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Jesse Haabak

Grand Forks man knows when to hold 'em

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At age 4, Jesse Haabak made change at the till for customers at his parents' drive-in restaurant in McVille, N.D. He also added his own score in games of Yahtzee at that age.

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His skills in math paid off this week in Las Vegas, when the 23-year-old UND student earned $352,832 in the World Series of Poker's main event.

Playing Texas Hold 'Em, Haabak finished 26th out of a starting field of 6,494 players.

"He was also about 4 when he liked to watch 'Jeopardy' on TV," said his mother, Gayle Haabak. "He wasn't interested in the questions, just the scores. He figured out what minus numbers meant at a young age."

Math skills for computing odds are a necessary skill in poker.

He was among the 27 players who started play Wednesday, filling three tables. But he lasted less than an hour, largely because he had one of the smaller chip stacks.

"When we talked about 2 a.m., he said it would be tough for him because he didn't have hardly any chips left," Gayle said. "He was going up against the big-chip guys. In poker, it's tough to make any chips if you don't have any chips."

Forced to make a move, he bet all of his remaining chips with a suited queen-nine before the flop. Behind him, Warren Zackey had an easy call with an ace and a king, a very strong hand. Another ace and another king came on the three-card flop, giving Zackey the advantage. But Haabak still could have won the hand with a jack or with two more eights or two more queens. But a five and three on the last two cards ended his eight-day run in the main event.

He twittered after his ouster that he was eager to return to his home in Grand Forks. He flew out of Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon.

"In a way, I think he was relieved because it's been pretty intense," she said. "He's been gone to Las Vegas for four weeks. He's ready to be back in North Dakota."

Finishers in the 19th through 27th spots earned the same amount. But if he had reached the top 18, he would have been guaranteed at least $500,557. The winner lands $8.5 million.

Haabak is taking summer classes in his engineering studies at UND. But he said in an e-mail Wednesday morning, "I'm not sure how the professor will rule on the two tests I have been forced to miss since leaving for Vegas."

He won the entry fee to the main event, which costs $10,000, in an online tournament. Three weeks ago, he won $28,000 in a World Series preliminary tournament that required a $1,500 entry fee. He finished 16th among 2,781 entrants to earn that prize.

"We thought that was a lot of money," Gayle said.

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