Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack World Series of Poker Satellite Qualifier winner David Skidmore head to Las Vegas Main Event!  
By Victor Zapana, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WHEELING, W.Va. -- David Skidmore walks quickly down the escalators and into an enclosed poker room. He has just finished smoking a cigarette and in mere moments, he will start a 20-player poker tournament.
It costs him $150 to enter, but he does not think the fee is unreasonable. To him, an unreasonable fee is $10,000 -- the amount needed to play at the increasingly popular World Series of Poker main event. If Mr. Skidmore were to spend $10,000, he says, "my wife would divorce me."
Looking rather calm, though damp with sweat, Mr. Skidmore, 53, arrives at his seat at the second poker table. "I love seat nine," he says. A poker player's position on the table is important to strategy, according to one of the poker bibles written by Daniel Negreanu that Mr. Skidmore keeps at his home.
Mr. Skidmore, of South Fayette, is confident. The nine men before him, all middle-age or older, are not professional players. And although Mr. Skidmore's day job is in insurance and investments, he does win poker games.
On May 31, Mr. Skidmore spent $130 to join a regional tournament here. His win landed him $2,000 in cash -- and a seat next weekend at the World Series main event in Las Vegas.
The World Series of Poker comprises more than 50 events, with first-place prizes ranging from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the main event awards much more: Mr. Skidmore is aiming for a prize that ranges from $5 million to $12 million along with a World Series bracelet.
One week after winning his shot at the World Series, Mr. Skidmore was back at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack for practice before heading west for the tournament in which he's aimed to compete for 30 years.
The cards knew
Mr. Skidmore calls poker a brutal game, an addictive activity in which "95 percent" of players lose money. "It's penthouse to the outhouse in poker, buddy," he says.
One of four children, Mr. Skidmore grew up in Philippi, W.Va. He attended Alderson-Broaddus College there, earning an associate's degree in coal mining management before he decided he wanted to work elsewhere.
In 1979, he moved to Las Vegas to work for his older brother, Mike, now 61, as a card dealer at the Circus Circus casino. He also started playing there. Mr. Skidmore says he was "very aggressive" but also very good.
In 1981, he quit his job to play poker professionally. He quickly started to lose money. He slept on his brother's couch and saw his car repossessed.
"As soon I quit my job, the cards knew it," Mr. Skidmore says. "I decided I needed a backup job."
Over the next decade, he earned a bachelor's degree in sports management at West Virginia University and took a few jobs, including school fundraising and working at a health spa. He played in poker tournaments regularly. He met his wife, Suzanne, while he worked as a card dealer and a poker supervisor at the Colorado Belle Hotel & Casino in Laughlin, Nev.
To settle down with Suzanne, Mr. Skidmore left the gaming business -- its workers divorced often, Suzanne says. They moved to Pittsburgh in 1989; he worked for a market research firm and they had two children, Brett and Abby.
Mr. Skidmore continued to play poker sparingly, holding a few home tournaments and visiting the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., once a year. When Wheeling Island installed its poker room in October 2007, Mr. Skidmore drove there monthly.
Match, raise or fold
The basics of no-limit Texas Hold'em poker are simple: Each player receives two cards, face down. Players bet on those "hole" cards to stay in the game.
hen the dealer turns up three cards, the "flop." Another round of betting commences. He then deals the final two cards face up, one at a time -- called the "turn" and the "river" -- each followed again by rounds of betting.
Players can match the first bettor's wager, raise the bet or fold. After all five table cards are dealt, players make their best hands out of the two in the hole and three of the five on the table.
Betting is unlimited; hence the name "no-limit." A popular phrase at the table is, "All in," meaning a player bets his entire stack of chips. To stay in the game, all other players must match the value of the all-in wager.
Aces are the highest cards; a player who gets two of them on the deal is said to have pocket aces, the ultimate early combination. Winning poker players learn how to bet in any situation, with any combination of cards, and by making a quick study of their opponents's strengths.
But no matter how skilled a player may be, poker is a game of chance, as Mr. Skidmore knows well.
Last year, Wheeling Island casino became a site for World Series of Poker satellite tournaments, where John Smith can battle Joe Schmoe for a cash prize and a seat at the main World Series event.
This year, Mr. Skidmore played the tournament three times and did not make first place, but he twice made it to the finalists' table. During a fourth tournament last month, in under eight hours, he fought his way to the top three spots. He had $600,000 in poker chips, and another player had $400,000. But both amounts paled to the $1.8 million in chips the table leader held.
A 15-minute break was called. Mr. Skidmore called his wife and then his brother, Mike. "I was playing for second place," he told his brother.
"Yeah, he's got you dominated," Mike replied. "You have to get lucky." Over the next four rounds, Mr. Skidmore won $1 million in chips, removing one player from the game and taking $600,000 from the former leader. In the fifth round, his opponent was dealt pocket aces.
Mr. Skidmore raised the bet to $200,000. The other, younger player called. "The younger players -- they like to play mind games," said Peter Lau, the poker room manager.
The dealer on the flop and turn dealt a king, 10, 7 and 3. The opponent did not hesitate. He bet all-in, $1.2 million in chips, and revealed his pocket aces.
Then Mr. Skidmore revealed his own pair: threes, giving him a triple, which beats any pair.
The fifth card was revealed (a two), and the audience was stunned. Mr. Skidmore had beaten pocket aces and 150 other players to win $16,000 -- $2,000 for him, $4,000 for the Internal Revenue Service and $10,000 for the World Series of Poker. He was going to Las Vegas.
Cake and a poster
Mr. Skidmore loses the 20-person tournament he entered for practice at Wheeling Island. The loss is unimportant, he says. He is focused on traveling this weekend to Las Vegas, where he will play a few more games to prepare.
His family and colleagues have wished him luck. A week ago, they created a poster and hosted a party with chocolate cake -- "Good luck, Dave: Bring home the bracelet" written in frosting.
The World Series of Poker main event starts Friday, though Mr. Skidmore begins the next day. "Anybody can win these tournaments," Mr. Skidmore says.
But meanwhile, he will try for another bracelet. On his birthday Wednesday, he will play in a separate World Series of Poker tournament, a $1,500 buy-in, no-limit Hold'em event.
Three days later, he will be working on his dream. And his luck.
Victor Zapana can be reached at vzapana@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956.
First published on June 28, 2009 at 12:00 am by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette


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