Amanda Musumeci had all of about 15 minutes to bask in the fame and riches of her half-million-dollar score at the 43rd annual World Series of Poker.
Then it was back into relative anonymity for the Northeast Philly native and roving poker pro who, in just two years, has reinvented and re-branded herself as one of the nation’s elite, live-tournament women players.
Musumeci placed second on Wednesday among 3,404 entrants in “Event #9: No-Limit Hold’em Re-Entry,” one of more than 60 tournaments that comprise the World Series, which began on May 27 and will continue through July 16.
In doing so, she collected $481,643 and almost became the second woman ever (and first since 2008) to win a World Series mixed-gender event. Not to be overlooked, she more than tripled her previous single-event earnings record — a $131,000 prize in last year’s World Series Main Event.
Yet, there was no red-eye flight to Vegas (she was already there), no all-night party, no spa treatment, no Disneyland vacation.
“The matter of fact was, right after I won that money, I was in Wal-Mart,” said Musumeci, a 2003 Archbishop Ryan grad. “I wanted to buy a laptop and get some shampoo.”
And the next morning, she awoke, went back to the Rio Hotel and Casino, plopped $1,500 onto a table but busted less than two hours into another multi-day no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament.
The biggest “cash” of her career did nothing to change her lifestyle or her long-term aspirations.
“Right now, I’m in the mode where I really want to work while I still can. I want to do this until I can’t do it anymore and I don’t want to think about (the future) until it’s all over,” she said. “I don’t even want to put (the money) into my bank account. I just want to put it in my mom’s [bank] security box and forget it’s there.”
She’s been stashing away large sums with some regularity since becoming a full-time live-tournament player about a year ago.
A friend introduced Musumeci to Internet poker in 2007. At the time, she was waiting on tables in Kutztown, Pa., to make ends meet as a student at the local university.
The virtual poker “rooms” offer venues for amateurs and professionals from around the world to play against one another in real time and with real money. At the time, they were considered perfectly legal.
Last year, however, the U.S. Justice Department effectively blocked or “blacked out” the online poker rooms domestically. Though most, if not all, of the major poker sites were based abroad, the government alleged that they violated U.S. law by directing U.S. banks to process payments from Americans to the gambling sites.
The virtual poker sites are still popular in Canada, Europe and the Caribbean.
Musumeci was a quick study, learning the ropes from friends and seeking advice from more-accomplished players she met online. She turned an immediate profit and continued to earn.
By 2010, one of the poker sites, Bodog.com, offered to sponsor her in live tournaments, including that year’s World Series. The site hoped to publicize itself on the poker world’s biggest stage with her reputation as an online star, while promoting a flirtatiously hip persona of her. Think Danica Patrick, Go Daddy and the Indy 500.
Problem was, online poker and live poker are different — same family, but different species.
Musumeci was still learning the ropes during the 2010 World Series and didn’t win money. The government blackout of online poker took hold in the run-up to the 2011 World Series, leaving Musumeci without a sponsor and without a steady income source.
She finished in the money in four Series events, including a $131,000 prize for 62nd place among 7,300 players in the Main Event. She earned $4,100, $3,000 and $2,800 in other events that year.
It wasn’t that she suddenly learned how to read minds.
On the contrary, months and years of hard work were paying off. Players must understand the many variables or “catalysts” at work, including chip counts, pot sizes, opponents’ tendencies and the cards, while being able to adjust to them.
“I change gears a lot. Most of poker is being able to adjust,” Musumeci said. “(Players) all measure catalysts to different levels of importance. There’s no secret, no easy mathematical way of doing it.
“It is very complex and it does take years to truly understand it. And when you do, you have to mold (your game) to what’s comfortable for you. Then people start to mind-[expletive] you. In poker, the flow always changes.”
Musumeci plays no-limit Hold’em exclusively. It’s the most popular game in the World Series and on tour, although other games like Stud Poker usually round out the schedule. In fact, the only woman ever to win a World Series open event, Vanessa Selbst, did it in a non-Hold’em format.
Last fall and winter, Musumeci traveled the nation, winning prize money in Los Angeles; Reno; Atlantic City; Palm Beach, Fla.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; and St. Louis. She won her first live tournament in November at the Borgata when she paid a $260 entry fee and claimed the $31,000 winners’ share.
Then came last week’s big prize. She didn’t surprise herself, although others may consider her performance a defining moment.
“It was definitely my biggest score and definitely cool to get deep into a big event,” Musumeci said. “It shows that I’m not a fluke and kind of solidifies my name in the poker world. Hopefully, I’ve made my name in the World Series of Poker and people see I’m going to be around for awhile.”
She’s become a pro in the marketing aspect of the game, too, having studied it at Kutztown and applied those principles to a broad social media campaign.
She has thousands of Facebook friends. Most are fans who know of her from her Bodog days or from the 2011 World Series, where she was the second-highest female finisher and garnered more than 20 appearances on ESPN’s coverage of the event, which the network continues to broadcast. The WSOP.com Web site carried a live feed of her final table last week.
After most big hands, win or lose, Musumeci sends out a quick “tweet” to her Twitter followers, describing the blow-by-blow in an shorthand jargon that only Hold’em die-hards likely can decipher.
“I want all my fans to be a part of it,” she said. “They all root for me and it’s the least I can do.”
In retrospect, she says she wouldn’t have changed a thing about her decisions in last week’s tournament. The money was great and so was the exposure.
Musumeci ended up losing to a Canadian pro, who entered the “heads-up” (final two players) phase with a huge chip lead on her. He took in more than $700,000 along with the signature gold winners’ bracelet.
So, she’s not totally without regret.
“No woman has ever won a no-limit Hold’em bracelet and no-limit Hold’em draws the biggest fields,” Musumeci said. “So that meant more to me than the money. It would’ve been history.” ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org