(Distributed July 10, 2007)
RUTGERS GRAD STUDENT FACING THE POKER GAME OF HIS LIFE
A Rutgers University graduate student will carry the banner for amateur players everywhere this fall when he settles into his seat against five top pros on NBC’s Poker After Dark vying for $120,000.
Ken Light, 28, of Pennington, N.J., won his way onto the show for free in April by finishing atop a field of 1,395 players in a six-hour, all-or-nothing no-limit hold’em online battle on Full Tilt Poker, the TV show’s main sponsor.
That victory came at 2:30 a.m. as he sat quietly at home alone after everyone else had gone to bed. The next step in his adventure will feature his first visit to Las Vegas and a one-table shootout against some of the best players in the game — with TV cameras capturing every move!
Not bad for a guy who has played just three times in a real card room at nearby Atlantic City, whose online poker account was down to just 41 cents on the night of the tourney, and whose biggest previous poker thrill was bluffing former World Series champ Huck Seed in an online micro-limit game.
“Most of the people I told about playing for a seat on Poker After Dark laughed it off, and I really tried to as well so I wouldn’t get disappointed,” said Light, a teaching assistant at Rutgers who expects to earn his doctorate in behavioral neuroscience within two years.
But Light, using the online name Popskull, defied the odds and in dramatic fashion captured the $20,000 seat, plus $5,000 expenses for the trip. He crippled his final opponent when the turn (fourth community board card) gave her a straight and him a winning flush, then finished her off by making a full house with Q-10 on a final board of Q-Q-K-10-3 against her two pair.
Light borrowed his online name, which means cheap liquor or moonshine, from a song done by the Meat Puppets. “They’re one of my favorite bands of all time. I kind of liked the sound of it, and went with it,” he said. He could have used some popskull after winning the online tournament that night.
“When that last card hit and I had won the tournament, everyone in the house was asleep. I didn’t know what to do,” said Light. His girlfriend, newspaper reporter Emily Holody, and sister Becca stayed up a long time to support him, but dozed off when the tourney continued into the wee hours.
Finally he excitedly said, “Em, wake up. Wake up!” Light said she “got up startled, poor girl, probably thinking the house was burning down. Then I ran downstairs and woke up my dad and stepmom and sister to tell them the good news.” After a short while, everyone was back asleep, but “I sat up stunned for about three hours watching reruns on TV.”
He’ll have a few months to shake off the disbelief and prepare for the game of his life.
“I’ve been trying to read poker books written by pros who have a chance of being there,” said Light, who has been playing in home games for four years. “I have my own thoughts on the game, my own strategies, but largely they depend on who’s sitting at the table with me. They won’t know how I think of the game and that might be my only edge.”
Well, there’s also his deepening background in psychology, a study he hopes to teach someday at the university level while continuing to research the brain and human behavior. All of that should help, too.
He said he’ll “probably be in shock” early during the winner-take-all match. “After the first round or two of action, I’ll be fine,” he said.
Light also said he isn’t too concerned about his stutter affecting his play on the show. “I spoke fluently for months, then started to stutter at age two. I’ve thought about that becoming a tell at the table, but I can feel when my speech might give something away so there’ll be times when I won’t talk,” he said.
With the taping not scheduled until October, he’ll have plenty of time to think about winning the $120,000. Would the money change his life?
“That’s a loaded question, really,” Light said. “I can say ‘no’ and then someone will say, ‘That’s five years’ salary for you, you’re saying that doesn’t matter?’ and they’ll be totally right. I can say ‘yes’ and then someone will say, ‘What, you think you’ll be famous or something? Get over yourself.’ And they’ll be totally right as well.”
Should lightning strike, however, he said he would spend about 10 percent on “something tangible,” put some into his “miniscule poker bankroll,” give a portion to charity, and put the rest aside for a down payment on a house.
After watching him smartly take down that online final table — following my exit in 11th place in the same event! — it wouldn’t surprise me if Light defied the odds again and, in the process, boosted the hopes of amateur players everywhere who dream of beating the best.
E-mail your poker questions and comments to email@example.com 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.
COPYRIGHT 2007 RUSS SCOTT
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