Covid impacts 2022 WSOP; Phil Hellmuth among several top players sidelined by virus

Haley Hintze
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Posted on June 9, 2022 7:47 am EDT

An early-series outbreak of COVID-19 at the 2022 World Series of Poker has sent numerous well-known players to the quarantine and recovery list in recent days. Heading the list is 16-time-bracelet winner and 1989 Main Event champion Phil Hellmuth, who tweeted about his testing positive for the virus on Tuesday.

“Just tested positive for Covid,” Hellmuth posted on Twitter. “Thought maybe I was immune (neither of my sons got it, nor did my Mom)…Good news: no cough. Not hungry all day! Mind is a little foggy as I slept “17 awful hours.” I feel like my best chance for a bracelet was todays @WSOP $10,000 Omaha 8/B, sigh.”

Hellmuth’s series is off to a sluggish start, as he was forced to sit out the first few events due to a case of Montezuma’s Revenge from a recent trip to Mexico. He’s played in only two events thus far this summer, but did cash in one of those. He’ll have to wait several more days before resuming the hunt for a record-extending 17th bracelet.

Other pros and well-known players also affected

Hellmuth’s far from the only person who will be losing WSOP playing time to the virus. A few pros, such as Justin Bonomo, were delayed in arriving at the 2022 WSOP due to already being in COVID quarantine as the series began. Bonomo did arrive earlier this week after missing roughly the first week of play.

More frequently, though, it’s been players who have reported having tested positive for the virus after playing in some of this year’s earliest events. Two-time bracelet winner David “ODB” Baker reported testing positive on Sunday, though he’s resorted to playing online while not being at the series in person:

“Storage Wars” star and occasional WSOP participant Rene Nezhoda, who was interviewed by Poker.org last year, also found himself sidelined by COVID:

Another former bracelet winner, Dylan Weisman, was forced to skip his favorite event due to contracting the virus:

Matt Waxman is yet another player on the positive list:

Numerous other players, if not as well known, have related similar tales. At least a few players have reported cancelling plans to attend the WSOP or other series in the coming weeks, though it doesn’t appear to have occurred in significant numbers as yet. And it’s certainly not just the WSOP:

No specific testing or restrictions at WSOP this year

As the largest and highest-profile series in Las Vegas this summer, an increase in COVID cases draws far more public interest and awareness than at the city’s other major tournament venues. The WSOP’s high visibility makes it a magnet for such reports of the virus’s thread, though the WSOP’s current stance on testing, using self-protection (masks and vaccines), and following State of Nevada and CDC health guidelines is roughly the equivalent of all other venues hosting major series this summer.

In 2021, the WSOP was the only major series to be postponed from summer to fall, and it was also the only series to demand proof of vaccination in order to play. However, the WSOP’s choice of a program, CLEAR Health, proved not to be as diligent, and an unknown number of player, somewhere between a few and many dozens, used fraudulent documents to evade the system and play anyway.

As a result, having incurring both increased operational expense and lower revenue in the name of player safety, the WSOP chose to adhere to the policy most other rooms also use. This year, the WSOP’s official rules offer just this on the topic of COVID-19:

“COVID-19/Vaccination: The WSOP will follow local, state and CDC guidelines relating to COVID-19 that are in effect during the event. While there will be no vaccination requirement to play in the tournament, players will be accountable to follow CDC guidelines appropriate to them as individuals. Based on current state guidelines masks will not be required.”

Whether the WSOP is able to find and implement additional safety measures remains to be seen. The massive fields in the WSOP’s earliest events lead not only to prolonged exposure to possible COVID-positive players at the tables (which occurs everywhere in poker), but the scheduled breaks invariably lead to a surge of humanity packed closely together in the hallways outside the ballrooms where the poker is played. It is a difficult situation with no easy solution, and certainly no way to please everyone. For now, though, tightening up one’s personal safety protocols remains one of the best and easiest options available for everyone.

Featured image source: Haley Hintze