Davenport Becomes Poker's Newest Professional - Friday 10th of March 2006

By Ryan McLane

NASSAU, BAHAMAS - When Jim Davenport's friend became sick with cancer three and a half years ago, he and a group of his University of Southern California (Berkeley) friends decided to support their buddy by shaving their heads and staying in on the weekends.

In their new-found downtime, the group of friends Davenport calls the CORE took up the game of poker, playing for dimes and quarters and learning the subtle nuisances of a variety of poker games.

Eventually, his friend recovered and Davenport was able to resume normal young adult activities. The CORE members took off to their own corners of the world, but what remained behind for Davenport from those days at USC was his love of poker.

What started as a way to pass time soon became a passion for Davenport, who won the inaugural PokerRoom.com "Become a Poker Pro" tournament on March 5th, securing the title of professional poker player and a prize package worth $250,000 just two years after playing his first hand online.

"I'm still so nervous," the 25-year old Davenport said after winning the tournament. "I measure success in being able to wake up in the morning and being excited about going to work. I legitimately love my new job (as an investment banker in Southern Calif.), and I feel like if I didn't win, I would still go home a winner. But they're not sponsoring me through the poker circuit, so now I have a new employer."

PokerRoom.com's "Become a Poker Pro" tournament began as an idea in the summer of 2005. Rather than invest money in a professional pitchman, PokerRoom.com officials decided to go with an amateur representative as their public face.

The new poker pro will captain Team PokerRoom, a compilation of PokerRoom.com satellite winners that have represented the Web site internationally by playing in the world's major tournaments after earning a seat online.

The "Become a Poker Pro" package includes a $60,000 stipend and 12 entries into major tournaments worldwide over the next year. Included with those entry fees are airfare, lodging and other travel costs.

Last September, PokerRoom.com invited 69 of their players to square off online for a chance to board a Caribbean-bound cruise ship and become the Web site's first professional player.

Invitees were limited to those players who had won major tournament qualifiers on the website in order to ensure that the eventual champion had the proper amount of "big game" experience.

Davenport secured a top ten finish in that online tournament, receiving his invitation to fly down to Miami and play at a final table aboard the "Majesty of the Seas" cruise ship.

Davenport had 82,600 chips going into the event, good enough for sole possession of fourth place. The chip leader had 103,700 chips.

Two days after boarding the ship, Davenport had possession of all the chips and PokerRoom.com officially offered him a professional sponsorship.

As part of the agreement, Davenport will play in nearly all the major poker events this year, including the World Series of Poker Main Event, the World Poker Tour Bellagio 5 Diamond Classic in Las Vegas, and the World Poker Tour Final also at the Bellagio.

"We are very excited for Jim and our company. This is a major milestone for both of us," PokerRoom.com spokesperson Glenn M. Cademartori said. "Jim is a big time player on our site and we are excited he'll be representing Team PokerRoom in the upcoming year."

Although the WSOP and the WPT tournaments offer Davenport the best chance at continued prestige, poker's newest professional said he's most excited about playing at the Aviation Club in France, another tournament entry fee paid for by PokerRoom.com.

"I'm most excited about the Aviation Club in France, and playing in Monte Carlo, Davenport said. "I'm a big traveler and I've been to Vegas a thousand times since I live in Southern California, so I'm really excited to go overseas and play in Europe."

Currently, Davenport is working as an investment banker; a job he says was another of his dream occupations. Although he's hesitant to leave this full-time profession, he believes poker is a passion he must follow while the opportunity is there.

As his playing ability grew over the past couple years, so did his passion for the game.

After winning a few dollars off friends in college, Davenport realized he had some potential in the sport. He went online and found PokerRoom.com two years ago, registered as JDtrojan3, and things took off from there.

"Poker is just a passion of mine," Davenport said. "I love the game."

Davenport started off playing $5 and $10 sit-and-go tournaments online, only allowing himself to play for higher stakes once his bankroll was secure. Texas Hold'Em tournaments became his staple game.

His first major tournament victory was a $40 online qualifier to the 2005 WSOP Main Event. He enjoyed the WSOP event, but didn't play well enough to finish in the money.

He attended that event with Ryan Rufe (Parma, Ohio), a popular PokerRoom.com player who also played in the "Become a Poker Pro" tournament and finished in third.

Davenport painfully knocked Rufe out of the "Become a Poker Pro" tournament on March 5th after flipping over a pair of jacks, but, before Rufe walked away, he whispered to Davenport one last piece of advice – don't be afraid to check the nuts in heads up play.

"I asked Rufe what he thought about checking a monster heads up and he said I should go for it," Davenport said.

When Davenport faced off against Bill Pero heads up for the tournament prize, he peeked at his hole cards and found A-Q offsuit. He checked the hand and caught an ace on the flop – checking that bet as well.

Eventually, he forced Pero to put all his chips in the pot, taking the tournament with the nuts and fulfilling a lifelong dream to become a poker professional. He never stopped thanking Rufe after the game.

Support during the event was never an issue for Davenport. His girlfriend Kimberly Lansing by his side the entire tournament, agonizing with Davenport over every raise, check, and call.

As a freelance writer for People Magazine, Lansing had a chance to cover the Oscars that weekend, but chose instead to support her boyfriend. When asked if she had any regrets, Lansing said she wouldn't have missed this tournament for the world.

She even loaned him her bobby pin, which he used as a card protector. The other players gave him grief for the shiny gift, but he used the pin every hand. Once the tournament was complete, Davenport kissed the pin and vowed to never play without it.

"He loves the game and he was the one who taught me how to play," the 24-year old Lansing said. "I was there when he won the online qualifier. When he's in online tournaments, I like to sit and watch him play. There was no way I was going to miss this one."

Now that he's the official PokerRoom.com champion, Davenport said he plans to practice his land-based game a lot more. Although he'll continue to play online, he wants to sharpen his live game skills for his entries into the big tournaments.

But before he gets to work on his poker career, Davenport wanted to make sure those who supported him during his run got their thanks.

"This is about all the people who helped me, my friends, my family, my girlfriend," Davenport said during the late night celebrations. "I'm lucky to be here."

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