need to. I owe it to them to show up and try to win more tournaments.
What are you going to do with the newfound fame and the money?
I’m going to do a lot of good with this money. I’m going to create a foundation of my own and work in conjunction with various different charities. My goal is to be more like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates than just a poker player. Being a poker player is a very highly skilled and honourable profession but that is not all I want to do with my life. I’m going to spend my time equally in business and creating wealth so I can help a lot more people.
And with that our time with Gold is up, as he heads off back to his day job in TV where he is currently working on producing a show called The Hottest Mom in America. It’s a bathetic end to the conversation, but in a sense it doesn’t really matter what Jamie Gold does next. Much like Bob Beamon’s epic long jump in Mexico 1972, what comes before or after won’t diminish the magic of what was achieved that one night in the Nevada desert. Jamie Gold earned his place in poker history – and he’s got every right to tell us so.