2007 World Series: Bernie is back
In 2005, the World Series was still learning to be a behemoth. An adolescent giant at the time, the media room was still the size of a closet and, at least in the early going, no one much cared where I roamed or took my laptop. They were grand old times, despite being less than 800 days ago. It was also a time that I first spotted a short-stacked man who wouldn't die. Emotional, intense, and quickly the subject of ESPN love, Bernard Lee became an overnight star.
Before that, though, he was a PokerStar. He'd made it to the 2005 World Series on a complete freeroll, the winner of a PokerStars Frequent Player Point World Series qualifier. Once here, some people might have seen him of being a farmer, clawing his way up the pay jumps in what was then the biggest championship event in history. Lee, though, would tell another story. As table after table broke, Lee made huge laydown after huge laydown in situations where someone with his stack would normally just toss in their chips. Every time he mucked his big pair pre-flop, he was right to do so. He was dominated by something bigger. He wasn't farming. He was sowing and reaping...repeatedly. With his family's pictures in front of him--the subject of many a televised good luck kiss--Lee quickly became a crowd favorite. What's more, his freeroll was getting more and more worthwhile.
That year was the last year World Series players would play at the 'Shoe downtown. For the final three tables, we all packed up and moved down to Fremont Street to give last rites to the Old School Series. When we showed up, Bernard Lee--a guy I had taken to calling Bernie--was with us. He'd chummed up with ESPN's Norman Chad, flown his family in to sweat him on the rail, and provided the crowd with such an emotional performance, there was no way people would forget him.
Benard Lee, circa 2005 at Binion's
Norman Chad and Lee at Binion's
That was the same year Greg Raymer threatened to do the unthinkable. One year after winning the main event, Greg was on his way to making the final table again before suffering a massive suck-out and finishing in 25th. With Raymer gone, Lee remained as one of just a few PokerStars players remaining in the field. He was the only one who was riding the freeroll rails.
When Lee finally finished in 13th place, it was a bittersweet departure. While losing him for the tournament, his $400,000 win--all pure profit--was an inspiration to freerollers everywhere. Lee was destined to find some kind of new life. What that would be, none of us knew. I bid Lee goodbye in a dark corner of Benny's Bullpen and wished him luck with whatever he decided to do.
Once home, I wondered if I would ever run into Lee again. It wouldn't be long before my cell phone rang. Lee--despite having been out of the tournament for a few weeks--had not given up. A marketing man by vocation, Lee knew his time in the spotlight could mean good things for his family. He wrote a nine-part series for me on the PokerStars Blog about his experience in the 2005 Series. You can still read the 2005 World Series Bernard Lee story in the archives here.
So, what's happened to Lee since then? Well, just about everything. In November of the following year, Lee won the $5,000 event at the World Poker Tour finals at Foxwoods. He's also taken the time out to cash in a number of other big events, including a sixth place finish in a $1,000 World Series circuit event and 19th place finish at the 2006 USPC in Atlantic City.
More than that, though, Lee has turned his 2005 World Series finish into a career. For the past two year's he's been writing a poker column for the Boston Herald. In 2006, ESPN signed Lee up to write about poker on ESPN.com. A couple months ago, Lee nailed his own poker radio show in Boston. He still lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two children.
Today, Lee is once again sporting a PokerStars shirt as he sits down for Day 1C of the 2007 Main Event.
He still has pictures of his family in front of him.
© Neil Stoddart