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A Poker Life: Dan Heimiller

Heimiller Banks $672,462 For Winning WSOP Seniors Event


Dan Heimiller has been a fixture in the poker world since the early 90s. The quirky 52-year-old poker pro who grew up in Livonia just outside of Detroit, Michigan, has had an up and down career, but is right in the middle of his biggest upswing thanks to a $627,462 payday for winning the World Series of Poker Seniors Championship, his second bracelet overall.

Heimiller has won more than $5.3 million in his career, with $1 million coming in the last nine months alone, but he readily admits that he’s been broke upwards of 20 times and has had to work the rail to find a stake in order to get back into the game.

This time around, he hopes he can keep some money in his pocket and continue to ride his latest hot streak. If things break the right way for him, he’ll string together a series of wins and earn the respect he craves from his peers.

Poker Beginnings

The Heimiller family was huge, consisting of eight boys and two girls. As a result, Heimiller was constantly engaging in competition with his siblings.

“I was very into games from an early age,” he said. “We’d play Monopoly, Risk, Clue, and other board games. I was playing the first video games ever created, even before Atari. I won the southeast unrated section chess competition for about $600. I even finished third in a toothpick bridge building contest at the University of Detroit, even though I was only in high school.”

Heimiller learned how to play cards like most people did, by sitting around the kitchen table with family.

“I used to play card games with my grandma,” he recalled. “It was how we used to socialize with her. We’d play pinochle and bridge. She first introduced me to cards.”

After spending two years at Wayne State University in Detroit, Heimiller moved to the University of Arizona in Tucson to finish up a degree in industrial engineering. Four years later, while still working on getting his diploma, he took a trip to Las Vegas.

“The first time I came out to Las Vegas, I guess you could say that I was running bad in college,” he joked. “I was goofing off and my grades were slipping. I got to talking to a cab driver and I found out he was making more money that I would have been as an engineer at the time, so I decided to stay in Vegas and drive a taxi. I made a game out of it. It was running around town, picking up as many people as possible. The money was a way to keep score. At one point, I worked six days a week, 11 hours a day. Then I got caught up in poker.”

Ups and Downs of Poker

Though he drove a cab for a few years, Heimiller was in and out of the poker rooms whenever he got the chance. He would win for a while, then lose it all and repeat the cycle. He returned to school, only to go back to Vegas and try again. At one point he went bust and moved back to Michigan to work for the Ford Motor Company, but it wasn’t long before he was back in Vegas. In total, Heimiller estimates that he’s been broke almost two dozen times.

“In 1997, I cashed at the World Series of Poker six times, but three days before the first event, I was dead broke,” he admitted. “I was living in a little apartment in Las Vegas at the time and my rent was $500. I called up my dad and he was nice enough to send me $1,000. I paid my rent and then took the rest over to Binion’s to play in two satellites. I won one of those and used that money to play even more satellites. Over the next two days, I won 7 out of 21 satellites, so obviously I played the first event. It was a $2,000 limit hold’em and I made it to the final three players. I made a deal for $169,000 and busted shortly after that.”

At the time, it was the most money Heimiller had ever won in a poker tournament, but he didn’t keep it for long.

“That money went as fast as it came. I lost a lot of money sports betting and in stock options. Looking back, it’s obvious that I was gambling, but at the time, I had an idea in my mind and I couldn’t shake it until it was too late. Poker didn’t come around fast enough for me to weather the storm.”

Finding Success

Although Heimiller went broke often, he was never completely out of the game for long thanks to his ability to hustle up a stake.

“Salesmanship is, unfortunately, one of my best skills. I hate doing it, but because of my financial situations at various times in my career, I’ve had to run around looking for a stake many times. I remember being at the Four Queens in the late 90s with a folder of my cash outs, trying to get anyone to put me in the tournament. Back in the day, you couldn’t just pull up that information on your phone. Johnny Chan was nice enough to take a look and see that I had been pretty successful in some of the smaller tournaments. He ended up staking me in some satellites and I wound up winning an event. A couple years later at the 2001 WSOP, I was dead broke again, wandering around the casino. He recognized me from before and asked what I needed. I told him I wanted to play the next three events and without hesitating, he pulled out the cash and gave me a 50 percent freeroll, which is unheard of and something he cannot possibly make money off of in the long run. Sure enough, I came in second place in one of those events for more than $100,000.”

The event in question was a $1,500 stud eight-or-better tournament that Heimiller lost to Card Player’s own Barry Shulman. The very next year, Heimiller would get a bracelet of his very own, winning the $2,000 buy-in half hold’em, half stud event for $108,300.
After the poker boom, Heimiller continued to grind the tournament circuit, hunting for much bigger paydays. He came close numerous times, recording 11 six-figure scores. In 2008, he took third in a $1,500 no-limit hold’em event at the WSOP for $275,695. Later that year, he finished third in the $10,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Borgata Poker Open for $387,500. In 2009, he finished seventh in the $10,000 EPT PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for $300,000. He followed that up with two final table finishes at the WSOP in 2009 and 2010 for a combined $291,693. In 2012, he won the WSOP Circuit main event in Southern Indiana for $117,300.

Then came Heimiller’s most recent string of success. In September of 2013, he took second at the WPT Legends of Poker in Los Angeles for $356,115. Then this summer, he topped a field of 4,425 to win his second bracelet in the WSOP Seniors Championship along with $627,462, the biggest score of his career.

Still Searching For Respect

Despite his string of deep runs and wins, Heimiller remains humble about his abilities and believes he needs to accomplish more before he can get some respect in the eyes of his peers.

“The way I see it, before this summer, I only had one bracelet,” he said. “Now after this summer, I only have two bracelets. It’s never enough. There’s a whole group of guys that have five or more, so I got to get to six to get some respect.”

Although Heimiller sits just outside the top 100 in the world for the all-time tournament earnings list, he doesn’t give himself much credit.

“In my opinion, I’m ranked somewhere around, let’s say, 267. My goal is to eventually get to the point where I’m successful enough that people rank me much higher. Part of the battle is learning to concentrate long enough to allow myself to be successful. Some of these players are incredible at focusing on each and every hand, all day long for a week straight. I need to get to that point.”

Now that he’s got some room in his bankroll, Heimiller plans to hit the tournament circuit even harder.

“I’m going to keep playing, try to keep winning and hopefully everything continues to go well. I feel really good about it. I think this is my time.” ♠