Rags to Riches: How Mark Fleddermann Turned $4 into $65,000
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Mark Fleddermann.
Over the years, he’s led what can be described as an unglamorous existence, grinding out a living at the poker tables. If surviving on a fluctuating bankroll and weathering the financial swings that accompany playing for a living were to be an art form, then Fleddermann would be poker’s Picasso.
By 2009, Fleddermann had long since departed his cherished St. Louis roots and had moved to Las Vegas. Trouble was, the poker games on The Strip were getting much tougher during the post-boom era and Fleddermann was going through one of the worst runs of his life. Making matters worse, the world economy had tanked by January of that year, leaving many of the game’s best players scrambling to try to raise a stake.
Nearly penniless, Fleddermann was nearly out of options. That’s when his old pal Tom Christopher stepped into the picture.
Fellow veteran grinder and St. Louis native Christopher was just as fed up with the Las Vegas poker scene. So, the desperate duo started mulling over the possibilities. It was perfectly clear. They needed to do something drastic. It was time to get out of town. Trouble was — both men were busted. Besides, where would they go? What would they do? Get jobs? Shudder.
In fact, Fleddermann had only $4 in his pocket. Four lousy bucks. That was it. Christopher wasn’t much better off.
It is said that necessity is the mother of all invention, Christopher concocted a wild idea. The two men would take Fleddermann’s car — he had inherited a 1975 Cadillac from his mother about half a million miles on it. The duo would drive halfway across the country to Tunica, Mississippi. That’s where the real opportunity existed to turn things around. The Horseshoe and the Tunica Grand were hosting two major tournaments in the dead of winter, which always drew big crowds. Since both men were from relatively close by St. Louis — they were sure to run into many old poker friends.
“We’ll just borrow some money when we get there,” Fleddermann told Christopher. “Someone in Tunica will put us in.”
And so stoked with nothing more than a few dollars and brass balls, off they went.
With the air of one nearly-maxed out a credit card with a dwindling credit line, Fleddermann and Christopher gassed and re-gassed up the old Cadillac and barreled down the interstate towards Tunica.
That’s a brutal drive under normal circumstances — across deserts, mountains, and the grassy plains — made considerably more miserable by being tapped out and facing uncertain prospects at to what lay ahead. “The heater didn’t work and it was cold as shit,” Christopher remembers. “Nothing on that old boat of a car worked.”
Two full days and 1,800 miles later, the old Caddy pulled into the Horseshoe parking lot at midnight.
But, their troubles were just beginning. As it turned out, the hotel completely sold out. Neither of them had even considered the possibility that they’d need to make a hotel reservation before they arrived.
Fortunately, Fleddermann had some juice. He’d gambled a fair amount in the Horseshoe pit over the years. So, he talked to a casino host about getting a comp for a couple of nights.
Two nights only.
Already, the clock was ticking.
* * *.
You find out who your real friends when you’re dead broke. Nowhere is this more true than in the poker world.
Fleddermann and Christopher indeed had friends. Many. Question was, would the fellow poker players have any spare money themselves when approached for a loan?
If Fleddermann’s run at the poker tables had been bad in Las Vegas, his stock price as a stake horse in Tunica was even worse. He couldn’t raise a dime. Frustrated, he spent all of the next day inside his hotel room, playing online poker (Note: This was before the events of Black Friday). The ultimate kick in the groin? He was reduced to playing for free VIP points. Fleddermann played on what was left of his VIP reward bonus points, trying to win a free micro-tournament with a small cash prize.
This was about as low as things could possibly get.
When that didn’t work out, Fleddermann finally went downstairs in one last-gasp attempt to raise enough money to buy into the nightly tournament. A big field was expected, and Fleddermann needed $230.
If there’s such a thing as a guardian angel, Fleddermann got lucky and found him that night. He raised the buy-in. It was agreed that he’d play for a third.
Well if things indeed couldn’t get any worse, that meant there was only one direction for Fleddermann’s fortunes to go. And that was up. Several hours later, he had accumulated every single chip in the tournament and was declared the winner. First place paid $7,000 — with his cut of the share amounting to $2,333. To a man who had $4 in his pocket for almost a week, Fleddermann felt like he’d just won the lottery.
The next day, the Tunica Grand was running a World Series of Poker Circuit event sure to attract a big field. The buy-in was $450. This time, Fledderman could afford the full buy-in but would still play for half, since his investor was more than willing to stake him once again.
Lightning struck twice. A day and a half later, Fleddermann was having his picture taken after winning first-place prize money totaling $37,000. His share came to $18,500. Not bad for someone who was just hours away from sleeping out in the parking lot two night’s earlier.
Fleddermann’s rush continued — not just at the poker tables, but in the pit. He shot craps one night and ran his chips up to more than $60,000 (don’t try this at home, folks).
By the time Fleddermann checked out of the Horseshoe a few days later, he was walking out the front door with $65,000 in cash..
* * *.
Unfortunately, stories like this rarely end happily. Or, might this one still?
In the summer of 2012 on a hot and muggy Mississippi afternoon, Fleddermann was driving down a lonesome highway. That day seemed much like any other until — out of nowhere — an oncoming car slammed into Fleddermann’s vehicle from the passenger’s side.
Fleddermann blacked out.
Sometime later, the official police investigation revealed the driver of the other car had suffered a heart attack, died instantly, and then sloped down towards the floor and hit the accelerator. The car with the dead driver slammed into Fledderman’s vehicle while traveling at over 100 mph.
The crash impact was devastating. Fledderman’s leg was nearly severed off. He had broken bones and several cuts and bruises. He was unconscious for weeks. Fleddermann almost didn’t make it.
But this man was a poker player — a true survivor. His many years at the poker tables had taught him a thing or two about overcoming adversity. With the extraordinary love and support of his family now living in Arkansas, Fleddermann began what has been a grueling process of rehabilitation. He took things one step at a time — literally. Those initial steps were painful. But with each forward advance and a new day, Fleddermann gained more confidence. The encouragement helped him to get stronger.
Now several months later, Fleddermann hasn’t completely healed yet. No doubt, his long and sometimes painful journey towards a full recovery will take more time. But the odds are in his favor. Odds are, he’ll make it back. All the way.
Anyone who can drive 1,800 miles across the country on four bucks and turn that into $65,000 is a man worth betting on.
Writer’s Note: Wishing you all the best, Mark. Hope to see you at the tables soon.
Wow, thanks for sharing that incredible story Nolan. I always love to read Horatio Alger comeback stories like that even though it was unfortunate about that auto collision.