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Best of Vin Narayanan
Sliwinski making a dream run at WSOP Main Event12 July 2008
Editor's note: Nicholas Sliwinski was eliminated from the Main Event Monday night. He finished 13th and won $463,201.
LAS VEGAS -- The Main Event at the World Series of Poker began play Friday with 189 players remaining from an initial field of 6,844, including several popular professionals including Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Gus Hansen, Allen Cunningham and Victor Ramdin. But the player with the most loyal fan following might have been Nicholas Sliwinski, a 23-year-old from Pennsylvania who moved to Las Vegas a little over two weeks ago.
Sliwinski entered Friday's play with 1.4 million in chips, which is a far cry from how he had spent the last two months.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh a little more than two months ago with a psychology degree, Sliwinski spent two months living on the couches of college friends. Dave Zamule and Dan Thompson both let Sliwinski stay at their places while the skateboarding enthusiast figured out what to do now that he'd graduated.
And after two months of thinking about it, Sliwinski pulled the trigger and decided to move to Las Vegas.
"I'm trying to become a poker pro, just like the guys in this tournament," Sliwinski told Casino City in between hands.
And on hand to watch him try to make the Main Event final table was Zamule, Thompson, his big sister Melece Sliwinski and Jamie Sauer, another friend from college.
Sliwinski flew all of them out to Vegas Friday. And another sister was due to arrive Saturday night.
The Sliwinskis are originally from Troy, Pennsylvania, which sits just south of the New York state line, 196 miles from Philadelphia and 256 miles from Pittsburgh.
Sliwinski's parents, both teachers, didn't approve of gambling growing up, Melece Sliwinski said. In fact, when Nicholas heard Melece talking about their parents, he popped up out of the rail to see what was going on.
"I heard parents," Nicholas said as he approached the rail.
"I'm just talking about them," Melece said. "You just go and play your game baby."
"They just found out recently that he'd entered," Melece said after Nicholas had taken his seat again. "My dad is actually pretty excited now that he's made it this far. And my grandmother is glued to the computer hitting refresh and getting updates. I've been texting updates to everyone since I arrived."
Melece is the right person to be texting these updates. About five years ago, she started bartending and dealing charity poker games in an around Allentown, Pennsylvania.
"I introduced him to the game a few years ago, but he plays mostly online at PokerStars," Melece said.
"He also played at the Mountaineer in West Virginia," Sauer added. "It was just an hour drive from Pitt."
Nicholas won two satellites and chopped a third for the $28,000 after moving out to Vegas, Melece said. That's when he decided to buy into the Main Event.
As Melece watched the Nicholas play, both the pride in her brother and her protective side came out.
"Look, Nick's name is on the leaderboard," Melece said as she pulled out a camera to take a picture.
"Take care of my little brother," she told the table after one hand ended.
And it's clear that Nicholas likes having the support. After losing one hand, he popped out of his chair to tell his sister what had happened.
"He insta-called an 85,000 (chip) bet with a gutter on the turn," Nicholas said. "And he caught it on the river." Nicholas then returned to the table and won back the chips he'd lost in the last pot.
Melece has also taken on the role of agent for Nicholas. A Dutch TV crew approached Melece and asked her to interview two-time Main Event champ Johnny Chan for them. After the interview, Chan found out that Nicholas was Melece's brother.
"He said he had picked him to win," Melece said, still stunned that she had met Chan. Then Chan gave Melece a contract to give to Nicholas. It was an agreement to wear an All-In Energy drink patch. The patch was Nicholas' first endorsement deal.
As the day wore on, Nicholas held steady around the 1-million chip mark. Then lightning struck -- twice. First Nicholas went all in with a straight and an open-ended straight flush draw.
"He has three outs," Nicholas told his sister when his Darren Grant turned up two pair with the river yet to come. "If I lose on a three-outer, it's OK." Nicholas didn't lose. And the Sliwinski posse erupted.
His friends screamed "Pittsburgh" for the television cameras. And his sister called home to mom.
"Mom, Nicholas just double up," Melece screamed. After hanging up, Melece shouted "I love you kid," to her brother and then professed her love to the woman dealing the cards.
On the next hand, while he was still stacking his chips, Nicholas picked up a pair of queens. He raised, and Yde van Deutekom went all in. Nicholas called and van Deutekom flipped over pocket kings. The flop and turn missed both players. But a queen hit on the river and pandemonium broke out at table Green 5.
First Melece started jumping up and down, telling her brother how "sick" he was. Then came the group hug and jump around from the Sliwinski party, followed by the revelation Stephen Kenna had folded ace-queen, which meant Nicholas had hit the only card in the deck that could help him.
In two hands, Nicholas Sliwinski had picked up 1.45 million chips and jumped from 55th into to 13th on the leaderboard.
By the end of the day, Nicholas had outlasted 109 players, including Cunningham, Hansen, Jeff Madsen and several other well-known players, to reach Day 6 on Sunday.
If Nicholas makes it through the weekend, his parents might be flying out to watch him play. But one thing is for certain -- no matter what happens, his proud sister is going to be following him each step of the way.
Notable leaders: Mark Ketteringham, 5.7 million, Andrew Brokos, 4.08 million, Nicholas Sliwinski, 2.7 million, Brandon Cantu, 2.4 million, Mike Matusow, 1.2 million, Phil Hellmuth, 890,000 and Victor Ramdin, 700,000.
Best of Vin Narayanan