Maryland logger Darvin Moon took an unusual route to today's final table at the World Series of Poker's world championship event.
So it's not surprising Moon's preparation over the past three weeks was unorthodox.
Moon, 46, and four friends spent much of October hunting mule deer in the mountains of Wyoming.
At night, they sat around a table inside a small cabin without electricity or running water and played hold 'em poker. The community cards were illuminated by a lantern.
"We needed a flashlight to read our hole cards," Moon said Friday.
Moon enters the nine-player final table of the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold 'em world championship as the leader with 58.93 million in tournament chips, roughly 30 percent of the chips in play.
Action starts inside the Rio's Penn & Teller Theater at noon and will continue until the field is cut to two players, who will return Monday night to play for the title and top prize of more than $8.5 million.
Moon will face varying degrees of experience at the final table, which includes Phil Ivey, who is regarded as the game's best player, and a mix of professionals and amateurs.
ESPN poker analyst Norman Chad said if Moon wins, it will have as big an impact on the game as Chris Moneymaker's victory in 2003.
Card Player magazine editor Jeff Shulman, who is in fourth place, said Moon isn't where he is just because of luck. There is some skill involved.
Moon shrugs off the attention with an "aw-shucks" attitude. Win or lose, he won't be any different.
Unlike other players at the table, Moon isn't wearing the logo of an Internet poker site. He doesn't have sponsors nor did he seek out backing. He also didn't hire a coach.
"You can't hire somebody to teach you something these guys have learned in a lifetime in just 100 days. It's a waste of money," he said.
Moon will have on a golf shirt with the logo of the Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino in West Virginia, where he won a 330-player satellite tournament to earn a seat in the Main Event, which began with 6,494 participants.
He'll also wear the New Orleans Saints cap that he wore in July when his quiet and unassuming style took him to the top of the leader board.
Moon, who speaks in a slow Maryland drawl, hardly showed emotion during the preliminary rounds.
Only on the final hand on July 15, when the flop gave him three eights to bust out Jordan Smith, who had pocket aces, did Moon show any excitement. He actually felt bad about his reaction, which was caught by ESPN's cameras. Moon thought he was showing up the other player.
"I don't like to do that. That's not right," Moon said, explaining why he doesn't smile much at the table.
Moon owns a family logging business in Oakland, Md., a town of 2,800 in the state's panhandle. He has lived for 17 years on the same 3.5 acres with his wife, Wendy, and went back to work soon after the qualifying ended.
Moon started playing poker seriously four years ago, learning in small-stakes games at the Kitzmiller Firehouse, the local Elks Lodge and the American Legion Hall.
Moon hasn't enjoyed the attention from the poker world the past four months, which has included dozens of interviews and a profile in The Washington Post. But it came with the territory.
"It's surprising how many people have come up to me, congratulating me, saying they hope I win," Moon said. "That's been kind of nice."
Moon said his lifestyle won't change whether he finishes first or busts out in ninth.
Already in the bank is a check for $1.263 million, the amount earned for ninth place. The hunting trip was planned two years ago. He pushed up the building of a new house on his homestead by a year.
He might splurge to see his favorite football team, the undefeated New Orleans Saints, play in person.
So how did Moon become a Saints fan when most of his friends favor the Washington Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens?
"I like to root for the underdog," Moon said.
So will about 100 of Moon's family and friends who made the trip to Las Vegas.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3871.