Chips are up

A young lady from Tor­res­dale hits it really big in a really big poker game.

cour­tesy of World Series of Poker

One year ago, Aman­da Musumeci strode in­to the World Series of Poker with a new spon­sor on her shirt, ex­tra cash in her bank­roll and a de­sire to par­lay her luc­rat­ive on­line ca­reer in­to suc­cess on the high-pro­file live pro­fes­sion­al cir­cuit.

But in­stant fame and riches wer­en’t in the cards for the 25-year-old Tor­res­dale nat­ive and Arch­bish­op Ry­an gradu­ate.

Out of 7,319 play­ers in the no-lim­it Texas Hold’em main event — each of whom paid $10,000 to enter — Musumeci fin­ished some­where in the middle of the pack, miles away from the top 747 cash-win­ning po­s­i­tions and light years away from the $8.9 mil­lion top prize.

Her fledgling ca­reer took an even big­ger hit in April when the U.S. Justice De­part­ment ef­fect­ively shut down on­line poker in this coun­try by in­dict­ing the founders of the In­ter­net’s three largest poker “rooms” on bank fraud and money laun­der­ing charges.

Al­though the com­pan­ies are based abroad, they vi­ol­ated U.S. law by trick­ing and brib­ing U.S. banks to pro­cess pay­ments from Amer­ic­ans to the gambling Web sites, the gov­ern­ment al­leges.

“That was my bread and but­ter,” Musumeci said of on­line play.

That said, it seems her $131,000 pay­day in the 2011 World Series of Poker main event earli­er this month — to go along with about $10,000 in win­nings from WSOP un­der­card tour­na­ments — ar­rived just in time.

With ES­PN cam­er­as circ­ling the room, Musumeci placed 62nd among 6,865 main event entrants at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Ve­gas and fin­ished second among the field’s 242 wo­men. She was 30th among Amer­ic­ans and in do­ing so out­las­ted 18 former main event cham­pi­ons as well as 10 Poker Hall of Fame mem­bers.

“I def­in­itely did have a good run of cards,” the emer­ging star said with the self-ef­fa­cing guile of a grizzled vet­er­an.

• • •

But there was more than mere good luck be­hind Musumeci’s deep main event run.

In little more than a year since de­b­ut­ing on the felt, she’s learned a lot about play­ing live op­pon­ents and a lot more about her­self. Self-con­fid­ence has been her biggest con­quest.

In April, she entered the World Poker Tour’s Hol­ly­wood Poker Open in Lawrence­burg, Ind., and fin­ished 11th, earn­ing more than $22,000.

“That gave me con­fid­ence. Even though it was a small field, it was a field of tough play­ers,” Musumeci said.

As a res­ult, when she re­turned to Ve­gas for the WSOP, “I was less in­tim­id­ated,” she said. “The World Series is so built up that, in my first year, I felt shaky there. [But] after get­ting a year of live poker, I’m find­ing it much the same as on­line play.”

A great start helped her, too.

The 2011 World Series con­sisted of 58 sep­ar­ate tour­na­ments held from May 31 through the main event, a mul­ti­day event that began on Ju­ly 7.

On June 4, Musumeci took 196th in a $1,000 buy-in tour­na­ment, col­lect­ing $2,820 in pro­ceeds. On June 18, she placed 228th in a $1,500 buy-in event to earn a $3,054 prize. On Ju­ly 1, she fin­ished 43rd in the ladies-only no-lim­it Hold’em event, earn­ing $4,101.

Then came the main event.

• • •

Last year, she entered the same tour­na­ment boast­ing a new spon­sor, on­line gambling site, which paid much of her $10,000 entry fee. As de­tailed in a North­east Times fea­ture story pub­lished on Ju­ly 8, 2010, Musumeci earned the spon­sor­ship deal on the strength of her high rank­ing on Bodog’s vir­tu­al tables as well as her cha­ris­mat­ic per­sona.

Be­ing a suc­cess­ful fe­male in a male-dom­in­ated arena tends to at­tract a lot of at­ten­tion for play­er and spon­sor.

