Few things say poker is a game for everyone more than someone from another walk of life finding success playing the game. Few ideas, like the one that anyone can win, have helped the game grow more.
Poker has gone from smokey basements and back rooms to the grand stage it sits on today. This single idea has helped it get there, selling the game to the public like nothing else. It’s helped the World Series of Poker Main Event grow from just over 500 entries in 2000, to well over 6,000 every year for the past 12.
If the outsider who finds success happens to win at the WSOP, or if they’re a celebrity, that only helps spread the message even further. It piques people’s interest in poker and improves the game’s reach.
Music industry veteran Steve Albini does not have the name recognition of Academy Award nominee Jennifer Tilly, who won the 2005 WSOP Ladies’ Event. Nor is he a household name like Academy Award winner Ben Affleck, champion of the 2004 California State Poker Championship. However, Rolling Stone magazine covered Albini’s 2018 WSOP $1,500 Seven Card Stud win this past weekend. Something that could certainly help draw the rock world’s attention to poker.
Only it may not draw that community with that same anyone-can-win message it appears to at first glance.
Albini may be remembered as the singer and guitarist in the 80’s punk rock band Big Black. According to Rolling Stone, he is perhaps best known as producer of hit late 1980s and early 1990s alternative rock albums like Nirvana’s In Utero and Pixies’ Surfer Rosa. These days, he refers to himself as a 55-year-old recording studio owner and engineer from Chicago, Illinois. He’s also a guitarist and vocalist for the rock band Shellac, and a self-described mediocre-yet-passionate poker hobbyist.
Saturday, he turned that passion for poker into a WSOP bracelet, getting the best of a 310-entry field to win the 2018 WSOP’s $1,500 Stud event and its $105,629 first-place prize. Humbled by the win, Albini suggested to WSOP staff that luck was a huge factor, and if he can win, so can anyone:
“I am ecstatic that a player as mediocre as me can outlast all of these better players and end up with a bracelet. There’s still hope for everybody!”
A lot more to the story
That’s certainly a great quote. One that should only help sell the game and its decades-old dream to the masses. However, there’s a lot more to the story here.
Albini said the field was “historically weak” because of the fact the event played out at the same time as the WSOP’s Seniors Event and $50,000 Poker Players Championship. So weak, in fact, it allowed a “sucker” like him to go deep. However, the line-up at the final table was as anything but.
Six-time WSOP bracelet winner, 2001 WSOP Main Event Champion, and 2018 WSOP Player of the Year Chris Ferguson was there. As were, two-time WSOP bracelet winner Frankie O’Dell, and Katherine Fleck, who made fourth in the very same Stud event back in 2016.
Albini even had to beat a man widely thought of as one of the best Stud players in the world to seal the victory.
In fact, Jeff Lisandro, winner of six WSOP bracelets, four of which are from Stud events, had a 2:1 chip lead heads-up no less than three times, yet Albini still came back to win.
It takes a certain skill to pull something like that off. The kind of skill that suggests Albini may have been bluffing when he referred to his own level as mediocre.
The truth is, he started playing poker almost 50 years ago, when his great grandmother taught him in 1969. He’s also had success at the WSOP before. This includes a 12th-place finish in the 2013 WSOP Seniors Championship and two previous deep runs in WSOP Stud events.
Clearly, Albini isn’t just the lucky amateur some of his quotes would lead people to believe. It’s just not that simple.
With a little help from his friends
It appears he’s elevated himself from poker hobbyist playing for fun to solid recreational player and threat to win. This, perhaps, thanks to some help from some pretty good poker playing friends.
Two-time bracelet winner Brandon Shack-Harris was on Albini’s rail throughout the final table. Plus, after the win, he thanked a number of Chicago-based players, including WSOP bracelet winners Eric Rodawig and Matt Grapenthien, for helping him take his game to the next level. Finally, he said 2013 WSOP $50,000 Poker Players Championship winner Matthew Ashton gave him some solid Stud advice too.
Not the average WSOP celebrity success story
This might not be the typical celebrity of sorts finds WSOP success story. If readers get past the third paragraph in the Rolling Stone article they may come to realize its more about a successful music industry veteran making a serious effort to get better at a hobby he’s passionate about and reaching the pinnacle of success in that field as well.
They’re certain to see it’s more than just a mediocre amateur getting lucky.
It may not help someone who can’t tell a straight from a flush to suddenly believe anything is possible. However, that doesn’t make Albini’s idea that there’s still hope for everybody incorrect. It just refines it a little.
Instead, it sends a slightly different message. The one that anyone can win at the WSOP, as long as they’re willing to work for it. And in the end, there’s an honesty to that idea that makes it even more salable.