Meet The Fastest Man In Poker: Jeff Gordon

Racing at speeds of over 200mph, chances are that Jeff Gordon is the fastest man at the poker table. (OK, Phil Ivey’s $425,000 Mercedes-McClaren has a top speed of 208mph, but we seriously doubt he’s ever driven it that fast, well, then again…). The man is also a legend in his own sport: four-time NASCAR Series Cup champion; three-time Daytona 500 winner; four-time Brickyard 400 winner – we could go on and on. Jeff first got behind the wheel aged five, and although he hasn’t been playing poker for as long as he’s been driving, his competitive streak and no-fear attitude has seen him take to the felt almost as successfully as he has to the pavement. Maybe he’s been getting some tips off Phil?

A DYNAMIC DUO

Jeff Gordon has gone all-in to form a partnership with World Poker Champion Chris Moneymaker and Harrah’s Operating Company, inc., a subsidiary of Harrah’s Entertainment.

Moneymaker has teamed up with the Jeff Gordon Foundation for a series of world class No Limit Hold’em tournaments for poker enthusiasts, motorsport fans, celebrities and pros, which began in November at various Harrah’s locations. The events will climax with an event at Caesars Palace in March 2006, to coincide with the annual Las Vegas NASCAR Race.

Chris told us, “I have had the privilege to work with Jeff and his team on a series of licensed products and I was honored to be asked to co-host this world class No Limit Hold’em Tournament with him at Caesars.” The 2003 WSOP champion beamed, “I’m looking forward to playing against the NASCAR champion, and have offered my personal contacts of celebrities
and pros to play for such a worthy cause.”

Four-time NASCAR champion, Gordon was just as effusive about the possibilities of the partnership. “We are excited about teaming with Chris and the WSOP to raise funds for children and families in need of support,” said Gordon. “I look forward to the opportunity to play against Chris at Caesars Palace. To have the support for my foundation at Harrah’s and the World
Series of Poker tournament, teamed with Chris’ personal involvement, is a great honor.”

Fans will have the chance to bid for special memorabilia at the event, such as a Moneymaker Gaming Foundation poker table signed by Gordon and Moneymaker, with all proceeds going to the foundation.

A DAY OF RACING, POKER, AND ROSHAMBO

When Bluff caught up with Jeff, we knew he was in high demand, but this guy’s schedule just blew us away… and this was his day off!

The day kicked off with the Fifth Annual Jeff Gordon Go-Kart Challenge at Victory Lane Indoor Karting. The event allowed corporate sponsors to race alongside the famous number 24 to raise money for the Jeff Gordon Foundation. Before the event, however, Jeff managed to find time to squeeze in a special four-man exhibition race with Poker World Champion Chris Moneymaker, Jason Hervey (Bischoff-Hervey Productions and formerly of The Wonder Years), and Craig Reynolds (NASCAR Nation). Chris, Jason and Craig were given a ten-second head start in this short four-lap race. Our first thought was, “Wow, this is way too much of a head start for Jeff to even dream about catching up, even if the guy is a four-time NASCAR Series Cup Champion”.

Shows how much we know about professional racing!

Amazingly, Jeff passed Chris and Jason on the first lap, but he could only make up half the distance on Craig Reynolds (we reckon Craig’s done this before), who ultimately emerged the winner.

After the race, it was straight over to Hendrick Motorsports for make-up, photoshoot, interview, and most importantly, some friendly heads-up poker with Chris Moneymaker. We were under strict instructions not to mention to anyone that Jeff would be there, lest the facility be overrun by thousands of Jeff’s rabid fans. The poor guy has to sneak into his own race shop!

Following our interview, it was finally Moneymaker’s time for revenge on the felt – or so we thought. The action was almost as fast and furious as the karting. Then, with all the chips in the pot, along with Jeff’s helmet and gloves and Chris’s 2003 WSOP Championship bracelet, they were all-in after the flop, with Chris holding AK and Jeff, Q 6, and a board of KQ 2. The turn was 6, giving Chris the nut flush and Jeff a five-out boat draw. Magic river card: Q, and Jeff sucked out on Chris on the home straight. What a finish!

Chris, never the quitter, would have one last shot at redemption, as the two faced off in an impromptu best-of-five Roshambo competition. Jeff took the early lead, 1-0, then 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, and, after six ties, Chris finally won his bracelet back. No time for a rematch, though, as the racing star was whisked away to a charity dinner. The next day it would be back to the office for Jeff, albeit an office that travels at over 200 mph, to get ready for his next race. Let’s just hope Bluff provided him with just a little bit of fun on his day off.

Bluff: How long have you been playing poker?

Jeff: In terms of Texas Hold’em and tournaments, not that long. Maybe three years. The only time I ever get to play poker is on the airplane, when we’re flying back and forth to races. I play with friends who fly with me, and it’s just a great way to pass the time. I try to keep chips with me wherever I go. I always liked poker, but it never became really interesting until I started to learn Texas Hold’em, and then I fell in love with it.

Bluff: Do you have a lucky hand?

Jeff: Nah, not like Doyle’s 10-2. But you know, (laughing) pocket aces or A-K suited, I like that! I usually win more with that hand!

Bluff: Do you ever think about playing 2-4 just for sentimental reasons?

