Dynamite Dave

David Williams won $3.5 million finishing second in poker's grandest tourney, but dammit, that's just not good enough

For six days--that's how long it took to whittle down the tournament from thousands to a handful--he made precious few mistakes. He played for 12 hours a day. During the breaks, he'd get together with Boeken and Boeken's friend from Amsterdam, Marcel Luske, a 51-year-old considered to be one of the best in Europe (he took 10th at this year's WSOP, winning $373,000). Williams, Boeken and Luske would work through hands together and talk about strategy.

It was an invaluable resource for Williams to have Luske as his de facto coach. At one point, when there were only 50 players left in the tournament, and Williams was on a short-stack (poker-speak for having few remaining chips), Luske took him aside for some counseling. He told his young friend that he was going to have to play a hand that he didn't want to, something like ace-nine off-suit, meaning two dissimilar suits. (Poker for dummies: When playing hold 'em, two cards are dealt facedown to each player. Then three cards come faceup in the middle of the table for community use--called the flop. Then a fourth community card is dealt followed by a fifth and final community card known as fifth street or the river. Between each round there's betting. In no-limit hold 'em, at any point you can bet everything you have. The winner is the player who can make the best five-card hand out of his two hole cards and the five community cards.)

With 10 or so players at a table, ace-nine off-suit isn't a terrific starting hand. But when you don't have many chips left, and you have good position (you bet after most of the other players have acted), it's worth risking it all and hoping for the best. When Williams returned to his table, his first hand, remarkably, was ace-nine off-suit. He played it for all his chips and doubled his stack by winning the hand against former WSOP champion Dan Harrington. "[Luske] didn't have to help me," Williams says. "It didn't help his chances to win it all by making me better, but he did, and I can't thank him enough."

Williams will soon graduate from college, and whether he'll remain at the poker tables is still undecided.
Tom Jenkins
Williams will soon graduate from college, and whether he'll remain at the poker tables is still undecided.
Dallas has plenty of good poker players like Williams. Why do you think they call it Texas hold 'em?
Dallas has plenty of good poker players like Williams. Why do you think they call it Texas hold 'em?

"I was coaching him a little bit because he's a friend of a friend, and he became my friend," Luske says. "He was nervous, and I was just trying to calm him down a little. I felt sorry for him--not because of the way he plays. He plays good. But I felt sorry for him because he was so nervous. I felt sorry for him as a human. It was like taking someone to the dentist for the first time. You try to tell them it will be OK and make them feel better. But then he settled down and played really good."

David's mom, Shirley Williams, was there to witness it all. She had come to Vegas for the first few days of the tournament, planning to leave if her son got knocked out or if he wasn't playing well. Instead, he kept playing well, and she kept extending her stay. On the fourth day, she went to the airport, ready to go back to work as an airline attendant for Delta. David asked her not to leave. She said she'd hang around as long as he wanted, even though her bag had already been checked on her flight and shipped off without her. Unfazed, Shirley bought toiletries at Walgreens to hold her over until they rerouted her luggage.

It was worth it. Shirley is a poker nut just like her son. She got into it around Thanksgiving when she heard David was playing seriously.

"I was a little worried that he might lose money, and I asked him about it," Shirley says. "He said--they weren't his exact words, but you'll get the idea. He said, 'No, Mom, that would be an addiction, and I don't have that.' He told me not to worry, and I trust him."

Before long, she found herself watching reruns of the World Series and reading books about poker. Now she talks about cards with her son and even plays in low-limit casino games when she can find the time. For Shirley, watching her son play against, and beat, some of the very same players she'd seen on television was almost too much. "I got to meet all my favorites," she gushes.

They met Shirley, too. As the tournament went along, she became a fan favorite. People shouted her name. ESPN, which was taping the event for broadcast starting July 6, interviewed her about her son and poker. By the end of the tournament Shirley was every bit as popular as her baby boy. "She was more popular," David counters. "People actually said to me, 'Oh, you're Shirley's son. I heard about you.' I was a fan favorite by the end, and that was because of my mom. It was so great, because if I needed a card to win a hand, my mom would start chanting for it, and then the crowd would start chanting right along with her. At one point, when I was short-stacked, I needed a 10 or a club to double up, and the crowd started chanting with my mom: '10, club, 10, club.' It was awesome to be the fan favorite--for her and me."

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