Ari Engel’s Obsession With Omaha Leads to a WSOP Championship Bracelet

Ari Engel couldn't get enough Omaha 8 and his obsession lifted him to a WSOP Championship bracelet.

For years, Ari Engel was one of the most consistent players on the poker circuit, final tabling and winning major tournaments all around the country, and the world for that matter. However, before 2019, the former #1-ranked online player on PocketFives simply couldn’t produce the same results at the World Series of Poker. He had never even made a final table after years of playing there until 2019, where he won his first WSOP final table in a $2,500 Event, earning over $427,000.

Well, that seems to have triggered something in Engel. Last week, he made it two bracelets in as many series, when he won the $10,000 Omaha Hi/Lo Championship Event. An appreciative Engel pointed out how the bracelet in 2019 was different than this one.

“I had a long drought at World Series where I didn’t get a top nine for various reasons. That was a big mental hurdle because I was thinking is it the desert, the weather, what am I doing wrong because I was winning at other places but not in Vegas?”

Engel went on to explain that this bracelet brought different feelings for him for different reasons. “This one, I really enjoy O8 so winning after spending a ton of COVID time playing O8 was a very nice feeling. Different for sure the first one is more special like that, but winning a $10k Championship is nice.”

Engel has been largely known as a No Limit Hold’em player, but he shared with us that in recent years, he has been playing more Omaha Hi/Lo. He starting grinding PLO8 in 2008, and made Supernova in 2009 grinding six to eight tables at a table. Interestingly enough, Engel barely got into the No Limit bracelet event that he eventually won in 2019, and said that since he was playing so much O-8, he couldn’t handle simply playing one game of live hold’em.

“I was playing PLO8 all day in 2019 and just max late regging events. I showed up at 7 PM for the noon event and I couldn’t stomach it, I had to play more PLO8 so I just grabbed my laptop and played while I played the bracelet event I won. I really enjoy O8 at this stage.”

It is no surprise that the final table of this $10,000 Mixed Game Event was stacked with bracelet winners and high-roller regulars. Engel bested a final table that included Robert Mizrachi (7th), George Wolff (6th), Phil Hellmuth (5th), and Andrew Yeh (3rd). Engel, the 2018 recipient of the PocketFives Legacy Award, confessed that while he had plenty of experience playing Omaha-8, he wasn’t sure how he would stand up against some of the best players in the world.

“All of these guys were pretty great. I wasn’t sure how I would stack up against them and I still don’t know, because one tournament doesn’t tell you that much, but they are clearly phenomenal players. It’s very exciting to play against legends of the game. I’m a fanboy too in addition to being a player.”

Engel also pointed out that while this was a different game, his years of final table Hold’em experience helped him in certain spots, as much of the ICM strategy is still the same. “I understand table dynamics and leverage from other tournaments I’ve played so getting the stack was the luck part.”

The seven-hour heads-up battle was made a bit easier, or at least more exciting, because of a raucous rail that was cheering Engel on. Some of the railbirds were betting on whether the flops would come out red or black, adding some entertainment to the long grind of heads-up play. Engel was appreciative of the support after his win.

“Awesome having a great rail to support you. I had the same at Aussie Millions. My first bracelet, I didn’t have a strong rail. It doesn’t happen often, so when it does it makes it more special. It makes it more fun and enjoyable from a life perspective. If I had lost maybe it would be more painful, but it hasn’t happened yet, so I’m not sure.”

Engel adds another $317,000 and change to his already robust poker resume, but for Engel, it doesn’t change much about his plans this summer. In fact, Engel confessed that he doesn’t even have a schedule planned out, instead opting to wait until the day of to decide what to play.

“I never have a schedule for the WSOP. I’ve never had one. I came into this one planning to play more mixed games but I wasn’t sure what to an extent. I will be playing any and all Omaha Hi/Los. Not sure about the other games.”

Engel did say that he is certainly enticed by playing at the high level of the $10k WSOP champions events, so expect to see him there for sure.

“At the 10k level, I’m not sure where I stand on a lot of mixed games, but I’m happy to gamble and find out and maybe get better by playing against better players. We’ll see what happens. I’ll be playing more tournaments than cash, but I’m never really sure where I’ll be playing on a given day.”