Motivation is an odd thing.  Some people are motivated by money.  Others are motivated by fame and glory.

Still others aspire to be the best at what they do as a manifestation of personal pride.

Dana Castaneda
was motivated by none of these things. She was motivated by something else, in fact--an empowering spirit some would say is far more important and inspirational, in what manifested into a stunning victory in the latest World Series of Poker gold bracelet event at the Rio in Las Vegas.

Castaneda's motivation?  Her grandmother.

Just days after Castaneda's grandmother passed away, the 31-year-old cocktail waitress from Bullhead City, AZ entered the $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em event, encouraged by her dying grandmother's final words.

If this seems like a movie scene or a stale cliché, rest assured it is not.  Castaneda's victory was almost entirely set into motion by her 94-year-old grandmother's final words of encouragement, that she was actually going to win a WSOP event.

“I told her, 'Hey Grandmother, I'm going to play in the WSOP and she told me I was going to win it,” Castaneda said moments after victory.  “That was my whole inspiration through this, that I was going to win.  We were super, super, super close.”

Castaneda may have been inspired coming into this tournament, but there was nothing to indicate she'd outlast a massive field size totaling 2,883 players – one of the larger events of this series, so far.  Her only previous WSOP cash took place days earlier in the Ladies Championship, a nice 94th-place confidence builder worth $1,768.  There was nothing to indicate this genteel woman, who often pulls double shifts as a cocktail waitress at Casino Morongo in California, and also works as an assistant to the Chief of Police of the Morongo Reservation would come into a highly-competitive WSOP event and essentially walk away with 250 times what she won in the Ladies competition.

Moreover, the manner of her victory bears reviewing.  Castaneda arrived at the final table on the third day of play as the shortest stack.  She was all-in multiple times early on, but managed to survive and double up each time.  She had resigned herself emotionally to a ninth-place finish, that would have paid around $30,000.  However, the inspirational words of a grandmother lingered in her consciousness, ultimately providing whatever was necessary to not only last long, but win on the grandest stage in all of poker.

Castaneda collected $454,207 for first place, plus her first gold bracelet.  

In a post-tournament interview, Castaneda reflected upon the surreal moment of victory and what her grandmother's final words meant as a motivator.

“This win is 100 percent for her,” Castaneda said.

This is the 22nd non-Ladies Event in WSOP history to be won by a woman.  The last female winner was Vanessa Selbst, who won the $2,500 10-Game event last year.


Name:  Dana Castaneda
Current Residence:  Bullhead City, AZ (USA)
Birthplace:  Needles, CA (USA)
Age:  31
Marital Status:  Married
Children:  3
Profession:  Cocktail Waitress / Municipal Worker
WSOP Cashes (including this event):  2
First WSOP Cash (year):  2013
WSOP Final Table Appearances:  1
WSOP Wins (with this victory):  1
WSOP Career Earnings:  $455,975

WSOP:  How does it feel to win your first WSOP gold bracelet?
Castaneda:  It's amazing.  I can't believe I won this.  It's for my grandmother.

WSOP:  Can you tell use the inspiring story about how you got here?
Castaneda:  I'm originally from California, but I now live near Laughlin, where my parents live.  A week ago Sunday, I was visiting my grandmother.  She was on her deathbed.  I told her, "Hey Gram, I'm going to play in the World Series of Poker."  She told me I was going to win it.  Then, last Tuesday, she passed.  I came up here and played the Women's event and I cashed.  Not a big cash, but a cash.  I hoped over into the Bounty Tournament and I cashed in that, too.  So, I rolled that over and now here I am.  I won.

WSOP:  You overcame a big chip disadvantage at the final table.  Can you discuss what happened?
Castaneda:  I walked into this with the bottom stack.  I told my husband that I'll probably be the first one out, but that well get like $30,000 (for ninth place).  As each person went out, it was crazy.  I kept doubling up, and the next thing I knew I had the big stack.  It was definitely an experience to say the least.

WSOP:  You outlasted more than 2,800 players.  How does that feel?
Castaneda:  That's a lot.  I was scared to enter it because the Ladies Championship was only 900 players.  I thought that was like a ton, and I was like, "oh my goodness."  I saw more than 2,000 and I thought, "that's a ton of people."  I was just surprised to make it to Day Two, and then to Day Three, and then to the final table.  It just was amazing.

WSOP:  Does being a woman winning an open event give you some extra pride?
Castaneda:  Yeah, it does.  I kept setting small goals every day.  I just wanted to make it to the next break.  Then, I just wanted to make it to dinner.  I kept doing that until I got here.  And then I came in with the short stack and I was sure I was going to be the first to go out.  So, this is surreal to have won it.

WSOP:  Can you talk more about your grandmother and what she meant to you?
Castaneda:  My grandmother was 94-years-old.  She came to visit me in California one time....we went to the casino and bought into a $2-4 game together.  I sat her down.  She hit a straight flush.  She didn't know what was going on.  It was great.  She won the high hand of the hour and got a jacket.  So, that was our thing.  Poker was our thing....I visited her last Sunday and I knew she was at the end.  I told her, "Hey Grandmother, I'm going to play in the WSOP," and she told me I was going to win it.  That was my whole inspiration through this, that I was going to win.  We were super, super, super close.

WSOP:  Did you think about her while you were playing?
Castaneda:  Absolutely.  All the time.  I was like, "Grammy, you said we were going to win."  Yeah, the whole tournament.  And my parents said that too, because they were there.  So, I didn't want to say anything because I didn't think I was going to win. It's truly amazing.  I love her.  I just wish she could have been here to see it.

WSOP:  What's your poker background?
Castaneda:  I started playing poker about 6 or 7 years ago.  My dad taught me how to play.  I got to the point of playing $60 tournament and Casino Morongo.  I started working in there, as a cocktail waitress.  I played a lot of cash games.  We also entered the Rincon events.  I never really did any good.  I played like four of five events.  I played the Casino Employee event here last year, but didn't do any good there.  Then, I entered the Ladies event this year and haven't look back since.  

WSOP:  So, poker is a family thing for you?
Castaneda:  My dad loves to play poker.  So does my brother, and my mother too.  She play poker a little.

WSOP:  What will your co-workers say when they see you again after winning a gold bracelet?
Castaneda:  I'm going to wear it to work.  They are going to be absolutely floored.  I work at Morongo and that's where I play.  So, when I walk in they are going to be like – 'what in the world?' – because they didn't even know I was going to play.  

WSOP:  Any final words?
Castaneda:  This win is 100 percent for her.