To give some indication of what kind of a special man Lenny Martin is, consider some of the big-name players who were gathered along the rail, cheering him to victory at the 2011 World Series of Poker.
Todd Brunson, Mike Matusow, Alexander Kravchenko, Oleksii Kovalchuk, Ralph Perry, and others served as his own personal cheering section. Every one of them stayed until the very end, when the Ukrainian-born poker pro and real estate investor now residing in Las Vegas won what he would later describe as a victory 25 years in the making.
“I’ve waited 25 years for this!” Martin shouted out in multiple languages, as he threw his hat wildly into the air, ultimately collapsing into the adoring arms of several American, Russian, and Ukrainian supporters. “I have always wanted this moment to happen, and now it’s finally here!”
Every poker player who came to celebrate and share in the victory had his own Lenny Martin story to tell. In fact, all of these poker pros had numerous "Lenny stories" -- all with the common thread of a good and decent man who cares deeply about those who are closest to him.
Consider Ralph Perry’s "Lenny story."
Perry told of the time he was about to give up poker. About ten years ago, the Russian-born poker pro was running badly. He was broke and preparing to depart Las Vegas, for good. Before making his final move, Perry paid a visit to his friend, Lenny Martin.
“Lenny talked me out of it,” Perry recalled. “And that moment changed my whole life. He told me I was a good poker player and to stick with it. He talked me out of leaving and for that reason, I stayed in the game.”
Perry went on to recover from his downswing. Within a year, he was playing in and beating the biggest cash games at the Mirage. Within a few more years, he was a WSOP gold bracelet winner. That's but one Lenny story, of many.
Other players too, gathered around Martin, demonstrating reverence for a man rarely seen in the highly-competitive, often cutthroat world of high-stakes poker. Despite the late 3:30 am hour, nearly two dozen friends were there beside Martin on his most memorable poker night, eager to share in his joyful moment of personal and professional triumph.
Martin won the $2,500 buy-in Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) championship, which was officially classified at Event #49 on this year’s WSOP schedule. He earned $189,818 in prize money, by no means his biggest monetary score given his penchant for big cash games. But the symbolism attached to this victory was indeed priceless, surpassing and previous successes due to the historical significance of this special win. He was presented with the first WSOP gold bracelet of his career, following what amounts to a quarter century of grinding it out in cash games and paying his dues as a poker player.
The new poker champion was born in the Ukraine. He spent half of his life in what was the former Soviet Union, before immigrating to the United States and settling down in Los Angeles. About 25 years ago, Martin discovered Las Vegas for the first time and moved to the gambling Mecca when a new casino opened called the Mirage.
At the time, the Mirage was the epicenter of the poker universe. All the big games rotated around the glamorous new jewel in the desert. In 1989, Martin began playing $10-20 Hold'em regularly inside the Mirage Poker Room.
Over the next two and a half decades, Martin gradually blended in with the Las Vegas poker crowd. He possessed an everyman attitude and a quiet charm that made him a welcome addition to any poker game, often masking the fact he was the superior player and the unsuspecting adversary was hopelessly outmatched. During the 1990s, he played with them all -- starting with (the late) Johnny Moss at Binion's Horseshoe. His long list of table-mates over the years was pretty much a Who's Who of poker.
By the time poker's modern era had some in the mid-2000s, even Martin had to start thinking his chances to win a WSOP gold bracelet were slipping away every time an upstart hot-shot twenty-something online pro trickled into the Rio. But Martin retained hope and confidence. The same advice that once served Ralph Perry so well, was applied a bit closer to home. Martin had many talks with his friends and then with himself. It was time to look in the mirror and, truth be told, use a little dose of the inspirational magic that had once served Ralph Perry so well.
Martin attended the WSOP during most years. He came close to victory a few times. In fact, he cashed in this same tournament twice during the previous three years -- finishing in second- and sixth place, respectively. He was so close, yet seemed so far.
In this tournament, Martin overcame a tough field of 309 players, including three former gold bracelet winners who also made it to the final table – Jason Mercier, Eli Elezra, and David Bach. It took Martin three-and-a-half long days and nights to vanquish his final opponent, poker pro Justin Bonomo – who finished as the runner up. No doubt, Bonomo's moment of triumph will come some day. In the meantime, he may want to take a seat and glance over the playbook that has been Lenny Martin's life.
Alas, no poker player has paid his dues in the game quite the way Martin has. Which brings up an old adage which goes like this: The best things in life are well worth waiting for.
For a comprehensive recap of Event #49 including the official report, please visit WSOP.com again soon.