City man eyes jackpot
Dan Ott, guaranteed at least $1 million, aims for World Series title
Dan Ott is set to become Altoona’s newest millionaire, but his most urgent plans involve a pillow and plenty of sleep.
The graduate of Altoona Area High School and Penn State Altoona is one of nine players remaining in the World Series of Poker’s Main Event after Monday night’s action at the Rio in Las Vegas.
Ott is guaranteed at least a $1 million payday for a ninth-place finish and can win more than $8 million for capturing the title.
The event began with 7,221 players putting up the $10,000 entry fee, and Ott has survived seven grueling days at the table.
“My plan is to sleep,” Ott said Tuesday from Las Vegas. “People don’t realize when they are watching you play on television that you are getting up to play at 10 a.m. and playing 13 straight hours other than the hour and a half for dinner, but even during that you are doing interviews.
“You don’t have time for anything, and you don’t sleep because you are nervous. It just continues like that for a week straight.”
Just one moment of mental weakness during that span could have sent Ott home. He’s had a few close calls.
Ott’s twin brother, Dillon, was eliminated on the second day of the tournament, and Dan had all of his chips on the line during a hand the same day. Ott came out on top in that hand and doubled his chip stack, fueling his run into the latter stages of the event.
Ott plays most of his poker online and hasn’t played live poker with friends locally for about five years, but this is the third year he’s made the trip to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker.
The 25-year-old never had the money to enter any of the bigger events until this year. Ott cashed in a pair of no-limit hold’em events in June, finishing 691st and 69th to earn a modest $3,656.
He’ll win considerably more when the Main Event continues Thursday on ESPN2 at 9 p.m.
Ott, just 12 years old at the time, was inspired to play poker after watching Chris Moneymaker win the WSOP Main Event in 2003.
“I started playing online maybe when I was 15,” Ott said. “I know you are supposed to be 18, but I just did fake tournaments. I started playing poker when I was 12. I just kept getting better and started making money and got a shot at tournaments.”
Ott earned a marketing management bachelor’s degree at Penn State Altoona but spends most of his time playing poker and making investments without a full-time job. After some good investments recently, Ott used that money to buy into the WSOP events this summer.
During the sixth day of the tournament with about 85 players remaining, Ott was placed on ESPN’s feature table, and most of his play that day was televised.
“I was really nervous at first, and I just pretended the cameras weren’t on,” Ott said. “When they put a microphone on me, I became really overwhelmed that all this was happening, but I just tried to calm down and play my game.”
Ott, who already had his mother Leisha, brother, Dillon, and sister, Deana, in Las Vegas supporting him, picked up a couple of extra fans during Monday’s seventh day.
“I appreciate all the support I have been getting, and it really means a lot,” Ott said. “Two of my friends, Adam Schmitt and Brady Gehret, flew out for yesterday’s session and surprised me. I met Brady at school and met Adam playing cards at a friend’s house.”
Gehret, Schmitt and Ott had dreamed about the possibility of Ott winning the title earlier in the month while attending the wedding of a friend, Marcus DelBaggio.
As Ott’s chip count continued to rise, Gehret decided to book a flight and see it in person.
“He was getting more serious throughout the tournament and playing really well,” Gehret said Tuesday. “He became chip leader, and I said, ‘he’s going to win,’ and we figured out the tournament schedule and found the soonest flight. On Monday, we flew out from Pittsburgh at 5 a.m. and surprised him before he started playing. That gave him a boost of energy after he had struggled a little bit late on Sunday, and we gave him the energy he needed.”
Ott’s supporters shared in his relief when he once again put all of his chips on the line during that seventh day.
Ott had an ace and a king before the flop and raised the pot with his hand. He was re-raised by a player with more chips than he had, and Ott returned the favor by putting in another raise of one third of his total chips. His opponent believed he was bluffing and pushed all of his chips into the pot with a hand of king, jack.
Ott slid the remainder of his chips in to call and put his tournament life on the line.
“I was at about an 80 percent chance to win, but if anyone was watching on TV, they could see I was a nervous wreck,” Ott said. “One of the other players even joked with me about how nervous I was, but I ended up winning and doubling my chips.”
That win put Ott among the chip leaders in the tournament and all but locked up his trip to the final table.
“We were on the rail, saw the cards, and we were going nuts,” Gehret said. “He needed to double up, and my heart was beating out of my chest. When he won, he came over, and there were only a few of us. We were screaming and celebrating, and we were echoing throughout the building.”
Ott currently stands in fifth place out of the nine remaining players with 26,475,000 in chips. Scott Blumstein leads the Main Event with 97,250,000 chips.
“It hasn’t even hit me yet,” Ott said. “It’s hard to fathom. Just a week ago I didn’t expect to win anything. It’s too crazy to even think about. I just need to play the best I can.”
Ott learned to play the game through watching online coaching and credits using technology to study and math simulations that have enhanced his game.
Many of the players at this stage hire coaches and get sponsorship from companies that want them to wear their logos during play.
“I do not have a coach, and I’m not getting advice from anyone,” Ott said. “I’m just playing my own game. I trust my own game, and I haven’t had time to talk to anybody.
“Everyone at the final table had patches and hats. I’m the only one just sitting there in a hoodie. After it was over, I had a bunch of people give me their card. I’m supposed to call them today, so I guess we’ll see what I’m wearing on Thursday.”
In past years, the Main Event was played in July, and the final table was completed in November, but this year offers just a two-day break.
Thursday’s action will see the field reduced to six. Friday’s play will be aired on ESPN at 9 p.m. and run until just three players are left, and the champion will be determined Saturday when the last three players battle it out on ESPN beginning at 9 p.m.
“Part of me is glad we are starting again right away, because other people can’t study me,” Ott said. “Part of me is sad, because I think I would have done more prep work than anyone else.”
No matter what happens, Ott knows his life will never be quite the same.
“Financially it would be a huge life-changer,” Ott said. “In terms of overall, the experience of being able to be on TV and the opportunities it would bring could help so much and make me mentally stronger going forward.”