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Chen-Sational - Unknown Math Whiz Walks Off With 2 Bracelets

An early gift…

William Chen was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1970, the son of parents who met and married while attending graduate school. After graduating, his father received a professorship at Auburn University in Alabama, and moved his family there when Bill was 4.

Bill said that he discovered he had a gift for mathematics at an early age, and was studying calculus when he was only in the seventh grade. That same year, he participated in a national math contest in Washington. He finished in the top 10 individually, and his team came in fourth in the country. Bill was also a Rubik's Cube champion in junior high.

How he began playing poker…

Chen remained in Alabama until he attended college at Washington University in St. Louis, where he first learned to play poker in the dorms for grocery and beer money. He went on to graduate school at UC-Berkeley, studying mathematics, eventually developing an interest in game theory, and specifically, poker game theory.

Bill originally wanted to become a professor and teach mathematics, but once at Berkeley he discovered the legal cardrooms of California. While working as a teaching assistant, he began supplementing his income by playing poker at the nearby Oaks Card Club. "Then I came up with this brilliant idea," Chen said, "that maybe I should just not teach, because it took a lot of my time and I could play poker for half the time and get my degree faster!" This flawed rationale soon found Chen playing poker fulltime, slowing down instead of accelerating his quest for a Ph.D., which he eventually received in 1999.

Range of games…

Bill began playing cash games in 1993, starting at the lowest limits. He considers himself a "plodder" who has progressed gradually, making sure his bankroll was sufficient before moving up in stakes. His favorite cash games now are $100-$200 or $200-$400 limit hold'em, or pot-limit Omaha.

Chen is proficient in most poker variations, but considers no-limit hold'em his favorite, citing the complexity of the game and the multitude of factors that come into play during every decision. He also likes single-draw lowball because to him it presents a lot of game theory concepts that are obscured in other games. His least favorite game is razz, because "your opponent knows immediately if you have a bad hand, and that makes the game somehow less interesting to me."

Cash games or tournaments, Bill? "I consider myself both. I just try to maximize my expectation in any given situation. I started as a cash game player; tournaments are more recent."

The 2006 World Series

Then came his explosion at the WSOP. "Prior to 2005, I didn't really play any major tournaments. The biggest tournaments I entered were $1,000 buy-in events, and I actually won one of those at the Legends of Poker 2000. But because of my recent success online and in cash games, for the past couple of years I decided just to take six weeks off and play in as many events at the World Series as I could, and the success I've experienced is a result of that."

He made some changes last year. Physically, he decided to get in shape, so he could sit in these tournaments for a long time. In 2005 he found himself tiring at around 1 a.m., which is the most critical part of the day. So at the suggestion of his girlfriend Patty, he began taking Bikram Yoga, which he found to be a good way to relax and focus. Coincidentally, before both of his tournament victories last year, he went and did a session in Vegas.