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Grand Forks resident among final 27 at World Series of Poker

Jesse Haabak

A 23-year-old Grand Forks resident is guaranteed to earn more than a quarter-million dollars in the World Series of Poker's main event in Las Vegas.

Jesse Haabak, who grew up in McVille, N.D., and graduated from Dakota Prairie High School, was among the 27 survivors from the original field of 6,494 players on Tuesday night. Sitting in 23rd place with 2.75 million chips, he will earn $352,832 even if he is the first player eliminated when play resumes this afternoon.

If he makes it into the top 18, he'll make at least $500,557. The winner lands $8.5 million.

Haabak is taking a break from his engineering studies at UND to play online poker, said his mother, Gayle Haabak of McVille.

He won his way into the main event of Texas Hold 'Em by earning the $10,000 entry fee in an online game.

"He promised me he'll go back to school," Gayle said. "It wasn't my dream that my son would become a professional poker player, but that's what he wants to do. I don't know when we break the news to his grandmas and grandpas."

"But now look at this," she said. "Whatever happens, happens."

Gayle and husband Rick have been glued to the computer in McVille for several days, following the hand-by-hand updates. Tuesday was the seventh day of the main event, which offers the biggest cash prize of all the tournaments during the World Series.

"We're all so nervous, we can't concentrate on anything," Gayle said. "We don't even call him because we don't want to break his concentration."

The top-ranked player in North Dakota, Haabak earlier won $28,000 in a World Series preliminary tournament that had a $1,500 entry. He finished 16th among 2,781 entrants in that tournament three weeks ago.

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

She said he started playing Texas Hold 'Em with his buddies late in high school. "He was really good in math, but we never thought he'd be doing this," she said.

She said he's laid back, but witty. "He doesn't talk much, but when he does, it's pretty funny," she said.

Gayle described his Grand Forks rental home as an "old house in the ghetto." But, she added, it likely won't be his home for long.