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Getting close: A poker champ's sudden celebrity

darvinAPpic.jpgDarvin Moon became a reluctant media darling at the World Series of Poker. (Laura Rauch/AP)

Darvin Moon is a stoic, self-employed logger who spends most days in the woods around Oakland, Md., where there are no microphones or cameras and certainly no note-taking, tweet-publishing reporters tracking his every move.

Of course, that wasn't the case last month in Las Vegas, where the spotlight set squarely on Moon, who was the final table chip leader at the World Series of Poker Main Event -- and the mega-tournament's media darling.

His story was irresistible: laconic lumberjack and poker hobbyist who'd never before been on a commercial flight, doesn't use email or own a credit card and had never read a single strategy book ambles out of the woods and into a casino, whereupon he summarily takes over the game's marquee event.

Every media outlet with a poker player on the assignment desk seemed to want a piece of Moon in Vegas, from the poker press to CNBC.

Just one problem: He didn't particularly care for all the questions and cameras. "Can't stand this part," he told me on the way to an ESPN interview, during which the hunter looked like a deer in the cameras' headlights. After the taping was done, Moon told me he hated the way reporters kept asking the same questions in different ways, hoping to elicit a specific, somewhat controversial answer. "I want to say: 'Answer the damn question yourself if you don't like my answer,'" he said. He added that he was looking forward to the end of all the media attention.

That was perhaps the most curious thing of all about Darvin Moon's World Series of Poker adventure, which I chronicled for The Post. As much as he said he disliked doing press, he actually didn't mind having me around during most of the week he was in Las Vegas. In fact, he sort of seemed to enjoy my presence.

He brought me to interviews and photo shoots. He asked me if I thought he should go on Letterman. He taught me how to play the Hold 'em Bonus table game (though not particularly well). He invited me to breakfast, to lunch, to dinner, then again to breakfast after Saturday's session blurred into Sunday at the longest final table in Main Event history.

Moon even had me up to his suite during the final table dinner break, when players generally spend two hours clearing their heads. He eventually began telling (some) people that I was his security guard -- a sorta funny sight gag, given that he's pulling nearly 300 pounds and has forearms the size of pine stumps, whereas I'm (maybe) 5-9, bespectacled and forever nerding out with my notebook.

Apparently, I'd earned his trust when I spent time with him in Oakland, for a front-page profile a month before the final table convened. Must've been my willingness to lose $30 in the charity tournament at the Elks Lodge.

Anyway, I spent much of the time with Moon in Vegas tweeting away. Not surreptitiously, mind you; he was fully aware that I was covering his story on a special blog and in a series of published stories. He only went off the record a few times, usually when he was discussing strategy. Wouldn't want to tip off the opposition or anything.

Moon ultimately finished in second place and we parted ways after sunrise on Tuesday morning -- though not before he invited me to come up to Oakland for another visit. If I go, I'm definitely bringing my notebook.

By J. Freedom du Lac  | December 7, 2009; 12:46 PM ET
Categories:  How I got that story  
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Next: Pick of the Day: Reporting the details

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