Shannon Shorr didn't have his poker face on coming through the Birmingham International Airport terminal Sunday morning.
With his family and friends cheering and swinging noisemakers, Shorr broke into a boyish grin that stretched from ear to ear.
Shorr, 20, of Irondale was returning from Australia where he'd come in fourth in the Aussie Millions Tournament at Melbourne's Crown Casino, winning more than $200,000, after facing off in Texas Hold `Em with some of the world's best poker players.
It was the first time the University of Alabama civil engineering major ever played in a live tournament. It'll be another six months until he can legally participate in one in the United States.
Shorr had been playing penny ante poker with his grandmother all his life, but two years ago he discovered Internet poker.
In his Tuscaloosa apartment Shorr has hooked his computer to a big screen TV and with a wireless keyboard, he can play from his couch up to eight games at a time.
Of course in that setting you can pace the room, rejoice or curse your cards. Playing live was different.
"You've got to sit there like a stone," Shorr said.
In Melbourne in a starting field of 480 players, he started slow. "I was playing pretty tight at first, then I loosened up," Shorr said. "I was playing to win. I wanted the title and the million dollars."
And he came within a few cards of doing it.
At the final table, Shorr faced off with the eventual champion Lee Nelson, a New Zealander and author one of the current best-selling books on poker.
After the flop, or the dealing of cards all players can use in their hands, Nelson bet $100,000. The next player checked, or took no action, and Shorr raised to $400,000. Nelson immediately went all in, betting everything he had. The other players had folded.
Shorr had a pair of eights and if the final cards were favorable he could have made a straight. It was quiet. There was no audience, just TV cameras filming, the bright lights shining.
"I took about five minutes and decided to call," Shorr said.
But the remaining cards fell Nelson's way.
Despite the outcome, Shorr will be one of the featured players when the tournament airs on television in the United States. He picked up quite a following during the tournament.
"He is going to be a star when that comes out," said friend and fellow card player Brett King.
King, a third-year law student, said he has been paying his way through school by playing poker, winning about $30,000 a year. When he met Shorr in 2003, they were at the same level.
"We were doing about the same and he really took off," King said. "He is just a better gambler. He is aggressive."
Shorr said he ended 2005 ahead $100,000. Shorr doesn't come across like a card shark. The athletic Shorr was a baseball standout at Shades Valley High School.
But he has a gift for math, and what his mother suspects is a photographic memory.
He was doing well in civil engineering and a minor in math. It was a tough decision to decide to stay out of school, but the international poker tournament world had certain allures that engineering school didn't offer.
"The lifestyle is a lot better," he said.
When he told his mother he was going to Australia to play in a tournament and would have to sit out a semester, she was shocked.
"Are you serious? You want to do what?" Clearly his mother was not enthusiastic about the idea.
"It's your life and your decision," she told him. Now, she said she couldn't be happier. "I'm so thankful you didn't listen to your mother," she told him.
In terms of 2006 tournament winnings, Shorr is ranked No. 10 in the world now by cardplayer.com.
With this victory under his belt, Shorr plans to leave in about a week for the Bahamas to play in the Canadian Poker Championship Main Event. And he plans to play in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in June.
In the meantime, he might buy a truck.
"Two hundred and five thousand dollars is more than I expected to make in all of 2006 gambling," Shorr wrote on his blog, "And I've done it in one week."
By THOMAS SPENCER