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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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Champions Invitational victory has Tom McEvoy thinking Hall of Fame

4 Jun 2009

By Gary Trask

Tom McEvoy's career has been impressive enough that you wouldn't think he would need to validate himself as a poker player. That's typically the kind of thing reserved for fringe players or those who have never won a bracelet, not a former World Series of Poker Main Event champion.

But in McEvoy's mind, he needed and wanted more accolades on his already impressive resume. He desperately wanted to add to his legacy, even though he's earned more than $2 million in career earnings, cashed in 38 World Series of Poker events and won four gold bracelets, including that 1983 Main Event title. So when he got word a few months ago about the newly created World Series of Poker Champions Invitational, McEvoy knew that the event would be the perfect place to "reestablish" his credentials as "as one of the top players in the game," as he put it.


Tom McEvoy with his prized Binion Cup trophy after winning the WSOP's Champions Invitational.

"As soon as I heard about it I started to prepare myself and do everything in my power to give myself the best chance to win," he said of the new event that invited each of the living former Main Event champs to play in a special non-bracelet tournament as part of the 40th anniversary of the WSOP. "I knew that in terms of prestige and beating a world-class field, it wasn't going to get any better than this."

As it turned out, McEvoy was right. Twenty former champions were in attendance when the tournament began last weekend, representing four different decades. And when it was all said and done, McEvoy's preparation paid off. The 64-year-old did exactly what he set out to do, knocking off 2002 champ Robert Varkonyi in heads up play late Monday night to win the inaugural Binion Cup.

"Tom wrote himself into the history books once again and is truly the Champion of Champions," said WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack after McEvoy's win. "The field for this event was the Mount Rushmore of poker and Tom carved his name in stone, walking away with the Binion Cup and some powerful bragging rights."

McEvoy was a happy man as he accepted the handsome Binion Cup from Pollack and poker patriarch Jack Binion and slipped into the front seat of the classic red 1970 Corvette that was also part of the first-place prize package. But of all the emotions that were going through his mind, there was one thought in particular that was at the forefront.

"Getting into the [Poker] Hall of Fame," McEvoy admitted without hesitation. "I want to receive some serious consideration for it this year. And quite frankly, I think I deserve it."

It would have been difficult to argue his point even before the Champions Invitational victory. But now McEvoy feels he has done "everything one can do in a poker career" and says that a Hall of Fame induction would be the "frosting on the cake."

"I'm not the most colorful guy; I don't act out when the TV camera is on me and I'm certainly not a 'bad boy,'" laughed McEvoy, who is tied for 20th on the all-time WSOP cashes list. "But I've always tried to set a good example when I'm at the poker table and be a good representative for the game. I've never had a penalty in my entire career and I've only got one warning. I think I've been good to the game and in return it has been good to me."

McEvoy has come a long way from that day back in 1979 when he packed up and left Grand Rapids, Michigan and moved to Las Vegas to become a professional poker player, less than a year after he was fired from his job as an accountant. His bracelet wins have come in a variety of events -- Limit Hold'em (1983), the Main Event (1983), Limit Razz (1986) and Limit Omaha (1992) -- and in addition to his success on the felt, he's also proven his longevity. He played in his first World Series in 1980 and has competed in every Main Event since 1983. And when he won the Main Event that year, he became the first champion to win his way into the event via a satellite. What's more, after facing off against Eastgate and 2007 champion Jerry Yang in the Champions event, McEvoy has now played at the same table as every former Main Event champ – dead or alive – except Hal Fowler, who gave up the game before McEvoy's move to Las Vegas.

In addition, McEvoy has served as a poker instructor, authored 13 books and performed a great deal of charity work over the years. He was instrumental in orchestrating the first smoke-free poker tournament in Nevada and he helped turn the WSOP into a smoke-free event beginning in 2002. And seven years ago, McEvoy pioneered what has become commonplace in the sport when he was the first professional player to sign on with PokerStars.

