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Breakout WSOP success fuels Michelle's career
Boom. Did you hear that? Sounded kind of like a jet taking off in the distance. Or maybe it was a pair of aces hitting the felt hard to take down a monster pot in the high rollers' room at the Rio in Las Vegas?
Actually, it's Tiffany Michelle's career. It's in the process of blowing up. Big-time.
Michelle is best known as the bombshell reporter for Poker News. She's also an aspiring actress, who has guest-starred in television shows like ER and made appearances in movies such as Semi-Pro. Now, after being bought into the world's biggest poker event by pros Tony G and Jeff Lisandro, this poker babe is among the most successful female players in WSOP Main Event history.
However, despite the attention that's kept Michelle's phone ringing nearly 24 hours a day for the last 10 days, she doesn't appear to be letting the 17th place, $334,534 finish go to her head.
"I have never minded talking on the phone, but I feel like I just want to put it on vibrate and not answer for a very, very long time," said a hoarse Michelle from the home she is staying at in Las Vegas. "I get what I did was a big deal, but I also know I am going to need a few really good years to prove I am anywhere near the kind of female poker players I respect."
Those women include Jennifer Harman, who gave her some greatly appreciated support after one particularly bad beat during the tournament, and Annie Duke, who Michelle says she gets plenty of her playing style from.
"I've gotten a lot of [Duke's] teachings kind of by default after traveling with 'Hollywood' Dave Stann over the last year and a half," said Michelle.
"Dave and her kind of exchanged secrets. Dave teaching her his blackjack secrets, and Annie teaching him her poker secrets. Lots of the stuff that she's relayed to him has kind of come down to me. She is so smart. She has such a brilliant mind when it comes to poker. When it comes to her and Jennifer, I just really respect their games."
Facts are facts, however, and these ones say only three women have ever gone further in the WSOP Main Event than Michelle did this year. Duke finished 10th in 2000, Susie Isaacs finished in 10th in 1998 and Barbara Enright finished fifth in 1996.
Enright was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame along with Phil Hellmuth in 2007. Duke and Isaacs are probably headed that direction, and Michelle might just have the characteristics and game to get there one day herself.
In all the excitement of such a deep run at the WSOP, all the backroom business dealings, the contract offers, the media coverage, the phone calls and party plans, Michelle kept her cool. She kept her mind on the game and fought her way into the second-to-last day third in chips.
However, after wading through more than 6,800 players, after six full days at the tables with some of the best poker players in the world, Michelle was beat before she took her seat among the last 27 players remaining.
"I was exhausted from all the business stuff going into Day 7," said Michelle. "With all that's going on, it's hard to keep playing the game you've been playing all along. After that, I got into some pots I shouldn't have gotten into, didn't have to be in."
Eventually, after taking a couple of significant hits, Michelle found herself in a big pot holding A-J. When an ace came on the flop she pushed in all her chips. Unfortunately for her, not to mention for the ESPN final-table ratings in November, Peter Eastgate was holding pocket aces. Just like that, one of the most compelling stories in the 2008 WSOP was sent to the rail.
Although she busted just a few good hands from the final table, Michelle doesn't sound at all disappointed. In fact, she sounds like she won the whole damn thing.
And you know what? She just may have. Nobody, not even the eventual WSOP Main Event winner, is likely to fetch more interest in the poker, not to mention acting, world than Michelle.
"I am going to announce that I'm signing with a poker site as a player within the next week," said Michelle. "That means I am going to get to play more poker, which is something I've always wanted the opportunity to do.
"On an acting front, there is already such a buzz in Hollywood. I have three auditions when I get home. I have a feeling it is really going to be advantageous for both Tiffany as a poker player and Tiffany as an actress. There are just a lot of opportunities right now."
But that doesn't mean Michelle will be dropping one career for the other any time soon.
"In a perfect world, I would really like to back up what I've just done [in the WSOP] with some good results. If I could be on the poker tour and do a TV show or something at the same time, that would be incredible," Michelle said.
"Fortunately, now I don't have to pick one. I can just continue to go back and forth."
It might surprise some people to hear that Michelle has always felt like she belonged among the players on the biggest stages in poker. Not just as an interviewer, but with her elbows on the felt, her eyes reading opponents across the table.
"It just feels like it's a role I am born to play," said Michelle. "I feel like for the last three or four years, I've seen myself at the table and I've known I was supposed to be there. I've walked onto the ESPN stage and thought, 'Man, one of those seats belongs to me.'"
According to Michelle, her career as an actress really paved the way to her success on the felt.
"There are so many parallels between acting and poker and how they have morphed into this one beast that has allowed me to ride this rush and come to where I am," said Michelle.
"I think it's a big advantage to be an actress. With all the media attention in poker, there are certain players and personalities that don't know how to handle that. When the ESPN cameras come around I see so many players make moves for the camera. And they completely lose their game. It's really amazing how badly some people handle it. As an actress, I'm just like 'Whatever. It's a camera. Who even cares?' It's just such a comfortable scenario for me."
She continued, "Also, as an actress, when I play a role I have to put myself in other people's shoes and take on their characteristics. It helps because I can kind of zone in on somebody and say 'OK, why and what is that they are doing?' It's very beneficial for reading people and picking up tells. At the same time, if I want to talk somebody into a bluff I can be a little showboat and be whatever character I want somebody to believe I am in order to send whatever information I want to send. As a whole I think it's very beneficial."
After all was said and done and Michelle finally busted out of the tournament, she exited the Amazon Room quietly. Then she lay down on the carpet in one of the hotel's grand hallways and laughed for a very long time. Something tells us it's a laugh we'll be hearing again very soon.