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.
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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.
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Last year, she entered the same tournament boasting a new sponsor, online gambling site Bodog.com, 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.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org