Dan "rekrul" Schreiber carved through the largest live heads-up poker tournament in history, quickly disposing of Vanessa Selbst in the semifinals then took down Mark Muchnik in two straight matches for the $425,594 top prize.
Schreiber's path to the WSOP and the title is both unorthodox and increasingly common. Three years ago, he left the University of Cincinnati as a freshman and headed to Seoul, South Korea, to become a member of Hexatron DreamTeam in the professional StarCraft circuit. He was recommended by Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, who was in the process of transitioning away from StarCraft into a new online game called poker.
One third of all copies of StarCraft have been sold in South Korea, and the top players are television celebrities more like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant than Phil Ivey or Daniel Negreanu. Grospellier took Schreiber under his wing, staking him as he learned to play poker. "For the first three months, I lost $450 on the penny tables," said Schreiber. "I would lose a pot with AA vs KQo all-in pre-flop then tilt money away." He eventually cashed out $2k playing solely on the penny tables.
"When I came to Korea, I had $3,000 to my name. If I had never come to Korea, I'm fairly sure I would not have succeeded at poker. I needed the pressure that forced me to succeed." He left Hexatron DreamTeam and went through a rough spell of freedom in Seoul as he pursued poker. He quickly moved from a $400 online account playing $0.50/1 NLH to $3/6 in a matter of weeks, then went on a tear as he moved up to $10/20 NLH, winning $120k over two months.
"I did not try to make myself a poker pro, I was just someone who really enjoyed it and saw it as a game of skill, a skill that I wanted to master," said Schreiber. This breed of poker player is the pragmatic gamer, one who simply sees poker as a game similar to any other which needs to be understood and practiced to become excellent.
On the way to the final, Schreiber defeated eight opponents including Jennifer Tilly, Toto Leonidas , and Vanessa Selbst. Selbst had by far the toughest road to the semifinals. She took down Amir Vahidi, Doyle Brunson, Layne Flack, Peter Jetten, and Paul Wasicka. She headed into the showdown loaded with confidence.
His match with Selbst turned anticlimactic as the aggressive Selbst was quickly put on the defensive. Schreiber seemed to have a strong plan to counter her natural aggression. On the first hand, he moved in on her three-bet re-raise pre-flop, quickly putting her in a hole. She blinked first, unwilling to test her tourney on Hand #1. Schreiber sent her home with a jack-high flush that he made on the turn, and her over-the-top all-in was drawing dead. Selbst was out tied for 3rd ($128,968).
Mark Muchnik had a labored road to the Final Table. He had a marathon, three-hour match with Scotty Nguyen to reach the last 32. After Nguyen left, he said, "I knew I had the best hand, baby." This when he got all his money in pre-flop with , flopped two-pair, then lost to Muchnik's rivered straight. He also defeated Kevin Song along the way before taking out Keith Block in the other semifinal (tied for 3rd $128,968).
His best of three match with Schreiber turned quickly in favor of the young pro from Seoul. The first game had pronounced streaks for Schreiber, winning sixteen hands in a row at one point. He combined big pots with walks and folded blinds to take the streak, and Muchnik looked a bit helpless. He seemed to be both card dead and had rekrul in his head, a recipe for failure. Schreiber took the first game in seventy-five hands.
Muchnik may have called Michael Vick before the second game as it looked like a dogfight from the start. He played more aggressively early to take a small chip lead. A big hand early sealed his fate.
Schreiber raised to 70k, then Muchnik made it 420k. Schreiber called, and the flop came . Muchnik moved all-in, and Schreiber called with . Muchnik showed for the flush draw. came, and he was down to his last chips. They were Schreiber's on the next hand, his no good vs. Schreiber's king. Mark Muchnik made $230,300 for second place, his best cash since a runner-up finish the 2006 Five Star Classic at the Bellagio for $348k.
Daniel "rekrul" Schreiber took $425,594 for first, and his single live cash might cause people to lump him into the long list of one-hit wonders that the World Series of Poker christens. Make no mistake, though: rekrul has game, and plenty of it.