June 2016

You're Never Too Old to Play Poker

By: Paul Hewson
 
Last Monday, Johnnie Craig beat out nearly 4,500 players to win his first-ever bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He pocketed $538,204 for his trouble – not bad for someone with less than $4,000 in live tournament earnings on his resume. The 54-year-old Texan won the $1,000 Seniors No Limit Hold'em Championship.

The following day, James Moore took down first place at the $1,000 Super Seniors No Limit Hold'em event, outlasting close to 1,500 players and picking up $230,626 in the process. Moore is 65 years old – the minimum age for the Super Seniors. After the overwhelming success of the Seniors event (age 50 and up), the Super Seniors was added to the WSOP calendar last year. The oldest player at the Super Seniors was Onofrio Zicari, at 93 years young.
 
November Song
You don't have to stick to the Seniors tournaments if you're of a certain age. Consider last year's November Nine at the WSOP Main Event: Pierre Neuville (72) and Neil Blumenfeld (61) both reached the final table, and Blumenfeld made it all the way to third place for a healthy $3.4-million payout.

So why the stigma that comes with old age at the poker table? The Doyle Brunsons and TJ Cloutiers of the world still get treated with reverence, but they're the exceptions to the rule. It’s a shame, especially now that neuroscience has disproved the concept that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Humans (and dogs) continue to develop new neural pathways throughout their lives – especially when they “train” their brains.
 
Live a Little
Poker might be the best training you can get. No matter your age, you can start playing poker right away as a beginner; the more you study and practice, the better you'll become. The concepts get deeper and deeper along the way. Math is useful, of course, but you don't need a degree to get good at poker, and there are other, more psychological parts of the game where age and experience are highly valuable.

Then you have the social aspect of live tournament poker. Again, no matter your age, it's good for you to get out and meet your peers. But participants at the WSOP Seniors events have specified how much they enjoy playing in a more relaxed environment with fewer “alpha” personalities at the table. Yet another life lesson from people who deserve more of our attention.

Two Bracelets (and Counting) for Jason Mercier

Two Bracelets (and Counting) for Jason Mercier

By: Paul Hewson
 
If you're thinking of making a bet with Jason Mercier, think twice. Back in January, poker pro Vanessa Selbst made a $10,000 bet with odds of 180-1 that Mercier wouldn't win three bracelets at this year's World Series of Poker. Mercier already has two; he won the $10,000 No Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship June 13, then doubled up June 17 by taking down the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship.

Selbst reportedly bought out of her bet earlier this week, so there's no danger of her shipping $1.8 million to Mercier. But whatever happens the rest of the way, Mercier's WSOP performance thus far has to be considered among the best ever. He also finished second to Ray Dehkharghani at the $10,000 Seven Card Razz Championship, and for good measure, Mercier cashed at the $1,500 Eight Game Mix (won by Paul Vople), giving him a running total of $868,549 in earnings thus far.
 
The First Family
There might not be a better poker player in the world right now. Mercier sits at No. 4 on the Global Poker Index, but the Florida native has been No. 1 before – for a consecutive 87 weeks in 2011-12. Mercier was named Bluff Magazine Player of the Year in 2009 for winning his first WSOP bracelet at the $1,500 Pot Limit Omaha event. The year before, Mercier won the EPT main event at Sanremo, along with the £20,000 High Roller Event in London. First place in those two tournaments added up to over $2.3 million in prize money.

Mercier's definitely in front of the race for 2016 WSOP Player of the Year, one of the few honours that's eluded him thus far. And the prop bet with Selbst wasn't the only one he has on the books; word on the street is that Mercier has already made more money in side bets than he did from winning his two bracelets.

Now all Mercier has to do is win the WSOP Main Event. It's been a tough nut to crack – his highest finish at the Main was back in 2010, when he placed 463rd for $27,519 in earnings. Chump change, in other words. The poker public still puts a lot of emphasis on winning this one no-limit Hold'em tournament, but at least Mercier's exploits will put some of that spotlight on the “mixed games” that he's been crushing this year. Having fellow pro Natasha Barbour and their faithful dog Marshmallow by his side helps, too.

WSOP Week 1: Jesus Has Returned

WSOP Week 1: Jesus Has Returned

By: Paul Hewson
 
The first week of the 2016 World Series of Poker is in the bag, and it's already been a wild ride. We've seen some big winners, plus the return of some familiar faces – one of whom hasn't been around for a while. Things should only get more interesting from here; in the meantime, here's what you need to know from Week 1.
 
