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Khan quietly celebrating his success

From the 2008 World Series of Poker rules and regulations:

Section IV: Player Conduct and Tournament Integrity

Rule 36: Excessive celebration through extended theatrics, inappropriate behavior, or physical actions, gestures, or conduct may be subject to penalty. Any player that engages a member of the tournament staff during the celebration or utilizes any property of Harrah's will be penalized in accordance with Rules No. 31 and/or 51. Harrah's property includes but is not limited to chairs, tournament tables, and stanchions.

In the media, this newly enacted code of conduct for the 2008 WSOP has been dubbed "The Hevad Khan Rule." Enacting this rule was a direct response to Khan's behavior during the 2007 WSOP main event, where lifting chairs and taunts became commonplace. With ESPN's ever-expanding WSOP coverage, an impressively large worldwide audience witnessed Khan's victorious moves, and several opponents clearly did not appreciate what they felt was unnecessary conduct. Infamous celebrations aside, Khan's irrefutable poker skills earned him a sixth-place finish and $956,243.

It was the start of a budding poker career and perhaps one of the most memorable moments for Khan.

"It was amazing," Khan said. "I really felt like a rock star. I was proud to be there."

Previously best known for multi-tabling more than 30 tables on PokerStars.com and being mistaken for a bot, Khan proved he could indeed focus and succeed when playing only one table at a time.

When Khan watched ESPN's coverage with his friends months after the live event, he felt a slightly different reaction. The buzz of anticipation of Khan's television debut instantly became a quiet tension throughout the room.

"I was embarrassed," he said. "I could feel the silence around me because when they were showing it on TV, the people were not clapping or laughing. I thought, 'Man this looks kind of stupid.'

"But at the same time, I was getting a lot of TV time, so I was excited about it and I couldn't wait to see more."

Khan admitted his simultaneous fame and infamy was a catch-22, and he quickly became one of the most recognizable players from the event. The general public reaction to his antics was mixed, ranging from sincere congratulations to severe criticism.

"It was a two-faced situation where half the people loved me, half the people wanted to kill me," recalled the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., poker prodigy.

Although Khan regrets how he appeared on television, he still does not apologize for his extreme actions because he reacted out of pure, genuine emotion.

"I live myself for my own life," Khan said. "That was me, and that was my moment. I was not doing it for the camera. I was being very honest in how I acted. I think people can connect with someone who is very honest … and they can respect it. That was really me being full 100 percent of emotion, and that is what people respect."

Nevertheless, Khan decided to tone down his celebration ritual after the broadcasts and the new rule unofficially penned in his honor.

"I'm not going yell in someone's face if I win anymore," said a more serious Khan. "I will not rub it anyone's face to celebrate. I will only celebrate when I win."

And Khan does win.

Playing in what he described as "the perfect tournament," Khan captured the 2008 Caesars Palace Classic main event in October, taking home $1 million. There, he earned a clear opportunity to release months of pent up emotion as well as a right to show his victory spirit in his own genuine way once again.

"The last time I celebrated was at Caesars when I won," Khan said. "It was an eruption. I took down my first title after a tough heads-up battle. I was so happy."

As this rising poker star drew up his New Year's resolutions for 2009, Khan was more confident than ever and had only one goal: to win the 2009 player of the year award.

"I'm really focused," he said. "I really believe that I have the best chance to win player of the year. I'm doing everything I can to give myself the 100 percent chance to be the best tournament player this year. There may be people who will put in the same volume as me, but I think I have the skill, the bankroll, the consistency and people surrounding me to get this goal accomplished. I really think I'm going to do it."

Khan keeps those who know the game best close. "RaiNKhAN" (his screen name) lives with or near other online superstars, including WSOP bracelet winners Blair Hinkle and James "mig.com" Mackey. The opportunity to discuss poker strategy with them regularly has been invaluable to Khan's ever-improving game.

"I ask them about specific hands, about how to pick spots and how do you bring yourself to next level," Khan said. More importantly, they encourage Khan to move out of his comfort zone. "They forced me to think outside the box. They think like higher advanced math where they can't have formulas and only have theories," he said.

So far in 2009, Khan is off to a great start. In January, he claimed victory in the $2,000 no-limit hold 'em event at the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure. Less than 10 days later, he powered his way to a 15th-place finish at the World Poker Tour Southern Championship main event in Biloxi, Miss. With this smashing beginning to 2009, hopefully he can continue his focus and achieve his ultimate goal: 2009 player of the year. Only time will tell, but with the full support of his family and friends, this just might be Khan's year to shine.

And, whether he reaches his ultimate goal or not, he certainly will retain his honest and open approach to celebrations in poker and beyond.

Bernard Lee is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and author of "The Final Table, Volume I." He also hosts a weekly poker radio show, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show," on Rounders Radio and in Boston on 1510 AM. The show can be heard at 5-6 p.m. Tuesday and is repeated throughout the week. For questions or comments, e-mail him at BernardLeePoker@hotmail.com.