EPT11 Deauville: From ponies to poker, David Gutfreund working on an EPT pedigree
Deauville right now seems like a strange place for an American. For one thing its miles from anywhere, and what's more it's the morning after the Super Bowl. Shouldn't all American men be sleeping off a day spent drinking beer and eating meat in front of the TV?
And yet here is American player David Gutfreund, one of only three Americans in the field today, sitting at table 16, and enjoying the hell out of himself. For this is a trip the Chicago native designed as a something of a treat, to get away from the day job (more of that in moment) and make the most of a festival that promises non-stop poker.
"It's just an amazing festival," said Gutfreund. "The FPS, the Deauville Cup, just the whole package is a great way to play a lot of tournaments in a short period of time -- in what is supposed to be a softer EPT venue than London or some of the others!"
Gutfreund has for years been one of those players who supplements their income with regular cashes in some of the smaller card rooms of North America. Places like Hammond, Indiana; Tama, Iowa; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Tunica, Mississippi; Gary, Indiana; and Black Hawk, Colorado became his regular haunts, providing him with the kind of results that proved he could play. But then came Mount Pleasant, Michigan. That one would prove a bit of a game changer.
"It was kind of surreal actually," he said. "I won a Heartland Poker Tour event in Michigan for $156,000. I've made a few final tables the last couple of years but finally I ran well once when it mattered!"
It was a big result for Gutfreund who has set his goal of mastering this game regardless of how long it takes. And frankly he has something of a pedigree when it comes to determination.
For poker is only one of his passions. And while he may now enjoy the long days of finger tapping patience required in a poker tournament, it was for him once all about the fist-biting adrenaline rush of thoroughbred horse racing, where all your work, time and energy is placed, figuratively at least, on the back of a half-tonne animal that likes to run. It was a world which Gutfreund thrived.
I'll be honest, as a fan of American racing I'd gladly buy Gutfreund beer for all night for the slightest insight into what made him one of the most successful racing handicappers of the past couple of decades. For me handicapping has been a joyful combination of high speed drama separated by long periods spent trying to convince myself that I knew what I was doing, even when the six horse had just tried to convince me otherwise. For Gutfreund though racing was a way of life.
He is among an elite group who qualified for the National Handicapping Championship 11 times* (the World Series of handicapping) and has nine tournament wins to his name. Accounts of his capacity to pick winners earned him the nickname Maven (or Mavenski), the "know it all", admiration that lead to work as a TV racing pundit and to his current work with Derby Wars, where racing fans of any ability can test themselves in handicapping tournaments - fantasy sports for the racing fan.
So while his business is all about racing, on a personal level it's all about poker. But what has given him the most satisfaction? Winning a racing tournament, or a poker tournament?
"Poker at this point," he said, without any hesitation. "My goal is to get really good at poker although it's still very much a work in progress. This trip to Deauville, since you mentioned the HPT victory, was a gift to myself. This is the one reward I've given myself, to come here to the biggest direct buy in I've ever made in my life. I'm having a great time despite some poor results so far."
Despite any minor blips Gutfreund is happy to put the time in. As a handicapper he was known for the hours he worked, driving his station wagon cross country and lugging copies of the Racing Form under his arm from one competition to the next. He lived and breathed horse racing. It's a dedication that he now brings to poker.
"That's one of the reasons I've come here because you can play a lot in a short period of time," he said. "I went to Borgata a couple of weeks ago where you could literally play every day. For those of us in the States who don't have an online option, that's the only way to keep your game sharp and get better at it.
But as a student of the game he's found another aspect of the EPT particularly useful.
"This is not trying to sound like a suck up or anything, but I watch the EPT webcast. It is the greatest educational tool out there - better than videos, better than books, it's real life. Some of the analysis on the broadcast, when you get Ike (Haxton) on, it's just brilliant. I kind of got sucked in and figured I should come out and play one."
So far so good for Gutfreund, easy to pick out with his red hockey jersey and Derby Wars cap. Even with a slight setback in the early levels he bounds over to the rail with enthusiasm to talk. So when it comes to racing tournaments and poker tournaments, are there skills to be found in both disciplines?
"Absolutely," he said. "There's definitely similar strategies, some of which I've tried to bring into poker tournaments. One of the things you've got to remember about any sort of event such as a horse racing tournament or a poker tournament is that all the money is at the end. That's what your goal has got to be. Figure out a way of getting there. My way of getting there might not be the same way as the really good poker players are getting there, but there are different ways to skin a cat!"
So, as the break ended and play restarted, I left him to his cat skinning. He's come a long way to play Deauville, in more ways that one, but all signs point to it having been a good choice.
* In the original version we incorrectly stated this as four times.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.