Poker fans like the nice stories. Kid grows up on a failing farm, discovers online poker, wins tournament, feeds family. Beloved pro, successful in poker, waits forever then finally wins a bracelet. These are the things people want to hear. It’s not always that easy though.
With Matt Keikoan, winner of Event #7 ($2,000 No Limit Hold'em), you don’t get the sense of jubilation. Instead, there’s a relief in his demeanor, as if winning a World Series of Poker bracelet was a ‘finally, something good happened’ moment. “I always knew I could win one” said Keikoan, surrounded by family and friends “but it’s been a long time that I’ve been playing and I hadn’t. It does get a little discouraging, but I’ve got one now.” There’s barely a smile on his face.
The smiles were reserved for the friends and family of the 40-year-old San Francisco native. Father Harry was smiling enough for both of them. “It was just a matter of time” said the 77-year-old, in attendance for his son’s shining moment. “My father used to work on a farm 6 days a week, and then play poker on the seventh. I saw him doing that and grew up playing myself. My boys learned from watching me.”
Matt experienced the same kind of grind his father apparently did. Older brother Todd, himself a successful pro, taught him the game as a boy and he’s been playing ever since. He started out as a prop at Casino San Pablo, at times being forced to take other casino-based employment. It was while propping at San Pablo that he met a 21-year-old Erick Lindgren.
“We held off the young guns once again” Lindgren said as he basked in his friend’s victory. “I worked with his brother at Casino San Pablo. We’ve been gambling on the golf course for ten years now. He’s one of those guys who’s just a cash game player, plays a few tournaments and flies under the radar. He’s had a lot of heartbreak…went real deep in the World Poker Tour Championship event and with two tables left had kings vs. aces. It’s a real pleasure to see him finally break through.”
Keikoan won after taking down a grueling heads up match against Shannon Shorr, the 2006 wunderkind. For Shorr this had to be something of a moment of renewal. “Yeah, I kind of revamped my game. I realized I was making some mistakes late in 2007 and kind of turned it around in 200. I’m off to a good start. Would have been better if I’d won a bracelet but, you know, it’s still a nice payday.”
Shorr won $349,141 for second while Keikoan won $550,601. It’s been a banner year for Lindgren and those close to him. “We’re friends. I’m very good friends with his brother Todd, and I met him when I visited Todd down in Casino San Pablo,” said Gavin Smith, reflecting on the idea this was the year for Lindgren’s boys to emerge as dominant. “He’s a great player, plays a lot of cash games. He’s had some real close calls in some real big tournaments, so it’s nice to see him getting his due. It seems to be the year for us right now. We just started calculating a second ago…last year, I think we had four final tables and right now, this is (the) fifth on the first weekend. I hope I get one.”
Keokan and Shorr survived a final table that appeared destined to belong to Theo Tran. Playing in his second final table of the Series, the often-combustible Tran entered the day with a commanding chip lead and held half the chips with four players left. That was as far as he got. Carter Gill finished third. Other notables included Chris Bjorin who finished fifth and J.C. Tran, who ended up in seventh.
Where some players seem as grateful for the bracelet as the money, there was little doubt that the payday was what mattered most to Keikoan. It cleared up his debts and provided the possibility for a brighter future. “The bracelet is a trophy, its something I’ve been working on for four years straight…it just feels good.”
More exhausted than anything Keikoan looked ready for sleep, but the family wasn’t having any of that. Brother Scott said, “He’s deserved this for a long time and should have had this success a long time ago. I think he’ll do a lot better in the future.” It seems the future is a little brighter when you don’t have to worry so much about the present.”
Gary Wise is covering the WSOP all summer for WorldSeriesofPoker.com, espn.com/poker and in his blog at www.wisehandpoker.net.