Loganville man enters World Series of Poker

LOGANVILLE - Gene Budner has tacked up poker information all over the walls of his living room and bedroom. All sorts of reading material - playing tips, common traps, points of strategic interest - covered the walls at eye level so Budner could read as he walked around his Loganville house.

In his home office there's a white board on which Budner draws more poker information. There are poker chip coasters on the armrest of his couch.

"Every other hour I'm not sleeping I'm either talking poker or I'm playing poker," he said.

Budner spends his days troubleshooting software at United States Advanced Systems in Norcross, but his true passion is cards. And this Friday he gets to take his passion all the way to Las Vegas when he enters the World Series of Poker.

Budner entered one of six regional poker tournaments last September. He topped 1,500 other competitors to win a $10,000 seat at the World Series, which is being held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

Now he's up against more than 7,500 other players, including some of the best in the world.

That's OK, said Budner's friend and co-worker, James Moore, who will spend four days with Budner in Las Vegas. As long as he keeps his cool and plays the tight, aggressive game he's known for, Moore said Budner has as "good a chance as anyone out there."

Despite 60-hour work weeks, Budner tries to squeeze in as many games with his friends as he can. He also sharpens his skills online, trying to compete against as many different types of players as possible.

"He's constantly studying," Moore said. "He won't shut up about it."

For Budner, poker is all about strategy. He reads every book he can find, and even some books that aren't about poker, but the art of persuasion.

"He's taking it to that next level," Moore said. "He's taking notes and trying to be as serious about it as he possibly can."

Budner started playing poker while he was a student at West Virginia University. After he left school, he started playing in local tournaments and at charity events.

The ball really got rolling three years ago when he competed at a satellite event for the World Poker Tour at a Louisiana casino. He topped every player at the event and traveled to the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Everyone is excited to see Budner go to the World Series, including his parents in Salem, Ohio, and his family around Uniontown, Pa.

"Outside of graduations and weddings, this is the most celebrity excitement," said Budner's father, who is also named Gene.

That's because Budner comes from a big game-playing family. His mother, Joanne, is an avid fan of board games.

"Master Detective, Wheel of Fortune, Outburst, Junior Trivia, chess," she said, reading the names of all the board games the family has stacked in a cupboard at home.

Budner got his first taste of competitive cards by playing Rook with his family. When it came to Rook, the elder Budner joked, "everybody played for blood."

Both of Budner's parents grew up in the small coal mining towns around Uniontown. The Budners were married in Fairchance, in the same church they were both baptized in and received their first communion. And the whole tight-knit Budner family is waiting on pins and needles to catch a glimps of their own poker player on TV.

"Truthfully, my family that I've talked to is really into this," the elder Budner said. "It's just an exciting time right now."