Steve Dannenmann's shirt may be getting a tad funky, but he keeps winning and that's what's important at the World Series of Poker.
Dannenmann, 38, an accountant from Severn, was in seventh place late last night in the annual tournament in Las Vegas. That meant he was guaranteed to win at least $400,000. If his luck holds out, he could win as much as $7.5 million.
But Dannenmann is a superstitious poker player, so he keeps wearing the same tan, short-sleeved dress shirt he wore last Saturday, the first day of the tournament.
"He airs it out," says his wife, Anita, speaking by phone from their Vegas hotel room. "We have a window and he hangs it out at night."
That's not his only superstition. Every day, he takes an even-numbered cab to the tournament because he rode in an even-numbered cab on the first day. And he won't let Anita watch him play because she wasn't watching that first day.
"Every morning, I walk him to the taxi stand and put him in a cab," she says, "and I think, 'I'm putting my little boy on the school bus and sending him off to school.' "
The World Series of Poker is a rough school where lessons can be painful and expensive, and Dannenmann didn't expect to enrolled this long.
"I just pretty much wanted to come out and experience what it's all about," he said before yesterday's play. "I never expected to go this far."
Last week, he was one of 5,619 players who shelled out $10,000 to enter the tournament. Late last night he was one of 13 still playing and he had the seventh-highest number of chips: 4.1 million. The leader, Aaron Kanter, had approximately 8.8 million. Another Marylander, John Howard of Lexington Park in St. Mary's County, was eliminated late last night, winning $350,000 for finishing 16th.
The top 10 percent of players, 560 people, win money, with No. 560 taking home $12,500, a $2,500 profit. The winner of the last hand, which will probably come in the wee hours of Saturday morning, will win $7.5 million.
At this point, those players with lots of chips, like Dannenmann, have a huge advantage because they can force players with smaller chip stacks to bet everything on the turn of one card.
"It's been a good ride, and I've had fun," Dannenmann said, "and I figure what happens, happens."
On Tuesday night, Dannenmann thought his luck had run out.
"I was about to be eliminated," he says. "I was down to about 260,000 chips. At that time I started drinking bloody marys. I got loose and I was having fun, and in three hours I had 2.1 million chips."
"He was out there being his usual lively self," recalls Anita Dannenmann, 39, who says she's a "government employee" but declines to get more specific. "He's always cracking jokes."
A CPA who specializes in taxes, Dannenmann began playing Texas Hold 'Em -- the poker variety used in the World Series -- only a couple years ago. He hosts a game for about a dozen friends Tuesday nights, playing on a makeshift table.
"We put two tables together with blue painter's tape down the middle so the chips don't fall between the tables," he says. "My friends keep saying, 'When are you going to get a real poker table?' "
One of those friends is Jerry Ditzel, 62, a hazardous-waste broker from Severna Park. Ditzel agreed to put up half of Dannenmann's $10,000 entry fee, so he'll be collecting half of the winnings. He says he's not surprised at his buddy's success on the green felt tables.
"When he gets on a roll," Ditzel says, "he plays as good as anybody."
It has been a big year for Dannenmann. He married Anita on Jan. 8, which is, not coincidentally, Elvis Presley's birthday.
"He's a huge Elvis fan," Anita says. "He said, I want to get married on Elvis Presley's birthday, and I said okay."
Before play began yesterday afternoon at Binion's Horseshoe casino, the Elvis-loving accountant was feeling philosophical.
"I don't think about what comes next," he said. "There are people in London who were going to work the other day and they had no idea they'd die in a bombing. Don't think about tomorrow. Enjoy what today is. We eat an apple but sometimes we don't taste the apple, if you know what I mean."
He hasn't even thought about what he'll do with his winnings, he says. "I'm a very successful accountant. I'm not doing this for the money. I'll split it with my pal Jerry and I'll stick the rest in the bank. I'll donate some to charity because there are people who need it more than me."
Perhaps he'll also shell out for a new shirt -- or at least get his lucky tan one laundered. Or maybe not. You wouldn't want to wash that luck away.