Jeff: You know, I’ve got to admit that when 2-4 comes up it definitely pops into my head. If it doesn’t cost me too much to see the flop, or if it’s suited, then I might play it. But other than that, I don’t care about 2-4.

Bluff: You have a royal flush on the back of your helmet. Has that been there since you got into poker?

Jeff: I’ve probably had it there for about a year. I do new helmets every year, and I’ve been having so much fun at poker tournaments that I wanted to put something on the helmet to signify that.

Bluff: Are you superstitious?

Jeff: No…

Bluff: (In surprise) Really?

Jeff: I’ve been racing a long time and I’ve realized you make your own luck. I’m more of a routine person; I like to go through the same routine, so I guess that could be a little superstitious.

Bluff: Do you ever play poker with other drivers?

Jeff: We did a tournament on the Speed Channel last year with a couple of friends of mine. I’ve played with Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers, Casey Mears and Ryan Newman. Every once in a while, a lot of crew members will get together and we’ll have a little fun tournament together.

Bluff: Which driver would you least like to see at your poker table?

Jeff: Tony Stewart is pretty good; he plays quite a bit in Indiana. Ryan Newman is pretty good too, so it’d be between those two.

Bluff: How’d the Speed Channel tournament go?

Jeff: You know, the first tournament I ever did was the celebrity poker one on Bravo, and it’s so
well put together that it’s tough to compare.

Bluff: Tell us about the Celebrity Poker Showdown tournament. What was that like?

Jeff: I hadn’t played much prior to that; I’d only just started playing more Hold’em around that time. I’d started watching it on TV and then I got asked to be in this tournament. Even though I’m not a great poker player, I wanted to do it. I went there and I got lucky, won the first round and made it into the finals. That’s probably what got me hooked.

Bluff: OK, you had one hand…

Jeff: (Laughing) Yeah, you mean the one with Angie Dickinson? (Jeff, with 44,000 in chips, raises pre-flop to 5,000; Angie with only 5,600 in chips goes all-in, Jeff folds.)

Bluff: Yeah, what were you thinking in that hand?

Jeff: I was gonna lose no matter what, but looking back, compared to what I had invested, it wasn’t going to cost me too much more, even though I knew I was gonna lose. So I guess I could have put more money in, but, at that point, I was just cutting my losses, and I certainly learned from that.

Bluff: We talked about your appearance on Celebrity Poker Showdown, how do you think Phil Gordon would do on Celebrity NASCAR Showdown?

Jeff: (Laughs) You never know, probably about as well as I did! But you never know how well someone is going to be at something that isn’t their main profession. Like in anything else, experience and practice are key.

Bluff: What’s the worst bad beat you’ve ever had in poker?

Jeff: When I did the Bravo thing and I was the first guy out at the final table. The way I got there was by playing it slow and waiting for the good cards. In the final, I got a little overconfident because I started winning some hands, and then I bluffed, but didn’t quite manage to finish the bluff, and it practically knocked me out.

Bluff: Tell us your worst racing bad beat.

Jeff: I was leading a race in Charlotte one time, and on the final lap I ran out of gas. So, that wasn’t too good.

Bluff: You raced Chris Moneymaker earlier, can you analyze his form?

Jeff: You know what? He did a lot better than I thought he was going to do. I saw him practicing before we went out and I was impressed. He was carrying some good speed. I know he got beat, but I raced a lot of people today that were much slower than him.

Bluff: It was pretty amazing that you passed two of the other racers on the first lap after such a large head start, what was your strategy there?

Jeff: Well, corner speed is the most important thing – carrying momentum – and that’s what I practice every weekend. When you’re racing somebody, it’s about trying to pick and choose where their weaknesses are. You kind of force them to make a mistake and take advantage of it.

Bluff: Jeff, what’s been the scariest moment in your racing career?

Jeff: I’ve had plenty of them. You can’t get to this level without crashing, just like you can’t get to level Chris is at in poker without losing some big hands. I hit the wall in Texas one time, blew a right front, and knew it was going to hurt… and it did! I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career, but I’ve hit a lot of things, but, luckily, we’ve built a safe racecar.

Bluff: When you hit the wall like that, do you even see it coming?

Jeff: Yeah, you know it’s coming, and you’re holding on. You know you’re going to hit something really hard; you just hope that when you hit, it doesn’t hurt too bad, and that you survive. Once that happens, you hope nobody else hits you. It’s bad enough taking one impact, you don’t want to take another one, especially when you can’t see it coming.

Bluff: Any chance of seeing Jeff Gordon playing in the 2006 WSOP?

Jeff: If it can fit in my schedule, I’d love to play a big tournament. I don’t know if I would start out with that one, though. One day I would like to do it for sure, but right now, with my schedule, there’s just no way I could dedicate a whole week to it. Not that I would last that long. I guess I could just go schedule a day (laughs).

On Track with Jeff
You don’t need a WSOP championship when you’re putting up numbers like Jeff Gordon does in racing. This may be the first year since 1993 that his winnings do not exceed the WSOP top prize. But with with 4 races left to go at press time, there’s no guarantee. Joe Hachem scored a cool $7.5 million at this year’s WSOP.

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December 2005