EPT Monte Carlo: Jeff Williams in the Limelight

March 16, 2006

It wouldn’t be fair to say Jeff Williams was ever a “nobody.” He was a young man with friends and an active online poker hobby. You might have known him simply as “yellowsub86.” Still, a week ago, Jeff Williams wasn’t a “somebody” in the European Poker Tour Grand Final. He was a curly-headed guy with a startling resemblance to a latter-day Bobby Baldwin.

It’s amazing how a couple of days can change everything. Even before Jeff Williams captured the EPT title, the Associated Press was calling. That drew the attention of the CNN and ABC networks. By the time Jeff got back to Georgia, his phone was ringing off the hook with media requests. Nearly every national news network and international wire service has reported Jeff’s story to the world.

And what does he have to do now? Well, Spring Break is over in a few days and he’s going back to school. He tells all the big media he plans to invest a lot of his money.

One wonders how Jeff’s college buddies will receive him when classes start back up next week. Even more, how many professors will be asking for poker advice?

Finally, PokerStars Card Room Manager Lee Jones got to spend some time with Jeff in the immediate aftermath of the big win. Lee was kind enough to chronicle his tale for the PokerStars Blog.

Aftermath, afterglow, after a major tournament

by Lee Jones

The immediate aftermath of a large poker tournament is a surreal thing. There’s one winner, who’s ecstatic (and generally hasn’t quite absorbed the enormity of the whole thing yet). There are the runners-up, happy with their big score, but still wondering what would have happened had that four-outer not ended the tournament for them. There are the random players, trying desperately to get in the last sit-and-go in before the tables get shut down.

Then there’s the production crew, the event staff, and all the worker bees springing into action to tear down, clean up, vacuum, fold, store, and throw away, all in preparation for the shoe salesmen or building contractors who will next meet in that ballroom.

For those of us on the PokerStars staff, it’s a bit like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff in a Road Runner cartoon. We’ve been going full speed ahead for a week (or more, in the case of the advance team) to make sure that every ‘t’ is crossed, every ‘i’ is dotted, and that the players are all getting what they need.

Suddenly, we are done, running on air, with nothing below us.

A winner is crowned, the last lines of the blog have been published, press releases sent out. Now what?

The sane thing would be to go to bed. We’ve all been operating on too little sleep, too many hours on the computer, too many tapas plates, too many Diet Cokes. Surely getting horizontal in the comfortable bed would make sense.

But one can’t go from full speed to full stop in zero time. Just like Wile E. Coyote, your legs are furiously spinning and yet there’s nothing on which to gain traction.

That, and, well, we want to visit. These are people with whom we’ve worked for months (or years) and we want to catch up — we don’t see each other often enough. And we want to celebrate the completion of another extraordinary event.

Welcome to the aftermath of the 2006 EPT Championship in Monte Carlo.

10:50 PM. 19-year-old University of Georgia student Jeff Williams’ ATo finishes off the UK’s Arshad Hussain’s A8o, and Jeff is the 2006 EPT Champion. Both players are delightful people, deserving winners, and qualified on PokerStars. Arshad is actually an FPP winner, having invested zero dollars, and turned it into about half a million dollars.

12:15 AM. The pictures are finished, the crew is tearing down the set, the dealers have changed into civilian clothes. The party is over.

12:30 AM. I sit and watch Greg Raymer play Ram Vaswani’s hands in a $1000/point Chinese poker game. Greg is, at the moment, a human card rack, crushing his opponents.

12:45 AM. We head over to Jimmyz’, apparently one of the chicest of nightclubs in Monte Carlo, if not the whole of Europe. The Lamborghinis and Ferraris are pulling up as we go in, and beautiful people are walking past us. It is indeed a sight to behold, beautiful young people dancing to ear-splitting music with an expensive computer-controlled lighting system illuminating the whole scene. Please note that I can say “ear-splitting” without being an old fart. I grew up on Steppenwolf and the Who. My sons accuse me of playing the stereo too loud in the car. But conversation is impossible and I can’t hear Joe Hachem’s wife as she tries to describe to us how she and Joe met. Four drinks costs 110 Euros. Maybe I am an old fart.

2:00 AM I head out, thinking I’ll go back and see if there is an illicit poker game in the poker room — maybe they paid a dealer 20 Euros to spread really-this-is-the-last-one sit-and-go. No such luck but I have a nice chat with John Duthie and Thomas Kremser, and we wish each other safe travels as we shake hands and depart.

