📷: Hayley Hochstetler | 8131Media
In a poker world with infinite media resources and a 24/7 ticker across the bottom third of your attention, this would have been the headline:
Ari Engel wins 15th Circuit ring, ties Circuit villain Maurice Hawkins for most rings
And if we’d had that infinite resource, we would have had our versions of Scott Van Pelt, Stephen A. Smith, and–I dunno…how about–Nancy Grace arguing for thirty minutes about whether Ari Engel is a witch, Maurice Hawkins is maybe not the villain he is made out to be, and whether either of them might have committed any crimes that would be suitable for a true crime podcast a’la Serial meets The Micros.
And then, because the consultants tell us no one has an attention span long enough to follow a story from beginning to end anymore, we’d pitch to Joey Ingram playing high-stakes cornhole against Matt Berkey on poker’s version of The Ocho. For rolls. Or bags. Continue the metaphor at your leisure and discretion.
The point is this: Ari Engel–a guy who I wrote lots about when I was still a young-ish man, back in the day when we just called him BodogAri, and back when he wasn’t yet a full-grown-gonna-win-all-the-rings-damned man–just won a poker tournament you likely couldn’t give a damn about.
And I’m here to tell you why it’s possible–just give me a second–that you should care.
For many of you, this might be like trying to pick up Breaking Bad several seasons into the series run and, maybe while you’re still trying to figure out how Skinny Mike and Badger fit into everything, you’re missing the absolute brilliance of a pepperoni pizza getting slung onto the roof of a New Mexico home.
Likewise, if you’re just catching up with the WSOP Circuit, you might be missing the brilliance of the fact that Ari Engel is, for now, the Damned Man Who Is Tied With Maurice Hawkins for the most wins on what is arguably the most interesting pro tournament circuit in the world.
I’ll give you a moment to clutch your pearls before I go on.
Oh, and while we’re waiting for your pearls, that feature photo at the top was captured by:
Hayley Hochstetler/8131 Media
Okay. Ready to move on?
Who are the real tournament poker pros?
So, we’re all just recovered from the World Series of Poker hangover. Most folks would agree, summer camp was spectacular this year, and that is where every serious poker pro is and should be in June and July of every year.
But where are the pros for the rest of the year?
Sure, we see the live streams, the high-stakes nosebleed money oceans, and the occasional good TV show about poker. But how much of all of that represents the professional tournament professionals? Well, (deep southern mature lady’s voice) bless my heart and help me to not get the vapors, but I just don’t know what that percentage would be. But I’d bet at least a little money that most of the pros who work every day on the Circuit are people you have never seen on TV, a stream, or on YouTube.
We’re more than half a year removed from the WPT Championship launching a shock and awe campaign at the Wynn that I drooled over in my Buckner-like return to the live poker reporting scene. No one can hate on the WPT–especially the modern WPT and its leadership. If you want a crew of people who love poker and its people as much as I do, then find yourself a person who looks at you like the WPT looks at the poker community.
Oh, and–here’s your full disclosure moment–I spent the vast majority of the past two decades riding around the world with PokerStars’ tours–the EPT, NAPT, UKPIT, LAPT, APPT, and so many PTs that I had the DTs when I finally went cold turkey. For all of those years, my job was to find a way to report about and make relevant poker tours that came and went with the shifting economies and global politics.
I’m sincerely grateful all of those tours exist or existed. They all produce or at one time produced amazing stories and even more amazing people. I’ll credit the minds behind those tours with believing what I believe about true professional poker, and I’ll never blame those tour creators for the economics and corporate changes that moved their goalposts way too often.
And so now, I’m knee-deep in the WSOP Circuit…and, if you haven’t spent much time on the WSOP Circuit, I’m not sure you can fully appreciate just how absolutely bananas it is.
It’s like…well, all the bananas.
Oh, yeah…Ari Engel won again
So, below you will see a screenshot of the PokerOrg front page as it exists while I’m writing this missive. You’ll see our links to our most recent WSOP Circuit Instant coverage, a feature on Vegas off-strip food and drink from Lee Jones, an announcement on the PokerStars 2023 WCOOP schedule from the venerable Haley Hintze, and then…yeah…an article about Ari Engel winning his 14th WSOP Circuit ring (which, not for nothing, Hintze also wrote).
So, if we had an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters (if you’re too young, you can Google typewriter to get a sense of what those were), we probably still wouldn’t have somehow stumbled upon the next story published on PokerOrg:
Stop press: Ari Engel now has 15 WSOP Circuit rings
I mean, the monkeys might have churned it out by accident, but we would have put that story on the shelf, because that’s too good of a story to happen.
And yet it did, and here we are, and here I am, your not-so-infinite-monkey and his modern-day typewriter pounding away at what sounds like a rerun but is actually what I consider to be the bedrock of professional poker: true grinders on a true-grind tour that hopscotches all over the USA and the rest of the globe treating poker like it’s a sport and putting it in places even southern guys like me can find.
And yeah, here’s that front page of PokerOrg before I hit publish and when Ari Engel still only had 14 rings.
