The Last Word: Steve Dannenmann

A closer look at some of the intriguing, inspiring and imaginative folks who are the heart of the AICPA.

Steve Dannenmann, CPA
Glen Burnie, Md.
Runner-up, World Series of Poker, 2005

I PLAY POKER EVERY WEEK with a group of close friends; sometimes I invite clients, too. It’s a great bonding experience. But I played in only one tournament, in Atlantic City, before I entered the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. I had this dream to just play in the World Series once before I die. The entrance fee of $10,000 was pretty steep, so I split it with my friend Jerry. I won $4.25 million—and split that 50-50 with him, too. After the World Series I entered the Tournament of Champions with the top 114 professional poker players in the world. I finished fifth and won $100,000.

A SUCCESSFUL TAX SEASON IS BASED ON organization and preparation, and I approached the tournament in much the same way. I read Dan Harrington’s new book on poker strategy the week before, took lots of notes, reduced those notes to several goals and points on two small pieces of paper and reviewed them every two hours during the play. My strategy involved three goals: to make it through the first day of the seven-day tournament, to get on television and to make money.

I HAVE NO REAL PLANS FOR THE MONEY. I’ve had a very successful tax, accounting, financial advising and mortgage business for 16 years and have always been able to buy whatever I wanted. Most people who come into a financial windfall just blow it away, but that won’t happen to me. I’m going to follow the advice I give my clients: recognize that this is a very rare opportunity and just hold onto the money. I did stop taking Saturday appointments during tax season—so for the first time in many years, I am actually sleeping in a little on weekends in March! I also hope to play more poker tournaments and to semi-retire before age 50.

I DON’T REALLY HAVE ANY SPECIAL TAX STRATEGIES for the winnings, other than using them to offset my gambling losses and investing in some tax-free instruments. I have opened a 401(k) and maxed out my contribution for 2005, of course.

I’VE TRIED TO DEVELOP MY POKER GAME PLAN in much the same way I built my CPA business. I started my career at a very small firm and six months later branched out into my own business with no clients whatsoever. But I invested in marketing and advertising and found a niche to specialize in, mortgage consulting. Eventually I built a list of more than 1,200 clients. You have to be a marketing guru and also be open to new ideas. You can be the best CPA out there, but if no one knows you, you starve.

MORTGAGE CONSULTING IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY for CPAs. You can help your clients consolidate their debt and plan for their retirement by refinancing, get them a great rate and make good money. Who can recommend a mortgage better than the person who knows all about your financial situation and your spending habits, and who is bound by a code of ethics to work in your best interest?

BEING A CPA CERTAINLY HELPED ME in the World Series because I focused on the odds of winning each hand, and played conservatively to just get through the first day of play. Playing poker is also a lot like dealing with clients because you have to read people at the poker table just as you do across your desk. You have to be able to switch gears with different clients and situations. The amazing thing about poker is that anyone can enter the World Series with just $10,000 and become a celebrity overnight, be recognized all over the place and have people come up and compliment you. Maybe the world will look at CPAs a little differently now, and see how entertaining, smart and competitive we can be.


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