Mitchell Towner kept his University of Arizona ball cap pulled down low as the last card was dealt Tuesday night.
But the UA finance professor pulled the cap off in relief for a moment when it became clear his pair of sevens was enough to win $1.12 million at the World Series of Poker’s Monster Stack No-Limit Hold’em tournament in Las Vegas.
Although Towner, 29, calls the UA a “great sports school” and bought season tickets to UA basketball when he moved to Tucson last year, he had a more practical reason for wearing a ball cap at the poker table.
“Normally when I play I don’t wear a hat, but playing with professionals I was little bit worried I would be giving something away,” he said.
Most of the nine players at the final table Tuesday night were experienced poker players — one even earned the nickname “The Dragon” — but Towner hasn’t played poker regularly since college, other than an annual trip to Las Vegas for a day or two and a short-lived run at a poker tournament a few years ago.
Earning a doctorate in finance from the University of Texas-Austin didn’t allow for a lot of free time, he said. But the Salt Lake City native kept up on the poker world by listening to the weekly podcast put on by friends from college who broadcast as the Poker Guys.
“I’ve learned a lot just listening to them, even if I don’t get the opportunity to put it into practice,” he said.
When asked what he planned to do with his winnings, the assistant professor of finance said none of his purchases will be “super flashy.”
Instead, Towner listed paying off his mortgage, investing in the stock market, or upgrading his car, all of which will come after writing a “big check to the IRS.”
The fact that he won $1.12 million “still hasn’t sunk in,” he said, adding a friend who helped finance the $1,500 entry fee in exchange for 5 percent of the winnings also is in for a shock.
But Towner said he has no plans of leaving his job at the UA.
“I love my job. I’ll definitely be there in the fall teaching,” he said.
In the meantime, he has a chance to win even more money if he decides to return to Las Vegas in a few weeks for the culminating event of the World Series of Poker.