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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Illinois: Freakonomics Author Steven Levitt

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"Freakonomics" author and University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt finally has something really impressive to boast about. He earned his first WSOP cash Tuesday and was one player away from joining Daniel Negreanu and Erick Lindgren at the Final Table.

His best-selling work brought Steven Levitt to the public's eye, but he's been a leader in his field for quite awhile. He graduated from Harvard then earned his Ph.D. from MIT. In 2003, he was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, given bi-annually by the American Economic Association to the most promising economist under the age of forty.

"Freakonomics" has been on the New York Times Business Book bestseller list for two years. "Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives - how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they set out to explore the hidden side of - well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Ku Klux Klan." (source: Freakonomics blog)

Steven came to the 2006 World Series of Poker purely for research reasons, conducting experiments of skill and analysis using poker players as guinea pigs. "We're writing up the experiments from last year," Steven said. "It's very interesting, but now we're working on a project to measure how much skill there is in poker. We're trying to do it quickly because of the public policy implications."

"A large online site has given us access to some of their data, so we feel it is very promising," he said. For those interested in poker legislation, having someone like Steven Levitt on the case has to be one of the most exciting developments in the last year.

"This is the third live poker event I've ever played in," Steven said. "I wrote about this on my blog, but I played in a tourney at Caesar's. I had a plane to catch when we were down to three, so I just started going all-in on every hand. All-in, all-in twenty times in a row. Once, a guy led into me, and I said, ‘I'm all-in.' Then he folded! I ended up winning the tourney then heading to the airport."

His first WSOP event Monday wasn't as positive. "I didn't win a pot yesterday in the $2.5k NLH event," he said. "And I had good cards, too. My wife Jeanette (above) played in the Ladies event. She plays more than me and is a much better player." She sweated him today as he battled heads-up to cash and reach the next round of play.

Today's $1.5k NLH Shootout was different. The format is a sit-and-go, where the ten players play until one player has all the chips. The winners are in the money and move onto the next round of play.

When Steven made it Heads-Up with his competitor (below), the player in the 7s stayed very aggressive early. With 30k in chips on the table, Steven began to lose chips steadily. His opponent seemed ready to flip a coin for the win at a moment's notice. One particular hand showed the nuance that is HU play, as well as Steven's patience. He was first to act on the button, and he raised to 2k in chips. His opponent re-raised another 6k, which would leave Steven with only 6k if he called. He decided to lay the hand down. Steven began to find the rhythm of his opponent, playing back at just the right moments and taking small pots to take the chip lead. Suddenly, the young man stood up and shook Steven's hand, and the warrior with three live tourneys to his name had his first WSOP cash and moved on to the second round.

"There were a lot of very good players at my table," Steven said. "David Pham who won this event was right there," as he pointed to the 8s. "I got lucky a few times and sucked out on him."

"So poker is all luck?" I asked.

"Well, it's both. I have my own weird style, and it works for me." Steven finished his paperwork then left the Amazon Room at the Rio to find Jeanette and celebrate the great start and recount the key hands of his win.

His blog post from this week is titled "World Series of Poker Update: Hellmuth Gets Record 11th Bracelet; Levitt Ties Record That Can Never be Broken." He's guaranteed at least $6,757 for winning his first round today. If he takes this title down for $264,107, he'll be one step closer to tying Hellmuth as the greatest champion in the history of the World Series of Poker.


Steven played a remarkable second round, making it
heads-up with Thomas Fuller. He busted out in brutal
fashion. Steven raised to 4.1k and Fuller called. The flop came {K-Spades}{Q-Clubs}{8-Diamonds}, and Fuller checked. Steven bet 7.2k and was called. {7-Clubs} came on the turn, and now Fuller bet 8k into Steven. He raised to 20k and Fuller moved all-in for 18k. He covered Steven, and with a call Steven turned over {K-Clubs}{9-Hearts} for top pair. Fuller was on a semi-bluff with {9-Spades}{6-Diamonds} for an open ended straight draw. {5-Clubs} on the river was the major suckout, sending Fuller to his first WSOP Final Table. Steven earned the same for his near miss as the first player busted out in second round ($6,757). He officially came in 25th place. Had he stayed ahead in the hand, he had a good chance to join Daniel Negreanu at the Final Table of this event.

You can learn more about the players here at the World Series of Poker by stopping by PokerWorks on a regular basis. Visit Quest of a Closet Poker Player to keep up with my daily recaps covering the WSOP.

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