Murphy James - The Rabbi is a (Poker) Champ
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The Rabbi is a (Poker) Champ

January 17, 2006
Murphy James
Dr. Steve Kaufman

Which of these statements about Steve Kaufman is true?

He is a Professor of Bible and Cognate Literature at Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College (HUC), has a Ph. D. from Yale, is a rabbi who faced off against Chris "Jesus" Ferguson at the final table in the Championship Event of the 2000 WSOP, won the Fifth Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica, or has more than 25 in-the-money finishes in major tournaments since 1999?

You've probably guessed correctly that they are all true.

Professor Kaufman, Dr. Kaufman, and Rabbi Kaufman all join forces to make up one terrific poker player. And should you get tired of hearing small talk around the table about sports and chicks, perhaps you can ask Steve about a couple of his publications (assuming you can pronounce the titles correctly): "The Syntax of Volitives in Northwest Semitic Prose" or "The Phoenician Text of the Incirli Trilingual: Ductus, Language, and Content." This should brighten up the table considerably.

Steve is a professor at Hebrew Union College, an institution with the stated mission of "applying the open and pluralistic spirit of the Reform movement to the study of the great issues of Jewish life and thought." HUC is recognized by The Jerusalem Report as "the Reform Movement's flagship institution." Steve is in his 30th year there.

He was educated at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yale University, and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His specialties include Ancient Semitic languages, Biblical studies, and academic computing. He has consulted on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is working with a team of scholars on a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities on a new dictionary of the Aramaic language.

Steve is comfortable with a dual existence. In Cincinnati during the school year, he is primarily the academician, meeting regularly with students. While at his home base, he plays low stakes online poker, mostly on

During school breaks, he is in Vegas, actively playing in tournaments, and sometimes cash games at the Bellagio or the Wynn. He usually plays cash games for low stakes: $2/5, $5/10.

A serious player since the early 90's, his poker career took off in 2000 when he found himself at the final table of the Championship Event of the World Series of Poker. Around the table was Jim McManus (Positively Fifth Street), who finished (poetically) in fifth place. Hasan Habib was fourth. Kaufman was third, picking up $570,500.Then T. J. Cloutier and Jesus fought it out for the Big Prize, with Jesus besting TJ with a nine on the river.

Steve knocked McManus out of the tournament when his A-Q held up against Jim's A-2.
The rabbi used a part of his WSOP booty to buy a condo in Vegas. When Steve and Jim bump into each other, as they often do on the poker circuit, McManus likes to needle him with, "How's my Vegas property?"

Steve went on to take a second place finish in a 2002 WSOP, $1,500 Limit Hold 'em event, good for $98,060, and a first place in the Limit Omaha Hi/Lo event of the 5th Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica in January, 2004, picking up an additional $48,733.

He broke his foot just before the 2005 WSOP and missed it entirely. Today he is eyeing the 2006 WSOP, hoping to win a satellite event (or two) to cover his buy-ins before the masses congregate at the Rio this summer.

In Positively Fifth Street, McManus refers to Kaufman (with a nod to Dante) as the "Satanic Prince of Noodges (ed. - one who pesters or annoys) who forked me down into the pitch."

So if you find yourself at a table with Rabbi Steve on one side, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson on the other, and a lot of chips in the middle, beware. There may be hell to pay.