It's Saturday night in Las Vegas, and David Williams' brand new iPhone is blowing up with text messages and voice mails. His latest text is from good friend and fellow poker pro Joe Cassidy.
"David, come to my birthday party tonight at TAO, man."
Only hours removed from busting out of the Bellagio Cup III main event, Williams is wrapped in a blanket, lying on his couch, and he's engulfed in the episodes of "Entourage" he has stored on his DVR. The man many believe to be one of the coolest in poker is also dogsitting his girlfriend's Pomeranian while she's out of town.
But while his condo is only a short drive from TAO, the Venetian nightclub that may be one of hottest in town, tonight it may as well be a thousand miles away, and Williams insists it has nothing to do with cleaning up after the dog.
"Entourage" is on.
Since first bursting onto the poker scene after finishing second to Greg Raymer at the 2004 World Series of Poker main event, Williams has developed a reputation for leading the ultimate lifestyle of a millionaire bachelor.
Sitting in the parkade is his recently purchased 2007 Bentley Continental GT, a car valued at just under $200,000. It's not an entirely new addition to his life, though, as he simply upgraded after trading in his old ride, a 2004 Bentley Continental GT, to Towbin Motor Cars in Vegas, after growing tired of it.
He's dated numerous models, some who have graced the glossy pages of Playboy. Heck, Williams was even featured in one of those Playboy articles that people claim to read.
He's partied at every hot spot in Las Vegas, getting bottle service at his VIP table while fresh-faced 20-somethings stand in line outside to get in, hoping to get a sniff or a glimpse of Williams' lifestyle. Tonight he's crashed on a leather couch in his Panorama Towers condominium that features floor-to-ceiling windows, the requisite high-end entertainment center, an amazingly complete view of the Strip, and a list of neighbors that includes some of poker's elite: Barry Greenstein, Evelyn Ng, Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari.
It was the 2004 WSOP that allows Williams to live the way he does, but don't assume he's blown all his winnings. Rather than waste the $3.5 million runner-up money on toys and partying as many would assume, Williams bought his mother Shirley a new house and himself a Rolex watch as a treat, and then did the unthinkable: locked up the rest of his winnings so he wouldn't be tempted to waste it like so many others have.
But something in Williams is changing, and he's the first to admit it. He's no longer the 24-year-old whiz kid who got into poker at just the right time. He's still one of the best players in the world, but that list isn't as exclusive as it once was, and Williams is starting to wonder if he has a calling outside of the game.
He's been able to afford his lifestyle by living off the return on his investments, his endorsement contract with Bodog, and winnings from other tournaments and cash games along the way. Despite the posh surroundings and lifestyle, some of Williams' friends might describe him as being tight with his money.
"I'm kind of a nit, but I'm not a nit. It's funny when you think about it," Williams joked. "I have a Bentley, so I'm certainly not a nit. A nit would never buy that car, and it's my second one. So if I were a nit, I wouldn't do that. But I make sure I get value for my money. I won't waste money. I won't blow through money and not care about it."
His current lifestyle, combined with his tournament success, makes him a natural fit to work with Bodog.
"I don't wanna [put down] other companies, but Bodog seems a lot cooler than the others," said Williams, who forms Team Bodog along with Ng and Josh Arieh. One of the friendships Williams made at Bodog was with CEO Calvin Ayre, who hasn't traveled to the U.S. since the government began arresting online gaming executives in 2006.
"I miss Calvin. We used to hang out with the guy and he'd do stuff with us and we'd see him and go places," Williams said. "Now I can't even get a hold of him. I talked to him in Costa Rica about a year and a half ago, and since then I haven't been able to."
Williams is widely recognized as a successful tournament player. After his WSOP runner-up finish, he made the final table at the World Poker Tour event at Borgata, where he again finished second, this time to Daniel Negreanu. He made two other WPT final tables (Bay 101 Shooting Stars and Mirage Poker Showdown) in 2006 and he captured his first WSOP bracelet that summer in a $1,500 seven-card stud event.
What fans of televised poker may not know, however, is that Williams is also a very successful cash game player, and that's where he makes the bulk of his poker income.
"I started playing cash games when I started playing poker. They were limit games though. I never really played no-limit," Williams said. "Earlier this year Gabe Thaler invited me to a [no-limit] game, and I thought about going. I'd become friends with Nenad Medic and I noticed he made tons of money playing no-limit cash games. He really inspired me and I thought, 'Look at the money this guy has.'
