SHAKOPEE, Minn. — “Am I going too fast?”
Fast-talking Jimmy Sommerfeld stopped to ask the question after watching me take notes frantically during a tournament break at Canterbury Park’s Fall Poker Classic here in October. “You’re fine, Jimmy,” I fibbed. “Go ahead.”
It was typical Sommerfeld, considerate of others and looking to do the right thing.
The 43-year-old who hails originally from South Haven, Miss., and now lives in the Tampa, Fla., area, enjoys huge respect in the poker world for fairness and energy in directing tournaments, innovations that improve play, and yes, even as a player thanks to several titles he has won.
The secret to such respect? “I’m always friendly with everybody,” he said.
Sommerfeld left his job as a grocery store manager about 12 years ago to train as a poker dealer when the floating casinos came to Mississippi. After short stints at the former Southern Belle and Sam’s Town, he made a key move to the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica.
That connected him with some big names in tournament poker, especially when the World Poker Open launched in 2000. Legendary tournament director Jack McClelland was brought in from Las Vegas to “show us how to do it,” Sommerfeld said.
McClelland took Sommerfeld under his wing and “taught me everything he knew about running poker tournaments,” he said. Sommerfeld was a quick study and soon the Horseshoe was granting him leaves of absence to direct tournaments around the country.
Now operating independently, Sommerfeld’s resume includes big tournaments in Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, California, and at several casinos in Reno and Las Vegas, including the World Series of Poker.
“I go back to Jack,” Sommerfeld said. “I give him more credit than anybody else for my success.” It’s noteworthy that Sommerfeld, once the student, became the teacher to advance the careers of Johnny Grooms, Jack Effel and Chris Spears, all of whom have directed World Series events.
Sommerfeld’s wife Teresa, who sometimes travels with him and conducts satellite tournaments on site, said there was one thing her husband didn’t learn from McClelland: “Jimmy always starts his tournaments on time,” she said with a grin. “Starting late sends him into a tailspin. He always does what’s in the best interest of the game.”
During a lull in running Canterbury’s satellites, she broke out laughing when asked about her husband being on the road so much. “We have three teenage daughters (Amber, Ashley and Amanda), so maybe that’s why he travels a lot!” she said, on the eve of their 21st wedding anniversary. “Me and the girls are very lucky to have him. He’s a great guy and he’s really funny.”
Players know Sommerfeld’s humorous side, too. At one tournament here, he announced over the loudspeaker in his distinctively pitched Southern accent that “Norm over here has played in 43 of these events and this is the first time he’s made it to Level Four!” Norm, red-faced but laughing along with everyone else, got a round of applause.
Still, the man who has done more than most to popularize tournament poker gets serious when assessing the game’s future.
“There are too many tournaments. Fields will get smaller and smaller, and tournaments will slow down,” he predicted. Significant events in California, Indiana, New York, Mississippi and Nevada overlapped the Classic. Nevertheless, Canterbury’s total entries jumped about 20 percent (roughly 1,000 players) over 2005, partly due to two added events.
Also looming, he said, is the impact of the recently enacted Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which prohibits U.S. banks from handling money transactions between players and legal offshore online gaming sites. Some sites have halted operations in this country.
“The law’s going to hurt the World Series more than any other tournament,” Sommerfeld said. He estimated this summer’s record-shattering total of 8,773 players in the WSOP main event could decline to about 5,000 without online qualifiers feeding the field. If that happens, it would be the first year-to-year decline since 1992, when 201 players competed compared with 215 in 1991.
“I think eventually the government will legalize, regulate and tax online poker and it will come back. It just makes sense,” he said.
And what about the future for Jimmy Sommerfeld?
“I’m taking January off to play in Tunica at the World Poker Open and the WSOP Circuit,” he said. Unsuspecting opponents there will quickly learn about Sommerfeld’s playing style. “I like to be the most aggressive player at the table,” he said.
That means they probably won’t be able to keep up with him, either.
E-mail your poker questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
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