“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” – Kenny Rogers
Over the holiday weekend of January 13 to 16, dozens of excited HBS students headed to the City of Sin: Las Vegas. The main attraction was the 2006 World Series of Poker MBA Championship. Almost 500 competitors (including 60 from HBS) from 49 different schools across the country competed in the tournament, which is likely to become an annual event after this year’s unabashed success.
You have probably heard whispers in the halls about the celebrity who now walks among us. But you might have questions. How exactly did Joe Godfrey (NJ) make the leap from mere mortal to world-class poker superstar? And is it true that it was, in fact, Joe’s first organized poker tournament? And is it true that Joe is clinically better-looking than he was two weeks ago?
The weekend began humbly for Joe. In the warm-up tournament on Saturday, Joe finished among the top 100 but not “in-the-money.” (Forty-five participants won some prize money each day.) By the time Sunday’s tournament was about to commence, Joe was seriously considering selling his $200 entry fee so that he could relax in one of his legendary polyester shirts and watch the football playoffs. Luckily for the annals of HBS lore, Joe reconsidered and sat down glumly at Table 41.
“Where is Joe?” asked one of Joe’s friends, as a group of HBS classmates prepared to go out on the town-more than eight hours after the tournament had begun. “He couldn’t still be playing, could he?”
Indeed he was, joined at the final table by Cali Tran (OJ) and Philip Kim (NG) of HBS and six other fierce competitors. Word began to spread in a rapid-fire fashion via a network of text messages, and soon there were 20 others from HBS surrounding the table.
Relates Tim Wolfe (NH), Joe’s roommate in Vegas: “It was an unbelievable day.ÿ I watched Joe for almost six hours, going from the final five tables to the final table of nine.ÿ By the time Joe was at the final table, we had assembled quite a cheering section, collectively holding our breath on every ‘all in’ hand.”
Kim earned fifth place, leaving Joe as the remaining HBS hopeful in the final four. Onlooker and sectionmate Simon Belsham (NJ) recalls: “We knew victory was close when the crowd started murmuring ‘Joe Godfrey is immortal.’ He was no vampire. He was Joe Godfrey, poker genius.”
Yet Joe was close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as his hometown Seattle-based sports teams have been known to do throughout the history of professional sport.
“Unless the river card is one of two remaining Jacks in the deck, Joe Godfrey will be eliminated,” we were reminded in no uncertain terms by the tournament announcer. Joe was “all-in” (all of his remaining chips were in the pot). Had our cheering been in vain? The chances were next to nil, but.what’s this? A Jack! A Jack! Joe lived to see another hand.
It was clear that Joe had a legitimate chance of victory when he managed to whittle the leader’s stack down from 80 percent of the chips to less than 50 after a couple of big hands. More than an hour later, euphoria gripped the Crimson-dominated crowd as Joe emerged victorious. His prize: $24,822 in cash and a Gevril watch. The scene resembled the exhilarating moments after the knockout blow in a major boxing prize fight.
Says Wolfe: “When he had won, it was almost surreal.ÿ We swamped him like a basketball player hitting a game-winning shot at the end of a game.ÿ Honestly, it couldn’t have happened to a more humble and all-around good guy.ÿ It’s amazing that this was his first tournament.ÿ Maybe he’ll go pro now.”
When asked how he possibly could have won the championship in his first-ever organized poker tournament, Joe responded: “I suspect a lot of guys were watching me and thinking I was doing one thing, when I was probably doing something completely different.”
How will Joe spend the money? “After giving half to the tax-man, the rest will go towards paying part of one semester of tuition at HBS,” he says. “I’m just thrilled that once in my life I’ve had the chance to hold and be photographed with one of those oversized novelty checks you see on TV.”
Humble, brilliant, beautiful-not your Average Joe.