Fear of a Black Hat
Chris “Jesus” Ferguson hasn't been at the WSOP since 2010. He's kept a low profile since Black Friday, but Ferguson showed up for the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship. He busted that one. Undaunted, Ferguson was back for the $1,500 Dealers Choice 6-Handed event – he finished 19th out of 389 entrants, earning just over $4,000 in prize money. Then Ferguson cashed the $565 Pot-Limit Omaha tournament by placing 13th of 2,483, picking up nearly $9,700 for his efforts.

Not everyone was pleased to see Ferguson at the Rio. But he's made it through thus far with his trademark black hat still in one piece.
 
Keeline Pie
The bigger news from Week 1 was the turnout for the $565 Colossus II No-Limit Hold'em event. Last year's maiden voyage saw 22,374 entrants, and they were expecting even more to show up at the Rio on June 2. Instead, “only” 21,613 entries were tallied – including rebuys. But it was still a very successful tournament, with organizers correcting many of the line-up problems from the 2015 event. Ben Keeline won this year's guaranteed top prize of $1 million.
 
That 70s Show
Pierre Neuville drew a few chuckles last year when he made the WSOP Main Event final table at the age of 72. Playing well is the best revenge – Neuville is back this year, and he's over $200,000 richer after finishing second at the $1,500 6-Handed No-Limit Hold’em tournament. Mike Cordell won the event, earning nearly $350,000 to go with his first WSOP bracelet. Neuville and fellow Belgian player Fabrice Halleux have a unique sponsor this year: Dental-Suite, apparently the first medical provider to sponsor anyone in poker.
 
Lost and Found
It wouldn't be the WSOP without someone leaving a large bag of money in a cab. Except this year, it was an Uber ride. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jacob Brundage left behind a bag with about $7,500 in it, plus some playing chips, when he caught a lift from the Venetian to the Rio. As luck would have it, Uber had some representatives at the Rio; they contacted the driver, and about 20 minutes later, Brundage got his bag back. He gave the driver $200 and the Uber reps another $100. All in a day's work.

Barbara Enright: WSOP Women's Pioneer

Barbara Enright: WSOP Women's Pioneer

By: Paul Hewson
 
If you happen to be at the Rio for this year's World Series of Poker, take a moment to look around. You won't find very many women. Poker wasn't particularly welcoming to women in the “smoky back room” days of yore, and as Gamergate has proved, we've still got a long way to go in the online era, too. About 4% of the players at the 2015 WSOP – 220 in total – were women.

But progress is being made. And much of that progress is due to the efforts of one woman: Barbara Enright. She was the editor-in-chief at Woman Poker Player Magazine, which sadly appears to have ceased publication at the end of 2015. However, Enright will always be the first woman to make the final table at the WSOP Main Event, which she accomplished with a fifth-place finish in 1995. Enright was also the first woman enshrined in the Poker Hall of Fame.
 
It's in the Cards

As legend has it, Enright (born 1949 in Los Angeles, where she still lives with player/writer Max Shapiro) was introduced to poker at the age of four by her older brother Howard. It was 5-card draw back then, and whenever Howard would win, Barbara would start crying. Poker mattered to her. A lot.

So she got better at it. In 1976, Enright started grinding at the card clubs in Gardena – check out the documentary Freeway City if you haven't already. It took her about two years to get comfortable with the game, but she started making more money at it than she did at her assorted “regular” jobs. Enright was smart, energetic and tough.
 
Luck Be a Lady

She was also right on time. The first WSOP Ladies-only event (they're still officially called Ladies events) was in 1977, when Jackie McDaniels won the $100 Ladies' Seven Card Stud tournament. Again, as legend has it, a friend suggested in 1986 that Enright give tournament poker a try. Naturally, she won the WSOP Ladies' Seven Card Stud event. And she did it again in 1994.

“But those were Ladies events,” some might be thinking. In 1996, Enright won her third WSOP bracelet – and $180,000 for first place – at the $2,500 Hold'em Pot Limit tournament – an open tournament to men and women. Among the 179 other players was Lucy Rokach, who finished third, and Jennifer Harman, who finished sixth. Enright became the first woman to win a WSOP open tournament.

Others would follow. In the meantime, Enright continued to play poker while getting into media work, both of which she still does. She has three tournament cashes on her 2016 resume, all from the Los Angeles area. Maybe she'll add another one from Las Vegas soon.