But her year­long Bodog con­tract ex­pired in the weeks lead­ing up to this year’s World Series, amid the gov­ern­ment crack­down on on­line gam­ing. She and Bodog par­ted ways.

As an al­tern­at­ive, Musumeci sold shares of her tour­na­ment to will­ing in­vestors. She sold 80 per­cent of her stake and charged in­vestors a 20 per­cent premi­um, which covered her share of the entry fee.

Each main event play­er began with 30,000 in tour­na­ment chips. By the end of her first day of play, she had more than quad­rupled her stack.

“I ended up with like a top-twenty stack,” she said. “And my im­age was real good. I was play­ing a lot of hands. [Oth­er play­ers] thought I was a little crazy, but I was good.”

Musumeci ended Day Three as her table’s chip lead­er with more than 500,000. Then she made her big move on Day Four with few­er than 900 play­ers re­main­ing in the tour­na­ment.

Back-to-back big pots lif­ted her chip count to more than a mil­lion and lif­ted her to fourth in the stand­ings.

The lat­ter stages of Day Four and the fol­low­ing day brought good and bad for her as she fluc­tu­ated above and be­low the mil­lion mark. Mean­while, the tour­na­ment’s lead­ers con­tin­ued build­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-chip stacks.

Musumeci sur­vived in­to Day Six, however, as her “rail birds” — her cheer­ing sec­tion — con­tin­ued to grow. Dur­ing one break in the ac­tion, someone asked her for her auto­graph.

“There are so many spec­tat­ors that deep in the tour­na­ment and there was this cute little old man,” she said. “I don’t know if he had been watch­ing me. I’m just grate­ful for the sup­port.”

• • •

Her on­line sup­port has grown in gi­ant steps, too. Since her cash at the World Poker Tour event in April, she has fielded some 1,200 friend re­quests on Face­book. Like many play­ers, Musumeci pos­ted her thoughts and in­sights via Face­book and Twit­ter throughout the main event.

Those who missed that should be able to re­live it in the weeks to come as ES­PN will air taped cov­er­age of the main event weekly start­ing in mid-Au­gust lead­ing up to this year’s Novem­ber Nine fi­nal table, which will be held Nov. 5 to 7 at the Rio.

In the mean­time, Musumeci will look to cap­it­al­ize on her newly el­ev­ated repu­ta­tion in the poker com­munity while fig­ur­ing out how to re­struc­ture her ca­reer in the af­ter­math of the on­line poker bust.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, she’d be able to stay at home (split­ting time between Ve­gas and Phil­adelphia) while col­lect­ing steady earn­ings on­line. But like hun­dreds of oth­er Web-based pros, she now has the ad­ded over­head of travel to con­sider.

“It’s ex­pens­ive to fly every­where and eat out every day,” she said.

Her oth­er op­tions are to try to find cash games loc­ally to grind out a liv­ing or to move over­seas, which can be both costly and risky.

“Every­one’s baffled what to do,” she said.

She is con­sid­er­ing spend­ing some time in South­ern Cali­for­nia to play in a series of pro­fes­sion­al tour­na­ments there or re­turn­ing to the East Coast to try her luck in some up­com­ing series in At­lantic City or in the re­l­at­ively new poker rooms at Pennsylvania’s casi­nos.

Build­ing up a sav­ings through poker is her short-term goal. Though a gam­bler by pro­fes­sion, she con­siders her­self genu­inely frugal by nature.

“I think the thing that has kept me [go­ing] is my bank­roll man­age­ment,” she said. “I just want to make money and save it and save it. A lot of oth­er play­ers want to live like a king.”

Musumeci doesn’t fig­ure poker in­to her long-term fu­ture. Rather, she has thoughts of in­vest­ing in a busi­ness and hav­ing a fam­ily far away from the glitz of the poker world.

“I don’t want to play poker for the rest of my life,” she said. “I have oth­er things I want to do. Right now, it’s just my way of mak­ing money.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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