Thomas Coyne, the 78-year-old cash grinder

Lee Jones poker writer
Lee Jones
Posted on: July 06, 2023 21:31 PDT

It is a sobering thing, getting old.

This is not the forum for a litany of the harsh realities that one faces with age. But proximate to my topic today: in many "active" pursuits, you start to see that nobody older than you is doing them.

For instance, I am now invariably the oldest person on the boat when I go on a scuba vacation. This gets me thinking, maybe even worrying. Am I, well, not breaking any rules per se, but am I showing good judgment? Am I supposed to retire my regulator?

Even those pursuits where I'm not the oldest, my elders are usually kind of "hanging on." At the bluegrass music festivals, I search for hot pickers a couple of years my senior, looking for a sign that I have a handful of summers remaining where I'm contributing to the jams rather than merely being tolerated.

Poker is no different. There are certainly people older than I playing the game. I mean, two months ago I had the opportunity to meet Gene Calden, who is playing six days a week at the age of 100 (and will be the oldest person to ever play the WSOP main event this year). But putting it bluntly, I don't see a lot folks older than me who are honest threats at the serious cash game tables.

Which is why I adore Thomas Coyne.

There I was at the Oaks Card Club in Emeryville, California. Minding my own business, playing in their regular $3/5/10 game. I was relatively new to the community down there and didn't know many of the players. The action folded around to this old guy on the button (I mean, old even by my standards), who put in a raise to $35. I was in the small blind with A♦️️Q♣️ and made it $140 to go. Folded back around to him. He paused briefly, then made it $350.

I glanced over – there was a flippin' thermos of coffee on the table next to him. I was probably going to fold anyway, but one look at the "California grizzly bear carrying a surfboard" baseball cap, and the coffee, that sealed the deal. I shrugged and tossed my cards back to the dealer.

Thomas Coyne proudly tossed 9❤️4♣️ face-up on the felt, and started cackling.

I don't know if you've ever been in a meaningful earthquake, but in an instant, everything you take for granted is called into question. That 94o staring back at me registered on the seismographs at the nearby University of California at Berkeley.

What is going on here? Who is this guy, and where does he get off with this nonsense?

Shortly after that unfortunate incident, I caught him away from the table, introduced myself, and asked him about that play.

"C'mon. You're a thoughtful player – that was obvious from the start. You're going to notice that I'm an OMC ["Old Man Coffee" – the current term for, well, you get it...], so when I 4-bet you, heck, you're probably going to fold jacks, right?" Yeah, I would have folded jacks.

Thomas and I had a breakfast date not too long after that – he knew the perfect sandwich shop in an old corner of Oakland called "Jingletown." The sort of place that the 25-year-olds won't know.

His eyes twinkled when I asked about his passion for poker.

"I just love the game – everything about it. I started studying it... I guess about 2013 when I moved back up here from L.A. I got a subscription to Jonathan Little. I'm always learning something new, some play or idea I've never thought of.

"I try to play four or five days a week. I also like to watch the vloggers and read what's going on. I'm going down to L.A. next week – I want to try the Hustler and some of the other places. I just can't get enough of it."

Thomas Coyne doesn't just watch the videos – he learns from them. There are players that I try to put on my immediate left (the actual OMCs who only raise jacks if they're feeling their oats), players who I tolerate on my left, and then those who I actively avoid having to my immediate left. Thomas, he's in the third group. He doesn't get out of line very often, but he has just enough speed to make life a bit more difficult if he's always acting after me.

But while I might not want Thomas on my left, I definitely want him at my table. I mean, he's negative $EV for me, because I promise you, he's beating the game. But here's what's true: it is a sobering thing, getting old. So when I look across the table and see 78-year-old Thomas Coyne – a full decade older than I – battling, and outwitting, the younger folks, I am hopeful. I see a world where I get to not only keep playing, but seriously competing, for quite a few more years. A world where I am a full participant in every aspect of this game I love. When Thomas greets me and says, "Lee, did you see that hand where Mariano had the straight flush against Andy's nut flush?" my heart dances with joy. There's no age restriction on being a fan boy.

And maybe, just maybe, one day I'll 4-bet a "try-hardy" 3-bettor with some awful piece of cheese. When they get a look at me and my wrinkles, and my coffee cup, they'll fold their jacks. I'll toss that trash right in front of their face. And start cackling.

Just like Thomas Coyne.