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The Old School Comes of Age

Winning a $56-million pot with a 7-3 offsuit seems like something an amateur would do on an online tournament. But Joseph Hachem, who won a nuts-boggling $7.5-million in July 2005 in the World Series of Poker's Main Event with the hand, is actually a pro.

Hachem also did something that Main Event winners just don't do anymore; he shelled out the entire $10,000 entry fee from his own bankroll to play in the tournament. The last two winners won their buy-in with a $40 investment in an online satellite.

More than 5,600 people found their way into the 2005 Main Event, whose $52.8-million prize pool exceeded all of last year's WSOP events combined. The massive influx of Internet players and amateurs is transforming the game. But is this new contingent of players taking over? Erik Seidel says no.

Seidel, who outlasted 1,403 players to win over $600,000 along with his seventh WSOP bracelet in the $2,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'Em tournament a few weeks before the Main Event, says, "There has been so much talk about the Internet players and the young guns, but this WSOP really was a declaration from the old school that we are not ready to step aside."

This year's list of gold bracelet, ah, models, does happen to contain a lot of players recognizable by just their first names: Doyle, Johnny, T.J., Erik, and Phil (the quiet one, not the loud one). Heck, the last two alone landed at a dozen final tables this year. Other respected pros Allen Cunningham, Michael Gracz, Mark Seif, Barry Greenstein, Todd Brunson, and David Chiu all won bracelets as well.

In the new book Aces and Kings, authors Michael Kaplan and Brad Reagan characterize Seidel as a chameleon. Erik's strategy is simple: "I try not to have a set approach. I just let the structure and table lineup dictate my play." He has compared poker to jazz, get out of your own head and play an ensemble game. His mantra: Pay attention to what's in front of you.

Clearly he is not the only pro who has paid attention. Several other pros have been able to adapt to the new breed of super-aggressive players and larger fields. T.J. Cloutier, who's at least a little more good ol' boy than wired-up techie, actually boned up for the WSOP by playing in some large online tournaments.

Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, the only recognizable name who made the final table of the Main Event, also adjusted. Known for his trash talk and brash style, Matusow pulled back in the middle rounds. Instead of playing his usual aggressive and wild game, he played solidly and gathered chips from the dead-money players.

Which is precisely what the pros are supposed to do. And they did plenty of it at the World Series, racking up bracelets and reminding the newbies that skill and experience still mean something in this game.

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