The World Poker Tour had a specific plan for this first day of the WPT World Championship Main Event.
As it celebrates its 20th year and hosts a winter poker festival receiving rave reviews, the WPT plan was to announce its highest honor to longtime commentator Vince Van Patten and PokerStars.com co-founder Isai Scheinberg.
The WPT planned meticulously and expected Scheinberg to be sitting among the Day 1A players of the Main Event during the announcement on Monday.
Leave it to Isai Scheinberg to go his own way.
The Scheinberg way
After building PokerStars.com into the world’s biggest poker site and selling the company in 2014, Scheinberg has spent years in solitude on the Isle of Man. He focused on philanthropy and the things that made him happy.
“I’m involved in many charity projects, helping with family businesses, and playing poker and chess for fun and to stay sharp,” Scheinberg said.
How sharp did he keep himself?
Scheinberg appeared at the Wynn this weekend as part of the WPT plan. And then he entered the WPT World Championship $25,000 High Roller yesterday, played late into the night, and ended the day with the third-highest chip count.
So, instead of playing Day 1 of the main event today, he’ll be playing for the win in the High Roller on Monday and playing the main on Tuesday. Scheinberg fans from across the globe would likely agree that Scheinberg was just doing what he did for more than a decade at PokerStars.
He took the plan and made it better.
Honoring two legends
Ever-agile, the WPT held its plan together. During the first break in main event action and with the High Roller about to resume, WPT CEO Adam Pliska took the stage and announced the 2022 WPT Honors Award would go to Scheinberg and Van Patten.
“The WPT created the WPT Honors in 2017 to honor people who have made a significant contribution not only to the WPT but in poker in general,” Pliska said. “We have two new inductees, one who has been very much in front of the camera. The other you know very well, but you may not know what he looks like.”
In prior years, the WPT has honored both players and industry executives. Those honorees have often been those who have made enormous contributions to the game but in several cases have gone unrecognized by the Poker Hall of Fame or other awards. Previous WPT Honors Award Honorees have included Lyle Berman, Deb Giardina, Bruno Fitoussi, Linda Johnson, Steve Lipscomb, Mike Sexton, and Matt Savage.
WPT fans wouldn’t need to be introduced to Van Patten. Along with Mike Sexton, Van Patten was one of the first faces in the commentary booth when the WPT launched 20 years ago.
“I have been so fortunate to be a part of this amazing company for 20 years, and I have never been prouder of what WPT has become than here at the first-ever World Championship,” Van Patten said.
Scheinberg, a man who is not loose with compliments, amplified the WPT praise and his appreciation for the WPT Honors Award.
“I am very honored. The World Poker Tour is a very important poker company which made major contributions to the game,” Scheinberg said. “The first TV advertising PokerStars did was on WPT programming on the Travel Channel. It had a major impact that led to millions of players joining us.”
The WPT will honor Scheinberg and Van Patten in an official ceremony in early 2023.
Outside the shores of the Isle of Man, a Scheinberg sighting is not common.
As players and media filtered into the main event ballroom, more than a few who had seen overnight chip counts wondered aloud, “Is that the Isai Scheinberg?”
Whether it was the shock of seeing the name again after a quiet eight years since the sale of PokerStars or a belief that Scheinberg was finished with poker, the sense of genuine awe and excitement about Scheinberg returning to public life in the United States was real.
Nevertheless, Scheinberg made clear to PokerOrg, he still cares deeply about poker. When PokerOrg asked Scheinberg how the industry should focus its goals in the coming years, Scheinberg made it clear, he hasn’t stopped thinking about what could make poker better.
“There should be two main goals right now. First, there should be shared liquidity in the United States and worldwide. Second, Asian players, especially China and India, need to have better access to the game,” Scheinberg said.
As the announcement ended this afternoon, Pliska excused Scheinberg to the middle of the stage where the WPT High Roller stream was about to begin.
Pliska said to the crowd, “If you don’t know, Isai is third in chips, and this is his first tournament in eight years!”
And with that, Scheinberg turned back to the High Roller final table. The plan is to finish that, play the main event tomorrow, and see where things go.
That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see where Scheinberg takes it.
*Photos by Joe Giron, PokerPhotoArchive