"All my friends with the big bucks made it in no-limit -- they just wiped out suckers. I watched how they played and I decided I want to do this. I want to be able to beat a no-limit cash game. I started going to Gabe's game twice a week, three times a week, and I really started doing well. I was winning and winning and winning and it got to be where I was winning nine of out 10 sessions and people started to notice, which is bad. I actually liked it when people thought I was a bad player in those games because they'd always pay me off."
Williams also frequents some of the mixed games at Bellagio, and with the "Big Game" taking place only a few tables away in Bobby's Room, Williams admits he'd love to get involved, as long as it wasn't all on him.
"I would love to play in the 'Big Game,' but with someone else's money. I don't want to play with my own money because you can win or lose a few million dollars in one night at that game," he said. "If somebody wanted to put me in, I would give it my best. I probably would play better; every time somebody has a piece of me, I always play better because I have somebody else I don't want to let down.
"I'm happy with where I'm playing and the money I can win or lose is big enough."
At the stakes he plays, Williams has found himself heads-up with not only well-known poker players who claim to be ballers, but with some actual NBA ballers as well.
"Antonie Walker mainly. He has a lot of heart, man. The guy tries. He's a nice guy, really friendly, and he wants to get there; and with some work he can get there," Williams said. "He's enjoying himself too much right now; he's got a lot of money, so it's a little easier for him to experiment. But no one wants to sit there and lose forever."
While NBA players seem happy to have Williams take their money in cash games, the 27-year-old still gets more pleasure and excitement out of doing well in big tournaments.
"They're both important, but I would say success in tournaments is more important. If you can hit that big score and pick up a few million in one swing, that's kinda cool," said Williams, who has over $5 million in career tournament earnings. "I'm also a fame whore, I like being known and I like being recognized. I like people asking for autographs and pictures just like other celebrities, like athletes and musicians, being, 'Hey you're that poker guy.' That's a cool feeling."
Despite the cool feeling of being a celebrity and the millions of dollars he's made, Williams feels he is starting to long for bigger and better things. While other pros are working to build a poker legacy to leave behind, Williams admits that is just not his focus these days.
"I just don't know if I really want a legacy in poker. I'd rather have a legacy in something else that actually benefited people in the world out there. A legacy in poker, what is it? You're a good gambler?" said Williams, who obviously carries the utmost respect for what others have managed to do before him. "It's cool to be Doyle [Brunson] -- he's a pioneer. Poker wasn't very big when he started. Now to have a legacy, since there's like 8 million people playing poker, it would be like, 'Oh he was one of like 200 people who were good back in the 2000s.' There's so many people, it's so saturated; I don't really care if I have a legacy in poker.
"I mean, that's not what I'm here for anymore. I thought I was, but now I just want the money."
While his critics will say that Williams should consider himself lucky to have it so good, it simply appears he is realizing he may have more to offer the world than just his poker skills.
"I was thinking about that today. I was playing in a tournament at the Bellagio Cup and I was just really bored," he said. "I was like: I'm going to do this every day, sit in this room and look down and hope for aces and flop a set on somebody? I mean, it just wasn't interesting. I don't know, maybe that's why my past results have been low -- because I'm not interested or I'm bored.
"I can't do this forever. I've got to figure out something that I like to do that will also make the money that will afford me the financial status I want."
That financial status, along with his status as a poker celebrity, is what drives Williams today. The son of a single mother, Williams has always looked to extend himself as much as possible and has always had interests outside of poker. Whether it was math or science or Magic or soccer, Williams never limited his interests to a single pursuit in his high school days. His current thought process is the sign of a maturing adult and not that of a malcontent rich kid.
"Poker's fun and I can get better; it's just that I think that maybe my time can be better spent. I'll never quit poker, but I don't want it to be all I do with my life," Williams said. "I want to have something else, especially if one day I might want to have a family. I don't want the kids to say, 'All Dad ever did was play poker.' So I've got to figure out something for my personal satisfaction. I always like a challenge. It's not that poker isn't challenging; it is, but it just doesn't stimulate me. I need motivation."
As a teenager, Williams was an accomplished Magic the Gathering player. He started by playing with friends in high school and eventually moved his way up to competitive play, something he still dabbles in from time to time.
