World Series of Poker: Grand Forks native goes from day-to-day grind to landing on poker's biggest stage, chasing winner's $8.9M share

Can any poker face be complete without some "big, ugly mustaches"? In an effort to distinguish themselves in the crowd surrounding the final table of the biggest poker event in the world when its play resumes in November, Jason Senti's friends ar...

Jason Senti
Grand Forks, N.D., native Jason Senti will win at least $811,823 at the World Series of Poker's main event by securing a berth at the nine-person final table, which will be played in November. The tournament started in July with 7,319 players. Associated Press photo

Can any poker face be complete without some "big, ugly mustaches"?

In an effort to distinguish themselves in the crowd surrounding the final table of the biggest poker event in the world when its play resumes in November, Jason Senti's friends are talking about growing distinctive facial hair.

Senti will to leave the mustache-growing to his fan club, opting to let his recent success distinguish himself within the poker community.

The Grand Forks, N.D., native and University of North Dakota graduate was among nine players - dubbed the "November Nine" because of the month when play continues - to reach the final table of the World Series of Poker's main event last month in Las Vegas.

He is guaranteed to win at least $800,000 for the $10,000 buy-in event.


The winner takes home nearly $9 million.

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Senti since July 18, when the main event stopped with nine players left. Those nine will continue play Nov. 6.

"It happened out of nowhere," Senti said. "It's starting to calm down."

Senti is married and lives in St. Louis Park, Minn. But the 28-year-old has spent the bulk of his life in Grand Forks. He graduated from Red River High School and earned a degree in electrical engineering at UND before taking a job as an electrical/software engineer in Minneapolis.

During his first year working as an engineer, Senti started playing poker during the evenings, winning "a little bit of money." And by the fall of 2007, Senti decided to leave his job and become a professional poker player.

Senti said he was making substantially more money playing poker online than he was as an engineer.

Bruce Senti - Jason's father - said it was not a decision that his son made on a whim.

"He and I talked about it a number of times before he actually made the decision to go pro and give it a try," said Bruce Senti, who still lives in Grand Forks with his wife, Jenny.


"He's not the kind of guy that makes decisions lightly. I basically said, 'Look, you're young. It's something you really enjoy doing. There's a lot of people who make a living doing something they really don't like to be doing.' "

Jason Senti set aside enough money to cover six months of expenses, plus enough of a bankroll to cover the cost of playing cash games and any poker tournaments that he entered.

He says he occasionally plays live events at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn., but that he makes most of his money playing online cash games.

The one live tournament that he never wants to miss is the World Series of Poker.

Senti has played in the WSOP main event for two straight years, missing it two years ago when he got married.

"Every year, our anniversary is during the main event," Senti said, "so that probably wasn't the best planning on my part."

This year, Senti navigated his way through the field of 7,319 players during an eight-day stretch that culminated in the early morning hours of July 18, when Brandon Steven of Wichita, Kan., was eliminated in 10th place. Play stops with nine players left, and those nine advanced to a delayed final table, which starts on Nov. 6.

It took five hours and 45 minutes between the 11th and 10th players getting knocked out.


"My absolute first emotion had to be relief," Senti said. "This dragged along and I started to get afraid I wasn't going to make it. It never really got real until it was done and they started bagging up the (poker) chips.

"I was just kind of shocked."

Ninth place at this year's main event is guaranteed $811,823. And despite the fact that Senti will have the shortest stack of chips when play resumes in November, he is focused on taking home the famed WSOP main event bracelet and the winner's share, which is $8.9 million.

Senti doesn't want to reveal too much of his strategy publicly, but he did say: "I am definitely looking to give myself the best shot to win this game."

World Series of Poker fact sheet

- This year, the WSOP has 57

events consisting of a variety of different poker games, with bracelets handed out to the winners of each event.

- The crown jewel of the WSOP is the main event, which is a Texas Hold 'Em event that had 7,319 players this year. The main event has become more popular - and more lucrative - in recent years, as professional poker players, amateur players and celebrities have converged on the Rio in Las Vegas.


- Jason Senti said he didn't run into any celebrities at his tables this year, but in the past he's played with famous professional players like Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein and Erik Seidel, and he's played online with Phil Hellmuth.

- Among the celebrities eliminated at this year's WSOP main event were former NFL running back Emmitt Smith and actor Jason Alexander, who played George Costanza on the TV series "Seinfeld."

- Many pros and amateurs earn their $10,000 buy-in by trying to win satellite events at a lesser price, but Senti said he paid the $10,000.

- Senti has one previous cash in the WSOP, when he won $17,987 in the $10,000 buy-in Heads-Up No-Limit Hold 'Em event last year.

- To prepare for the main event, Senti said he plans to study himself and his opponents on the ESPN broadcasts that air each Tuesday

night. He also will have strategy sessions with Phil Galfond, a friend

of his who won a WSOP bracelet in 2008.

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