November Nine: The Worker Bee

Everybody’s been asked the question before... if you were to win the lottery tomorrow, would you go to work the next day?

The answer tends to fall into two categories — obvious variations on “hell no,” and the idealistic “yes, I’d want to stay and work, I love my job.” That answer normally draws raised eyebrows and the “sure you would buddy” look. But those doubters haven’t met Darus Suharto, the family man and accountant who also happens to be sixth in chips in the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event.

Leaving the Rio in mid-July, Suharto took the ninthplace money that was paid to each of the remaining players ($900,670) and returned home to Toronto and his job at one of Canada’s top accounting firms, not to clean out his office but to get caught up on work.

“Some people asked what my plan is and I  said ‘go back to work.’ ‘Why would you go back to work?’ Well I have a job, I have a commitment,” says Suharto. “I cannot leave my boss stranded. But my boss knows that and those that know me well know what kind of person I am.”

While other members of the November Nine may have gone out and spent some of their winnings on wild purchases like cars and big screen TVs, Suharto did what you might expect
of somebody who chose to go back to work.

“I actually just invested the money and I’m just going to pay off my mortgage. That’s basically it,” says Suharto. “I shared some of the money with my family. I paid my parents’ mortgage off as well.”

His path to the WSOP is similar to that of another accountant who went on to stardom. Of the six players who will be wearing logos at the final table, Suharto is the only one who qualified via the online poker giant — just like Chris Moneymaker did on his way to winning the 2003 Main Event.

But Suharto hasn’t played much poker since returning to Toronto. He has instead focused himself on getting back into the swing of things in his day-to-day

“I haven’t really played any poker yet. I played one tournament because my friend asked me. I only lasted an hour or so,” laughs Suharto. “Because I’d been away for almost three weeks I had a lot of projects I was behind on. I put in a lot of overtime at work trying to catch up. Things are finally slowing down now that I’ve been able to catch up with my work. I’m also trying to deal with all the media, so that’s been keeping me busy as well.”

Included in that media attention was the chance to be a part of a commercial shoot for PokerStars, a completely new experience for the University of Central
Arkansas graduate.

“That was exciting, I’ve never done something like that. I’m an accountant so I’ve never done any acting,” says Suharto, who only took the offer after confirming that he wouldn’t miss another day at the office. “It was filmed in Toronto. If it hadn’t been filmed in Toronto I don’t think I could have done it anyway. A few days after I returned [PokerStars] called me and said, “We want to do a commercial, can you join us?”

Suharto’s priorities are clearly in order with work topping the list. In addition to catching up on his work load, he’s been quite popular with co-workers wanting to hear all about how this quiet, hard-working accountant suddenly became famous. So upon returning to the number crunching, Suharto took some of his co-workers out for lunch and dinner and found them to be very interested, very supportive, and very surprised to see him back.

“Some of them did not know I was playing poker. My boss knew that I played poker, so when I was playing he was following online. He sent me an email saying ‘congratulations,’ recalled Suharto. “He was very happy and very supportive. Some of my co-workers are very happy for me. I took them for lunch and for dinner, so they asked me ‘are you going to quit?’ I said ‘no.’”

It was during one of those lunches out that Suharto had the kind of surreal experience that comes with sudden notoriety. After plopping down his credit card to pick up the tab for lunch, the restaurant owner recognized his last name as that of the poker player he’d heard interviewed on a Canadian radio station earlier that day. “So after I had lunch he asked me ‘by any chance do you have a poker-playing relative?’ He mentioned he was listening to CBC radio and he heard the interview. ‘Oh actually that’s me.’ He was excited for me, he told me he played poker and he asked me ‘do you mind if I put your picture on the wall of fame?’ He wants to put a wall of fame of famous people that eat at his place.”

So if ninth-place money — nearly $1 million — and his photo on the wall of the local Indian restaurant isn’t enough to get Suharto to quit, would first-place prize money of $9 million convince him to pack it in?

“Oh god. Don’t ask me that one. That’s such a hypothetical question, I’d rather not answer it. It’s a lot of money, right?”