Former Hawaii resident cashes in at the WSOP


POSTED: Friday, June 12, 2009

She doesn't consider her endeavor a sport.

But poker's on ESPN all the time, so maybe it's OK on rare occasion to sully this section with talk of sevens-over-sixes, suckouts and straight draws.

Lisa Hamilton won a World Series of Poker event the other day. I was lukewarm on writing about her when told she'd been away from Hawaii for 12 years. But Hamilton, 37, born-and-raised on Maui and Oahu, corrected that to four years of self-imposed exile in Las Vegas. And she did so with an undeniable pidgin inflection; that's when I knew we had a local-girl-done-good story.

The WSOP media folks believe she is the first bracelet winner from Hawaii. World Series bling is the thing. Apparently though, not so much to Hamilton. I asked her which she likes better, the bracelet or the $195,390 prize money for outlasting more than 1,000 opponents, including some of the best women players in the world.


OK. You told me you didn't play sports at St. Francis. How did you develop your competitive streak?

“;I really have no idea how it has come to this.”;

Do you pattern your game after anyone?

“;I have no faves.”;

Stuff like that (part of an e-mail q and a) and a 10-minute phone conversation confirmed Hamilton is the real deal as a poker player and not just a luck box. Her answers might not seem insightful to you, but if you play the game, you know she's smart and legit. Great card players give nothing away unless they want you to have it as part of a bigger plan.

For solid cash-game pros like Hamilton (her office is the 10-20 no-limit table at the Bellagio), oblique is the way to go. There's no room for transparency in the personality of a high-stakes hold-'em player.

With the win in her first tournament, though, she's at a crossroads.

The solid pros who play in the big games make their living by patiently reeling in the fish. Many of the TV stars in the tournaments, though, commonly make flamboyant moves for the cameras.

This former UH pre-law student must decide how much anonymity to trade for exposure. The more fame the harder to sneak up on unsuspecting human ATMs - and she becomes a target herself. The other side of it is endorsements, sponsorships; with an established name, she can empty pockets with poker camps and tourists willing to lose to her in exchange for a good story to take home.

“;I've been asked by three individuals if I want sponsorship from Full Tilt,”; she said. “;I haven't made any decisions.”;

This is what, besides the physicality, separates jocks from parlor game pros (OK, hustlers). Athletes must grab what they can, when they can. But one of the lessons from “;The Color of Money”; is fame can cut into your fortune. It can be more profitable to shuffle along in the shadows - limp in with your aces and set a trap.

Stardom could come as soon as the WSOP main event for Lisa Hamilton, who says she has lived an “;uneventful life,”; a woman from Hawaii in Vegas who wants to say “;MAHALO to everyone,”; and, “;I'll be home for Christmas.”;

So poker's not a sport. But who cares? It shares enough of the attributes that make sports interesting to us, now including a local champion to get behind in Lisa Hamilton - assuming she decides to take the stage.


Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.