2:30 AM. I’m told there’s a game in a room at the Meridien Hotel with some of the crew and PokerStars staff. That’s just a two-block walk from the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel where we’re based and the night air feels good. I walk in the lobby and there sits the new champ, Jeff Williams, and his parents, Dave and Cindy. They are eating sandwiches, drinking champagne, and trying to fathom what has just happened. They graciously invite me to sit and visit with them, so we talk about music, school, politics, and very little poker. An occasional stranger stops by to shake Jeff’s hand and congratulate him — it’s fun to watch.

3:00 AM. I have noticed music coming from the bar around the corner that doesn’t sound like typical piped-in Muzak. Somebody wanders by and mentions that there’s a poker game going in the bar. “What’s the buy-in?” Our reporter notices Jeff sitting there. “I, um, don’t think it would be very interesting to him.” I turn to Jeff; his eyes are bright with anticipation. “It’s action, isn’t it?*” I tell Jeff I’ll buy him in for 50% of his action. “40 — I’ve got a track record now.” “It’s a deal.”

(*Reportedly what Nick the Greek said, shortly before he died. He’d been asked by somebody why he was playing for very small stakes in a California card room when, decades earlier, he’d gambled bigger than just about anybody in the world.)

We walk around the corner to the bar and sure enough, there’s a rocking 10 euro sit-and-go on a (conveniently enough oval-shaped) coffee table. A guy named Jimmy is playing pop song favorites on an acoustic guitar and everybody is singing along. I buy Jeff in and he’s heartily welcomed by all the participants. Then Jimmy and I start trading the guitar back and forth on Beatles tunes. I do Norwegian Wood and (in honor of Jeff’s PokerStars userid, “YellowSub86”) Yellow Submarine. Jeff’s parents can see that their son is in his element, and (gratefully, I suspect) head to bed. He is blissfully happy in the game, singing along with the tunes, playing drums with his hands, and trash talking his opponents all at the same time. In short, he looks like a 19-year-old without a care in the world, probably the eye of a hurricane when the world discovers what he’s just done. He puts out an all-in raise one one-hundred unit chip at a time, counting them out carefully. “String bet! String bet!” cries PokerStars blogger team member Mad Harper. His opponent ignores her and folds. Jeff turns over AQo, two overcards to the five-card board. “Probably bluffing with the best hand” says I. A few minutes later, he makes a huge bet on the river. His opponent goes into the tank and ultimately calls. Jeff flips over his cards and, without waiting for his opponent to show, says (somewhat reminiscent of the old Chevy Chase routine) “I have two pair; you don’t. Give me the pot.” This causes me to laugh hard enough to completely destroy the very good rendition of the Who classic See Me Feel Me which I was doing on Jimmy’s guitar.

4:30 AM. I regretfully say my good-byes to everybody in the bar. I thank Jimmy for sharing his guitar. Sharing your musical instrument with a stranger is a point of trust and respect, and I was deeply appreciative — it had been far too long since I’d played a six-string. I walk the two blocks back to the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and toward my room. At the elevator, I see your intrepid PokerStars blogger, Brad Willis. We’d missed him terribly at the poker game/jam at the Meridien, but were afraid to call his room because of the hour. He tells me that he’d been in the bar in the tournament area and would have loved to have been invited over. He later gives us orders to call him any time day or night for anything that involves a guitar. I send him over there, sure that there is another song or two to be pulled from Jimmy’s guitar. Back at the room, my bags are already packed. I shower, put on fresh clothes, and head down to the lobby.

5:15 AM. We say good-byes to players heading out for destinations all over the western hemisphere. Kind of a strange world we live in. “See you in Las Vegas in three months” is a common salutation.

5:30 AM. Greg Raymer, Claudia from PokerStars support, her father, and I pile into a taxi for the incredibly scenic ride back over to the Nice airport. Greg is headed home to North Carolina, I’m off to California for a home visit, and Claudia and her dad are going back to Costa Rica. Modern air travel — what a concept.

You’ll note that nowhere in there did I mention sleep. The bed was, indeed, unmade when I checked out that morning. But those few hours gave me memories that will be with me for a lifetime. I wouldn’t trade them for even a real eight hours of sleep.

And with that, I’ll again borrow from Nick the Greek.

“I have to let you go.”


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