Wait…who the hell is Ari Engel?
That’s a joke.
Because if you know anything about poker over the last 20 years, you know who the hell Ari Engel is.
But you don’t see him getting pilloried because he’s been accused of never paying back his backers. And you don’t see him staging an entrance to a tournament room and arriving fashionably late so people will notice. And you won’t see him threatening to kill someone’s mother on a live stream. At least as far as I know. He might have to remind me to remember just who he is before he threatens my family’s life.
The point is this: Ari Engel is a grinder, and maybe the best grinder among the legion of grinders on the WSOP Circuit. Maybe. Maybe Maurice is. I don’t know. But I’m glad I’m here to see it happen.
I suspect a lot of you might be a lot like Lewis Carroll’s oysters and perhaps have a bit of “Wait a minute!” in you.
Maybe you don’t see anything interesting happening in an event that doesn’t have five or more figures in the buy-in. Maybe taking down a Big O event doesn’t ring your bell because maybe you’ve never played the greatest game ever invented. I’m not judging you. It takes a lot to turn my head, and even as a guy who has lived in the poker industry for two decades, I’m fully prepared to admit the thing that my bosses and most of the monied people in the industry don’t want anyone to say:
This shit can be really, really boring.
That’s why, as near as my aged boomer brain can comprehend, we see the likes of live stream death threats, on-air drunken self-owns, and everything that comes with trying to produce live TV with live animals.
Everyone wants poker to be more interesting than it is, and many folks think turning the game into Johnny Manziel’s Hot Tub Heady Rubba Dubba Dank Poker Orgy Drake-Loves-It True Crime Podcast Housewives of Fitzgeralds Poker Room will either make the game a forever mind sport or at the very least make the producers temporarily rich enough to get on the next season of the show.
And then there is Ari, casually traipsing through big fields, winning ring after ring after ring, and, as my British friends taught me to say back in the day, getting it quietly.
Well, there couldn’t be anything interesting in that, right?
Buy the ticket, take the ride
So, here’s a bit of Inside Baseball for you.
During the World Series of Poker this year, we–a crack commando unit in search of problems that can’t be fixed, even if no one actually asked us to fix them and we couldn’t get Mr. T to sign on with us–decided to take a closer look at the WSOP Circuit, and before we knew it, we were signed up to join the traveling circus for 30+ events leading up to next year’s summer camp.
We’re not a big operation right now. We’re an all-hands-on-deck operation. I’m the Editor-In-Chief, but last week, I picked up TJ Reid from an airport and drove him to Cherokee, and then I went about setting up our PokerOrg banners in the room and sweating like an old man does (a lot, apparently).
But here’s the thing about our team: every damned one of us wants to be doing this.
This summer, we found more people who think like we do. We found people who know that poker is bigger and better than what we’ve all seen over the last few years. These are people who are excited to be in a poker room, no matter whether that poker room is an old dog track or a place where yachts pull up in the harbor outside.
Maybe you know Tiffany Michelle. If you do, you know she is one of those people who can get excited about the game no matter where she is. She hit both of these tournaments in the same way, and we think like she does.
Indeed, last week, we had a crew at the Triton event in London, another next door at the WSOP Circuit London, another in Cherokee, and yet another at Graton Casino in California. The stories were everywhere, just as they had been when we were in Choctaw the week before and at the WSOP all summer.
Here are just a few screenshots from our coverage in the last week.
In the last nine months, we’ve covered the WPT Championship, PSPC, Triton Tour, Moneymaker Tour, the WSOP, and now the WSOP Circuit’s first four 2023-24 events. And we’re not stopping. We’re going to be everywhere we can find the best stories because that’s why we’re here.
Yes, we have real players on our team.
Yes, we all love sitting down to play.
But more than anything, the people on this team love the people who play this game. And we love their stories.
And we love the fact that at this hour, there is a damned tie in the number of WSOP Circuit titles between two guys who probably couldn’t be more different.
I guess what I mean is this:
If you immediately understood the reference of the sub-heading of this section, then you probably already know what we’re all about here at PokerOrg. And if that sub-head doesn’t ring a bell with you, that’s also cool. You might Google it. You might not. Either way, if you stick around, I think you’ll know that we–like the man who once wrote that line–are approaching our coverage in a different way than you might be used to. We’re producing it this way because this is how we’d like to see it if someone else were producing it for our enjoyment.
Or, put another way: we’re not here to tell you how pocket tens won the flip against ace-king suited. We’re here to tell you about the badass people who got it in with the pocket tens and ace-king and then let them tell you how the hand played out.
We’re here to help the players tell their stories, and it doesn’t matter to us if those stories come from a $100 or $1,000,000 buy-in. The money always matters, but the players matter more.
Most often in life, we have to choose between doing a job or buying the ticket and taking the ride.
The folks we’ve signed on at PokerOrg so far have found something to be surprisingly true: it’s possible to do the job and take the ride at the same time.
So, if you happen to be someone who thinks like we do and wants to take the ride with us, we’re hiring.
And if you decide to apply with us…you better damned well know who Ari Effing Engel is.