Amir Lehavot, media befuddler, exits stage left

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Here’s Michiel Brummelhuis, doing the requisite Kara Scott interview (which I was calling “the consolation prize”) after busting 7th. Every player took his turn, except one. When Amir busted, the two of them and her cameraman met up at her spot on the side of the stage and started to set up, but there was a lot of hubbub in the house – the night was over, it was down to heads up for the title – so Amir and Kara waited a bit. Then they talked for a minute, and then Amir, undoubtedly the most stealthy third place finisher in the ten years since Moneymaker, left the stage. I didn’t ask him whether he told Kara no thanks, or it was just the last bit of ESPN’s not knowing what to do with the reserved, press averse, rounder, but either way, I’m sure he was happy about it.  I should be happy if he’s happy, but I’m not like him, a big part of me wants him want to be recognized, in spite of his own desire for anonymity. Admittedly, from Hellmuth to Esfandiari to Chad (McEachern seemed almost annoyed with Amir’s reticence, but who really gives a shit what he thinks, certainly not his partners in the booth), the commentators gave Amir tons of credit as a player, but as a person, they just didn’t know what to do with the man.

Below is the lone interview with Amir after the bust out. The audio is horrible at first, but improves about 45 seconds in. For those of you living in Western Mass, finding a video or audio interview with the man sometimes know as Player X is as common as sighting a fisher cat. In the next post, I’ll discuss the decision I faced once I arrived in Vegas – whether to be more friend/supporter or writer/press (with privileged access to a press-averse subject) and why it would’ve been hard to do both – I chose “friend” and my experience was so much the better for it.

During this interview, I was standing off to the side with others on the Fear Amir squad. What struck and impressed me about Amir then, and more so when we went celebrated Tuesday night and at brunch the next day, and what seemed to baffle, even annoy the interviewer, is that Amir was, just a few minutes after busting, genuinely happy, both with his performance and his results. Notice the interviewer’s repeated insistence on the GLORY and the DISAPPOINTMENT and Amir’s on “maximizing my expectation” and “playing poker.

Here are a few quotes that represent Amir and why he’s a lesson in how to succeed in poker, and from what I’ve learned, in life:

On how he feels: “[I’m] feeling very happy, fortunate to get to this spot in the first place.”

On disappointment, and being under the bright lights: “I love playing poker, so it was fun.”

In response to one of the questions about his aversion to stardom: “The spotlight wasn’t the goal, the goal was to maximize my expectation.”

The interviewer (I think it was Andrew Feldman, sounded like him, asked precidely the idiotic questions he’d ask), like the rest of the poker press, is utterly obsessed with that “spotlight,” just couldn’t understand Amir’s satisfaction, any more than they could understand how David Benefield (who, like everyone else but Amir, stood at the WSOP podium in the theater lobby to be interviewed) could possibly want to leave a super-high-stakes poker career to go back to college to study something as useless/zany as Political Theory and Chinese – you know, instead of stuff you’re supposed to go to college for, like hotel management, business, or, just maybe, law – of the corporate, of course or, for extreme bohemian types, maybe entertainment variety.

Money, fame – fame, money: these are the only concerns of the poker establishment – it is gambling, and Vegas after all. It’s an odd place, but also an essential one, for a reserved former engineer and chess player who really likes, makes his living at, and happens to be one of the best in the world at playing poker.

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