"I love Magic. I still play for fun, but that's the thing, nobody plays for the money. The people that do play for a living right now, they're not playing to make a good living; they're playing to make enough to enjoy themselves and enjoy life," Williams said. "The good thing about it, if you like it you can have fun doing it and make enough to support yourself and keep doing it. I don't really have the time to play all the time; I only play casually. I'll play with other poker players or I'll play on the computer. Sometimes I'll get an invite to a pro tournament and I'll go for fun."
From his pad he's afforded an unobstructed view of both the Rio and the Bellagio. As he watches the third episode of "Entourage," the 2007 WSOP main event roars on at the Rio, less than a mile away. For nearly seven weeks Williams played every event he could at the Rio, as well as the Mirage Poker Showdown and the Bellagio Cup, WPT events that bookended poker's most prestigious tournament. His biggest score came when he took down a $5,000 buy-in event at the Bellagio for $129,120.
He also cashed in four WSOP events, but busted out on the first day of the main event while his mother Shirley cashed for just under $30,000. She picked up poker after watching her son play in 2004, and plans to continue playing more and more. This marks the second consecutive year that mom outlasted son in the main event.
A single mother, Shirley has worked as a flight attendant since 1978. With his mom away and working, his grandparents helped take care of him; and today he remains close to both his grandparents and his mother.
"Yeah, my mom and I are close. My grandparents and I are close. I've got a real close family," Williams said. "By the time I was 13, my grandma, who lived one street over, would let me stay at my house by myself during the day I could hang out with my friends, play with my own stuff at home, and then at nighttime go over and sleep at her house, then get up and go to school and do it all over again."
Despite having every opportunity to find trouble while his mom was out of town, Williams took the high road and accepted the responsibilities that came with being the man of the house. The Vegas lifestyle can certainly provide any 27-year-old millionaire with tons of opportunities to get in trouble, but Williams insists his upbringing makes it easy to resist temptation.
"I had to grow up early. I was alone for most of the day and had a lot of responsibilities, so that's why I think I've been able to control myself out here in Vegas," Williams said.
When you hear stories of poker players moving to Vegas and trying to make it as a pro, the story often ends with the player falling victim to the trappings of the Vegas lifestyle, but Williams was prepared for that and recognizes the importance of finding balance.
"The only times I've ever had good success at the poker tables were when I had a clear head and have a good thing going on in my life. Whenever you've got other issues stressing you, it's really hard to focus on poker," Williams said. "To play great poker you've got to give it 100 percent, all of your brainpower has to be focused on the game; and if you've got a little bit focused somewhere else, yeah it might work out, but you're not at your full potential."
Growing up just outside of Dallas, Williams was always striving to live up to his full potential. He went to numerous schools for gifted kids and eventually accepted a scholarship to Princeton. Within weeks of enrolling, Williams was homesick. The combination of East Coast weather and lifestyle gave Williams a bit of a culture shock and he was craving Texas again.
"It was cold, it snowed, the sun never really came out and it was gray. The West Coast -- the sun is out, the East Coast you just won't see the sun; it'll be overcast and gray the whole day. It's just gloomy, it's depressing," Williams said. "I was a minority with a scholarship, didn't really have much money, and didn't really click with the kids. Most of them went to prep schools on the East Coast, knew all about the East Coast, and I didn't really know anything about it. So I just didn't fit in.
"I don't think I tried my hardest either; I'm not gonna put it all on them. I didn't really get along with people that well and I was homesick."
With the support and encouragement of his grandparents and mother, Williams returned home and enrolled at Southern Methodist University to continue his education. It was during this time that he won a satellite for a WSOP seat that would change his life forever. He didn't know it at the time, but Williams was on his way to accomplishing something he'd been promising people since he could remember.
"When I was like 12 years old, I told people I knew I was going to be famous. I'm not saying I'm famous now like Jay-Z famous, but I'm more famous than an average human being," Williams said. "I remember people always asking me when I was kid, 'How are you going to be famous? What are you going to do? You don't sing, you don't dance, and you're not into acting.' I don't know, something, I'll be famous somehow. I always told my friends I knew I'd be famous. Sure enough, it happened playing poker."
Just as the fourth episode of "Entourage" reaches its conclusion, the iPhone beeps with another text message. It's Cassidy again. And though Williams isn't sure if he wants to have a poker legacy, and isn't sure if he's become bored with the game that helped make him famous and rich, he is sure of one thing.
"Screw it, I'm going to TAO."
Some things never change.
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