Paul Da Silva has an ace up his sleeve.
The 38-year-old dairy farmer, longtime Escalon resident and now famed World Series of Poker money-winner admits the secret tactic that carried him to the illustrious final table, a seventh place finish and a $69,192 purse on June 29.
The cow manager responsible for each animal on three facilities at Da Silva Dairy Farms milks about 2,500 cows a day from a stock of 5,000 and is constantly analyzing figures.
He doesn’t count cards, he counts cows.
“With the way the economy has been, the dairy business is a gamble in itself,” Da Silva said. “I work with numbers all the time and yes, I count cows.
“In poker I just count to make sure there are two cards in front of me, but I do have to deal with a lot of numbers, like at the dairy farm.”
Da Silva, donned in a blue baseball cap and dark sunglasses, became a sensation at the 2013 WSOP, World Series of Poker. The amateur stunned a field of 2,200 in event No. 49 ($1,500 buy-in Texas Hold’em) by escaping the first day without elimination, and then became a mysterious presence at the final table on day three after taking over $1 million in chips to climb to No. 2 in the count after two days.
His ace-high flush dispatched the 10th player alive to set the final table (top-9), but Da Silva departed two eliminations later when a potential straight was knocked aside by three nines from eventual WSOP champion and poker pro, Barny Boatman (of the United Kingdom).
The unlikely run was accompanied by a hoard of text messages from Da Silva’s local friends and co-members of the Escalon Poker Club, who kept Da Silva aware of his position in the standings and his table progression.
“The updates from my friends made it so I could focus on the game,” Da Silva said. “I was very nervous, but I didn’t show it.
“I had my poker face on.”
And focus Da Silva did.
With nerves of steel, the Escalon native boldly made all-in proclamations an estimated 40 times throughout the grueling 37 hours of poker across three days.
“I started getting short stacked, so I realized I needed to change my strategy,” Da Silva said. “I played tight, but when I did get a great pocket pair I would go all in. I would reveal my hand when someone folded, so when I did push all in, they didn’t want to take a crack at me.
“Once I became chip leader on my table, I felt at home like I was in my garage.”
Da Silva said he played very aggressively, a trait he picked up while knocking off opponents in the Escalon Poker Club. But his poker clubmates are not always such easy pickings as the entire WSOP field.
In two years with the EPC, Da Silva has placed seventh and ninth in the end-of the-year standings. Since the top six earn admission to the WSOP, Da Silva has the odd prestige of a local player who didn’t earn a ticket to the elite tourney, but paid his own way and managed to place higher at the Olympic-style event televised on ESPN than he did in the backyards and garages of his hometown.
“I am not married and I have no kids, so the World Series of Poker is my Disneyland,” Da Silva said with a laugh. “It was the most incredible rush to play poker on that scale.
“It was exhilarating, stressful and I would not trade the world for that experience.”