Every year there seems to be a moniker attached to the World Series of Poker. "The Year of the Pro." "The Year of the Online Player." "The Year of the Young Guns."
2017 may very well be the "Year of the Old Timers."
A short disclaimer before we get started: we're not calling these players old. It is fair to say, however, that they've been around the block a time or two. They show up to the World Series of Poker each year and get to business, and this year their work ethic is rewarding them with some bling and some green.
After 46 of the 74 bracelets awarded, here's where some of the most notable "old timers" stand:
- David Bach won two bracelets
- Daniel Negreanu has eight cashes, including three final tables in $10K events, and currently sits fourth on the POY leaderboard
- David "The Dragon" Pham and Frank Kassela each claimed a bracelet and three other cashes
- David Singer won his second bracelet
- Mike Matusow has three $10K event final tables and narrowly missed another
- Phil Hellmuth had six cashes including one final table and narrowly missed the final table of the One Drop
- Barry Greenstein has eight cashes
There is plenty of poker to be played and lots of money to be won at the WSOP, but nothing helps to solidify your legacy more than a gold bracelet. And it's the prestige of winning a bracelet that brings every serious poker player, including the players above, to Vegas in the summer.
And while the last few years we've been talking about the younger players as they've laid claimed to gold, this year, it's the accomplishments of the older generation that is grabbing our attention.
Inquiring minds want to know how they keep adapting their game to stay relevant in a game that is anything but constant.
When asked why he thinks old timers have been making headlines this summer, Frank Kassela had this to say: "I think for a few years there was a huge surge of internet wizards coming to the game with all kinds of new styles of play, stuff that took some of us older players time to adjust to, but a lot of the more experienced players have been able to adapt to those strategies."
David Bach, who claimed two bracelets within ten days of each other, chimed in: "Five years ago, I was happy to have the players that were dominating no-limit at my mixed-game table, but a lot of them are getting much better. But there are still a lot that aren't. It's obvious the ones that are doing well have put some time and thought into the game. But they are trying some things that aren't quite traditional that may or may not be correct depending on the situation."
"We all read, we all talk. We all try to get better at what we do. The experience just makes you better."
It's not surprising that many adjustments would have had to be made to survive in poker 20-plus years. It just seems that the adaptation to an aggressive, non-traditional style of play in front of a growing audience was closely scrutinized. Of course, it would only be a matter of time before the old timers adjusted their game and relied on their experience to get them through an onslaught of unorthodox play.
"I think it's true that I do have an advantage because of the years of experience and knowledge that I've acquired," said Erik Seidel. "The players that play these games regularly understand them at a level that most others don't. It's no surprise to see them doing well. The tournaments are kind of catered to these guys."
There's no quick trick or magic pill to help you improve your game, the only thing that will make your game better is putting in the time. This is true for both amateurs and professionals alike.
If you follow Daniel Negreanu at all, then you know a while back, he would hop online and just play. He wasn't afraid to be the fish at the table because it was all about the learning. Known back then for his small-ball strategy, Negreanu is smart enough to know you play your opponent, not your cards. And to do that, you have to get to know your opponents by spending time with them, preferably at a poker table.
Kassela says, "There are so many times when the way you play is so much more important than the cards you play. You have to have an instinct for three-betting out of position. Observing how fast the chips go into the pot, how many cards are being drawn, and comparing your opponents boards, that sometimes you have just to fire or stand pat."
When asked what has helped him stay at the top of his game, Bach replied, "What's really helped me stay at the top of my game, besides continually thinking about the game, is I started playing the bigger limit mixed games, playing with better players and playing more games. Obviously, doing that will only make your game better. My win in 2009 let me do that."
Seidel's approach to staying on top of his game is much like Bach's. "Most of what I do to keep my game evolving is play," he said. "You have to play enough with these young kids and see exactly what they're doing. I play a lot and am forced to play with the best players in the world, some of which you hope will rub off."
Kassela appears to be talking for the group of old timers when he added, "We all read, we all talk. We all try to get better at what we do. I think that's it; the experience just makes you better.
"Conversations I have with friends away from the poker table and teaching other people about the game helps me to be more on point about my game. Reminding people what it takes to be good is a good reminder for me."
Experience, knowledge, and adaptability ... is that really all there is to the resurgence of the old timers?
Mike Matusow thinks there's another reason.
"What the WSOP has done is given so many chips to start a tournament, that when you get to Day 2, it's almost like a cash game instead of a tournament," he said. "You're allowed to sit back and be patient, you don't have to move chips around as much, and that's why you're seeing top cash game players do well. All the top pros, the pros that have been around play cash games and tournaments."
In the end, there's an adjustment period to everything new, and it's those that adjust that will find themselves in the winner's circle. And one thing is for sure; the old timers seem to be pros at adjusting. Seidel sums it up best: "These guys have always been great players. It's not surprising that they are doing well."