The days of every man being an island in poker are over. Once upon a time, all cards were held close to the vest. The last thing a player – a real poker player – would ever do is share their knowledge with someone else for fear it would come back to haunt them at the table. Not any more.

Poker has changed with the information age. The hole-card camera shared what was once verboten with the world. Even the staunchest opponents of those changes consented to the realities of the new age of poker half a decade ago. Meanwhile, there’s technology available that can track every hand a player logs online. With all of that information available, a professional needs to have people in their life that they can trust, a pool of knowledge from which to draw whose sum is greater than that of its parts.

One such collective has been asserting itself particularly well at this year’s World Series of Poker. They don’t have a team name or a banner they fly under, but the bonds that tie them are constantly evident. When Friday began, Theo Tran was at the final table of Event #7 ($2,000 No Limit Hold’em)Jeff Madsen was preparing for final table play in Event #8 ($10,000 Mixed Game World Championship) while both Brandon Cantu and Bryan Devonshire were playing in Day 2 of Event #9 (Omaha/Seven-card Stud Hi/Lo Eight-or-better). We caught up with a few of them and their friends to get the dirt.
Theo Tran
 
“Theo is a sicko. He’s so good at making final tables with big piles of chips” says Devonshire, a big grin on his face, a chuckle to his voice. “Asian aggression, probably.”
 
That aggression has served Tran well this year. He finished fifth out of a record 3,929 players in Event #2 ($1,500 No Limit Hold’em) and entered Friday as the chipleader in Event #7 ($2000 No Limit Hold’em). Prior to this year, he had four WSOP cashes, the best a second place finish a year ago.
 
Tran’s biggest obstacle has been keeping a cap on his emotions. “I think his confidence helps his game a lot” says Tiffany Michele, another regular amongst this crew. “His only problem is that he gets too steamed and lets his emotions get the best of him.”
 
Rick Fuller, also in on the conversation adds “Theo is a great player when he gives other people a little bit of credit for being good players.” He’s apparently been doing that here.
 
Jeff Madsen
 
Everyone remembers Madsen as the wunderkind from two years ago. He’s been learning some lessons since that initial two-bracelet success. “I think just making the final table  is going to be a big boost for his ego” says Fuller of Madsen appearance at Friday’s final table for Event #8. “Confidence is a big deal in this game and that confidence he’s going to get from this is going to be huge for him. He’s got to be ecstatic right now.”
 
“I love Jeff.” Devonshire says. “He’s super-chill, super laid-back, a good guy to hang around. I like that he knows all the games well. He can be as good as he was in ‘06 when he wants to be. I think he was so successful so quickly he lost a little of his drive. He ran badly at the same time and that beat him up a bit. I’m pretty sure he’s gotten the drive back this year. When he has that drive, he’s absolutely sick.”
 
Brandon Cantu
 
The running joke with Cantu, who this year won the World Poker Tour’s Bay 101 Shooting Star, is that he’s the luckiest man on the planet. The Cheshire smile on Devonshire’s face changes to an evil, gurgling laugh when Cantu’s name is evoked. “He’s the best at being lucky at the right times. Of course, the guy’s world class, but his timing just happens to be spectacular. He plays the luck factor well at the right time. He’s smart too, though…really good at prop betting. I bet he makes a lot of money prop betting with us. In poker, he’s pretty sick aggressive and makes any pot you play with him a pain in the ass.”
 
It was late last year when Cantu, a bracelet winner in 2006, made the decision to change his life, party less and take his craft more seriously. It’s shown in both his results and table demeanor.
 
Bryan Devonshire
 
Having just busted out of Event #9, Devonshire opened up about the recent success he’s had on the tournament circuit. “My game has changed a lot in the last two years, mostly because I learned the fundamentals of the game a lot better, spending time with good online players. It’s reflected in my success because I’ve seen spots I wasn’t able to see, fixed mistakes I didn’t know I was making and really just took my game to that next level where you’re not so much playing the cards.”
 
In March of this year, Devonshire finally realized his potential with his first massive score, a second place finish at the WPT World Poker Open in Reno. He followed that up with another six-figure score at the WPT Championship.”The best part of Devo’s game,” Fuller says, “is he doesn’t care about money. Give him $100 and a tent and he could live off it for a year. It helps to not have to worry about the money because it takes a lot of the pressure off, makes it easier to play well.” Of course, winning the money he has this year has made not worrying about money all the easier. 
 
There are others who are a part of this group; Fuller and Michele, Joy Miller, Matt Palmer, Katie Lindsay. Some are superb players, others emotional supporters, but that’s what the connective tissue that brings these people together is all about. Remarked Devonshire “We as a group do hang out a lot, but its more of a friendship context…we don’t really just sit around and talk about poker. We very rarely talk strategy. The friendship and support we have though brings an intangibility you can’t really quantify. It’s nice to be able to share it with someone.”
 
Regardless of how they’re sharing, it seems to be working. The sum of the whole is exceeding the parts and they’re all enjoying one another’s success.

Gary Wise is covering the WSOP all summer for WorldSeriesofPoker.com, espn.com/poker and in his blog at www.wisehandpoker.net.