By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Brittany came out, too--she lost her job as a manager at the Electrique Boutique over it--along with some other friends who made the trip to watch David scream toward poker immortality. When he made the final table--a benchmark for poker players that, if achieved, gets their name whispered reverently forever after--the reality hit them hard. There were TV cameras everywhere, and the room was packed so tight you wondered if there was enough air to go around. One by one the players got picked off, until $5 million in cash was placed on the table and only two players were left to stake claims. One was a Connecticut lawyer named Greg "Fossilman" Raymer. The other was David Williams.
He's never been a nickname guy. Too many poker players have shticks or nicknames or both. Unabomber. Devilfish. The Magician. The Master. There's a never-ending supply of self-promoters with oversized egos. The closest David Williams ever got to a nickname came when he was about 10. Long before he knew what poker was, he wanted to call himself "Ace." Ace Williams. He even approached his mom about getting it changed legally--at 10. She told him to try it out at school and come back later. If he still wanted to be called Ace after that, it would be fine by her.
"The kids at school made fun of me all day long," Williams says, laughing. "It was brutal. That was the end of Ace."
There are 55 people named David Williams listed in the Dallas phone book, but he never had trouble distinguishing himself. As a kid, he'd live with his grandparents when Shirley was flying for Delta. Rather than going outside to play, he'd stay in and mess with a computer game or his Magic cards.
"I was always into intellectual hobbies more than sports," Williams says. "I'm not very athletic, and that's fine. I call it smart and lazy. I just don't like to exert energy."
He grew up in Fort Worth and Arlington, and despite moving around, he always made good grades. Great grades, in fact. During his junior year he attended the Academy of Math and Science at UNT, an advanced placement program for the academic elite that gives college credit. He scored in the high 1,400s on the SAT. When he graduated, he had a high school diploma and two years of college hours. He was accepted by Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Northwestern and a few others. He chose Princeton, not because he liked it there--he never bothered to visit--but because U.S. News and World Reportranked it No. 1 that year.
He hated it. It was too far from home. And too cold. And too deep in the woods. And too...
"You had to walk a mile just to get to your car up there," Williams says. "Who wants to walk a mile to get to their car? It was too much. Too far. And there were lots of rich kids up there. Too many of them. I'm not rich. I worked in the cafeteria. It kind of made me feel like I was beneath people, and I hated feeling like that."
He lasted until January of his freshman year and then left even though he had a fantastic GPA. He came back to Texas, worked a few jobs, took some time off, played poker, played Magic. After two years away from school, he enrolled at SMU. They took almost all of his credits and started him as a junior. He has a 4.0 GPA at SMU--3.9 overall if you factor in what he did at Princeton, which bugs him.
"That .9 really gets me," Williams says. "No matter what I do, I'll never be able to get that back. I know you think I'm crazy, but it's a matter of personal pride. It's like a guy who's pitching a perfect game, but then he walks one guy, just one, and all of a sudden it's a no-hitter. It's nice to throw a no-hitter, but it's better to throw the perfect game. I'll never be able to get that tiny little percentage back, and that bothers me. I'm obsessive about my grades."
He was asked to be part of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society but declined when he found out it cost $150 to join. "Why do I need to pay them for that?" he asks, incredulous. Through it all, he played increasingly more poker. When an old friend moved to Dallas from Arkansas, they began hitting the underground games on the regular.
But lots of people can play cards. What sets Williams apart is his marketing potential. He has charisma and good looks, intelligence and an ethnic background with crossover appeal. His mother is black. He never knew his father, never even saw a picture. His dad was Iranian. He moved away before David was born. But the blend of cultures gave Williams an exotic look. A marketing firm called Poker Royalty--the same group that represents poker elites such as Howard Lederer and Phil Hellmuth--recognized the possibilities and signed him, planning to peddle his face to any company that might want a poker poster boy to hawk its wares or smile pretty.