MU grad cashes in at World Series of Poker event

Thursday, June 17, 2010 | 8:54 p.m. CDT; updated 10:36 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jeff Tebben planned on missing work Monday, but he didn't expect he would have to be away until Wednesday.

Tebben, a 1994 MU graduate, won $503,389 on Wednesday in the No-Limit Hold'em Championship at the 2010 World Series of Poker.

Tebben, a medical equipment salesman from Overland Park, Kan., went to Las Vegas for the weekend with the intention of competing in the tournament that had a $1,000 buy-in.

But he didn't expect to still be playing on the events final day. Because of his success, though, Tebben had to call in sick.

“I think he’ll understand,” Tebben said about his boss.

In four days of play, Tebben beat a field of 3,289, including some of the most recognized names in poker.

“I saw Men “The Master” (Men Nguyen), Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Jen Harman. All the top players were there," Tebben said. 

“It was the craziest experience ever. It’s been a whirlwind, just completely unfathomable,” Tebben, a self-proclaimed huge Tigers fan, said by phone.

Late Wednesday, with only nine competitors left, Tebben didn't have many chips compared to his opponents at the final table. While Tebben was happy with how far he had gone, he wanted more. 

“It was such a great honor,” he said. “But it’s kind of like the Academy Awards. It’s great to be nominated, but to win is a whole 'nother world.”

Playing to win, Tebben’s response was to go all-in (bet all of his chips) in three consecutive hands. His aggressive play paid off, giving him a comfortable amount to play with. 

Tebben, who wore sunglasses and a hat for the tournament, battled his way through the competitors until J.D. McNamara was the only person standing between him and the prize money. Tebben was nervous, but any slight gesture, a flinch or cough, could have tipped off his hand.

“It was nervousness,” Tebben said about his hat and glasses. “I’m not good enough to hide my expressions, and I was trying to do everything I could to hide my tells.”

There were 20 hands of back-and-forth play with neither person making a real move, according to Tebben. That was until Tebben got a pair of Kings, one down and the other showing.

"I don't want to brag," he said. "But I made a really great poker move."

On the third round of betting, Tebben had drawn another King and induced McNamara to go all-in. McNamara called and then revealed his two jacks and two kings. The final card, a seven, didn't affect the hand, giving Tebben the championship.

After winning, Tebben went straight to his wife, Christine Tebben, and embraced her.

“I turned to her and said, 'this just happened.'” he said.

Jeff Tebben couldn’t put the moment into any other words, except calling everything surreal and a “life-changing experience.”

“When I was younger I used to fantasize about playing professional football,” he said. “For the last 10 years, I fantasized about winning a World Series bracelet. And it actually happened.”

For the first three days of the tournament, Jeff Tebben wore an MU sweatshirt. It was this same sweatshirt that he wore while receiving his championship bracelet Thursday in front of a crowd of about 5,000 people.

At home, Jeff Tebben has been playing in a regular Monday night game, where he says he’s one of the best players. He might, however, not be the best player there – Grant Hinkle, one of the Monday night regulars, has placed four times in the World Series of Poker, won one bracelet and claimed almost a million dollars in prize money.

Despite his new-found winnings, Jeff Tebben said he doesn’t plan on spending any money on himself. Instead, he said he was going pay off the mortgage on his house and buy his wife a car.

His only potential indulgence would be playing in the 2010 WSOP main event, a $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold ‘em event that attracts all of the best players in the world.

“My focus," he said, "has always been my family.”

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