Bryn Mawr woman comes up aces in World Series of Poker

Posted: June 20, 2007

Beth Shak doesn't fit the stereotype of the Friday night poker player. She's attractive, a mother of five and doesn't even smoke cigars or guzzle beer when she plays cards.

"I drink water and chew mints," Shak says.

Shak, 39, who lives in a $3 million home on two acres along a secluded lane in Bryn Mawr, can handle herself at a poker table, however.

A relative novice, she walked off with $328,683 in the 38th Annual World Series of Poker early this morning in Las Vegas, event officials confirmed.

It was one of the biggest poker jackpots ever won by a woman - and considerably larger than any ever won by her husband, Daniel Shak, an oil-futures trader who happens to be a world-class player himself.

"We're a poker family," said Beth Shak, fresh - albeit exhausted - from her triumph.

"I haven't slept in three days," said Shak, reached by phone late this afternoon. She had just flown to New York on business. Naturally, she and two of her children played cards on the plane. And next week she will return to Las Vegas to pursue her goal: to finish first in a competition.

Shak came tantalizingly close to realizing that ambition this week in only her third year of professional play. She finished second in the fiercely competitive No-Limit, Hold 'Em $3,000 Buy-In, one of 55 World Series events held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.

As the term suggests, "no-limit" means no betting limits, and Shak managed to beat poker legend Phil Hellmuth, one of the elite in the business. He is also notorious as a complainer.

"He's the best No-Limit Hold 'Em player out there," said Shak. "But I have no fear. I'm not afraid of anybody."

She and Hellmuth were among 827 competitors in the Hold 'Em competition, which was spread over three days. The players are broken into groups of nine. Each player receives two cards face down and places bets. Eventually five more cards are placed face up on the table for all to see. The hands are decided on who has the five best available cards.

Hold 'Em is the most-popular poker game on TV, a medium that has heightened poker's popularity. Experts say that the current poker craze was unleashed in 2003 when star Chris Moneymaker (yes, that's allegedly his real name) won $2.3 million in the World Series of Poker televised on ESPN.

That was about the time that Beth Shak got into the game, picking up on her husband's interest.

"It was something he loved, and I fell in love with it," the Cheltenham High School grad recalled.

She knew right away that she would be a winner. "It's kind of an innate thing," Shak said. "You're either good or you're not.

"I don't practice. You don't practice poker, you play poker."

In June 2005, she entered a women's competition in the World Series, and finished eighth. She says she won't do that again.

"I don't really enjoy playing with women," said Shak, whose children range in age from 11 to 20. "There are a select few amazing women poker players," she said, but "my goal is to win a world series event in a mixed event."

When they aren't playing poker or working, Shak and her husband are involved with several charities, particularly the palliative care program at Children's Hospital.

Beth Shak also runs a vintage-clothing business and is trying to patent a medical gown she invented. It has slits in the sleeves to accommodate intravenous tubes.

However, temporarily at least, poker is her passion.

"It looks right now that poker is where I'm heading," she said.


Contact staff writer Anthony R. Wood at 610-313-8210 or twood@phillynews.com.

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