Northeast Times

Poker face

Arch­bish­op Ry­an grad, Aman­da Musumeci, is turn­ing hands of cards in­to stacks of money thanks to pro­fes­sion­al poker.

Aman­da Musumeci and Ashkan Razavi at the World Series of Poker in Las Ve­gas on June 6, 2012. Aman­da is a North­east nat­ive who placed second and took home $481,643 in prize money. Ashkan is from Maple Ridge, Canada and won first place, tak­ing home $781,398 and the Fe­male Gold Brace­let. (photo cour­tesy of wsop.com

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 wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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