But even with all of those accomplishments, McEvoy said that his win in the Champions Invitational was the biggest moment of this career, other than his Main Event championship.

"This means so much to me," said McEvoy, who said he was absolutely thrilled to be asked by Pollack to announce the traditional "Shuffle Up and Deal!" before WSOP play at the Rio on Wednesday. "I really hadn't won anything in about four years. My last big win was in 2005 at the Bay 101 Casino in San Jose. With the Hall of Fame nominations coming up, the timing of this was perfect."

The first thing McEvoy did in preparation for the event was to give up sugar just before the tournament. He said he's a bit of a "sugar addict," but he didn't want to suffer any "highs and lows" during the tournament. He downed a half-gallon of his favorite ice cream -- Baskin Robbins Oregon Blackberry -- three days before the tournament and then went cold turkey. He also avoided playing in any of the three events that started before the Champions Invitational, including the big $40,000 No Limit Event.


The star-studded final table at the Champions Invitational was eventually won by Tom McEvoy.

"It definitely helped," he said. "I felt fresh going into it and that was important. I think some of the other players were still tired from the $40 K, but I was focused in on the Champions."

As for the tournament itself, McEvoy tried to do some of the things he teaches his students. In particular, he paid close attention to who his opponents were and he tried to stay away from any confrontations with the big stacks, which he says is a key to success in tournament play. He said the turning point came for him when the event was down to 12 players and he cracked Huck Seed's pocket aces by hitting two pair on the flop. He won a pot worth 22,000 and it gave him the lead at his table.

"Huck was made at himself because he was looking at a nice fat bonus from Full Tilt if he made the final table and losing that pot forced him to sweat it out," McEvoy said.

Ultimately, Seed did make the final table along with McEvoy, Doyle Brunson, Robert Varkonyi, Dan Harrington, Jim Bechtel, Carlos Mortensen, Berry Johnston, Phil Hellmuth and defending champion Peter Eastgate.

"When Hellmuth and Eastgate were the first ones eliminated Doyle looked up and said 'Where did all the young guys go?'" McEvoy said with a hearty chuckle. "It was a generational battle and I guess us old guys won."

He made it down to the final three along with Harrington and Varkonyi. The trio played three-handed for more than three hours before Harrington was eliminated. And when heads-up play began McEvoy held a 3-to-1 chip lead.

"I was happy for Varkonyi because he had a lot to prove because people are always saying his [Main Event] win was a fluke or something," McEvoy said of the 2002 champ. "He wanted it bad. But I did too. I don't think either one of us was given much of a chance coming in so it was great that we both played so well."

McEvoy celebrated his win with a small group of friends at a casual restaurant at the Rio and then went home and crashed. He said that he will likely end up selling the Corvette, however. The automobile is in pristine condition and was previously part of the Imperial Palace Auto Collection. It was selected because of its "rarity, universal appeal, and connection to the first year of the WSOP which was held in 1970."

"When I was young I always wanted a Corvette and this is one beautiful car, let me tell you," he said. "But the more I think about it, I'm pretty sure one of two things will happen if I keep it and neither one is good. First, I'll probably lose my license because of the speeding tickets I'll pile up. Or second, I'll probably crash the thing and end up killing myself. I don't want to take a chance on either one so I'm going to sell it and that will help me finance the rest of the World Series."

Speaking of the remainder of the WSOP, McEvoy said he would probably play in 10 to 12 more events, depending on timing, the amount of rest he gets and his state of mind. He'll definitely be in the Main Event again, where he'll be looking to cash for the first time since 2006. His main goal, however, remains making it into the Hall of Fame.

"It's going to take a lot of support from my friends and colleagues and hopefully PokerStars can help me gain some support," he said. "I know that Mike Sexton is getting a ton of support and he deserves it. They usually vote in two players a year and if there was ever a way that Mike and I could get in this year together that would be an amazing moment. I've known Mike for almost 30 years. He's a worthy candidate and so am I. I just hope there are a lot of other people out there who feel the same way."

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