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Best of Ryan McLane
When Richard Lee went on record as saying he didn't care about the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event prize money because he already had enough, many people didn't know what to think about the well-spoken man from Texas. The question on everyone's mind was how could anyone say $12 million isn't life-changing money?
The comment put many people off, but the more fans and media members found out about the 55-year old investor surrounded by a beautiful supportive family, the more they began to change their minds.
Words that once rubbed people the wrong way eventually started to sound more and more like genuine honesty. Lee has the money and he's willing to admit it. Most of the professionals care little for the money so why can't a wealthy amateur?
"I've been blessed by the good Lord to have done real well financially," Lee said. "Sure the $12 million would have been great. But I'm more interested in winning a championship for my city, my family, and the people who have supported me. I feel like I let them all down."
When he uttered that last statement in his final press conference, family and media alike informed the would-be-champion that he was a winner in their hearts. Here was a guy who truly wanted to win something for the sheer sport of it - a rarity in poker. It was refreshing in a way, the money didn't matter.
"The bracelet is just a symbol," Lee said. "I'm not a real big jewelry guy. I wear a watch and a wedding ring and that's about it. I care more about the bracelet because it's a symbol that you are the World Champion."
Lee continually proved he didn't care about the money in the days leading up to final table. Approached by several online poker rooms seeking ways to get their merchandise on anyone who would appear on television, Lee told them no.
His family was also approached. His beautiful wife and daughters were offered thousands of dollars to wear advertisements. Again, Lee said no, sending his girls to the spa for a full day of beauty treatment rather than make them billboards.
"I'm a real funny person," Lee said. "They offered me money to wear their t-shirt or their ball cap. But I made a decision. I'm 55-years old. I've lived in the same city for 54 of those years. I told myself, if I was lucky enough to make the final two or three tables, the only thing I'll endorse is God, my family, and the great city of San Antonio."
Lee will not get the chance to go home with the title of champion, but considering the coverage he's getting in his hometown newspapers and the slew of friends supporting him, he will go home a champion in the hearts of his fellow Texans.
Lee is a gambler at the poker table, something he attributes to his Texas blood. His willingness to get involved in pots gave him the edge he needed to plow through a field of 8,773 Main Event participants. At one point at the final table, he built his chip stack up to more than $20 million, good enough for a solid second place.
His play amongst the final nine was solid. He won a bunch of little pots without showing a hand; something radio commentator and professional poker player Daniel Negreanu said was the key to being successful at a final table.
On his final hand, the gambler finally broke through. Lee came over the top of a sizable Jamie Gold raise and paid the ultimate price. His pockets Jacks were dominated by Gold's pocket Queens. When asked why he risked it all on a single pair pre-flop, Lee said he was tired of seeing Gold bully the table. Plus, he came to win.
"Jamie (Gold) was raising a lot of pots," Lee said. "I've been watching him play for three days now and the cards have been running all over him. I didn't think he had a giant hand, maybe A-k or pocket Tens. I made a decision to win the pot right there. When you're gambling at this level you're not going to get a million opportunities so when you think you have one, I think you need to go for it."
In the end, the great gambler simply picked the wrong pot against the wrong man. Lee wasn't able to win the 2006 Main Event, but by the end of his run of the WSOP, he had won the hearts of those who watched him play.