Even After Bracelet Win, Ari Engel Working to Get Confidence Back

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Ari Engel finally won a WSOP bracelet this summer. (WSOP photo)

Just a few short minutes after accomplishing what most poker players dream of – winning a World Series of Poker braceletAri Engel stood in front of the assembled poker media for the customary post-tournament scrum and spoke candidly about how his confidence was low.

“So many people are doing work and improving their games and you get owned a time or two from people that you thought were worse than you. I’m the kind of person to lose my confidence real easily,” Engel said. “It’s kind of a relative thing. It’s not like I thought that I sucked, but maybe not the same level of confidence that I’ve had at other stages.”

The former #1-ranked online poker player in the world, Engel then referred back to his last big win, his biggest in fact, the 2016 Aussie Millions Main Event victory that earned him $1.12 million. Full of confidence after taking down one of the game’s biggest $10,000 buy-in events, Engel was ready to take on the world.

“After Aussie Millions, I went to Ireland and played EPT Ireland and I didn’t cash one time in Ireland. I think I went like 25 tournaments in a row without cashing after that one. So hopefully I’m not going to do that,” Engel said.

In the 15 years that Engel has been coming to Vegas for the WSOP, he’s managed 43 cashes but has never been able to even make the top nine of any event. His only final table was in the $1,500 NLHE Shootout event in 2011 when he finished 10th after making the 10-handed final table. Finally getting to pose for a winner’s photo with a bracelet in hand brought about a few different emotions for the 35-year-old poker vagabond.

“I think relief is the appropriate word. I’ve been playing a lot and I never did really well in the summer and never had a top-nine finish before,” Engel said. “So yeah, I can’t say that I always was Mr. Positive about coming here and playing these, even though I keep showing up. I did have a pretty bad negative mindset about playing in Vegas.”

A meticulous record-keeper, Engel knows that his record in Sin City, in particular during the summer when there’s plenty of opportunity for a big score, has been abysmal. So bad in fact, that he’s often wondered if there’s more to it than just an extended run of bad cards.

“It was so insane. Like, what happened in Vegas? Is it the desert? Is it the hot weather? Is it the dry air? Everyone says variance because that’s the easy answer, but realistically it’s like something is probably up. I have a +140% ROI outside of June and July and then June and July I got a negative 15%. It’s like the numbers were just so extreme between them that I still don’t know, I’ll never know,” Engel said.

Those numbers are where Engel’s lack of confidence is rooted. With more than $6.6 million in lifetime earnings, a WSOP bracelet, the Aussie Millions title, and nine WSOP Circuit rings, Engel still doesn’t quite know where he rates in the game today.

“Especially with my style, I’m very comfortable taking risks and kind of experimenting, I guess, compared to other people,” Engel said. “So it’s a very fine line between doing something stupid and doing something that’s just a well-thought-out, risky play, but that I think is positive in the long run. I often question myself and I have no idea, like how good am I? I just don’t know at all.”

Engel calls himself a ‘poker fanboy’ and knows that those in the poker community are going to give some weight to him being a bracelet winner now, but he’s not sure that it’s more important or prestigious than his Aussie Millions win.

“Aussie Millions was double the amount of money and a main event kind of thing, but then there’s some attachment, I guess, to the bracelet but I don’t know about that prestige stuff,” Engel said. “That’s more for the media to figure out what’s more and what’s less. From the scoreboard it’s not as big, obviously.”

The win comes with a small boost in confidence, but there are no delusions of grandeur with Engel. He’s not going to change his approach and attempt to become a regular on the super high roller scene anytime soon – if ever.

“I could win a $2,500 World Series bracelet every day for the next 10 days and that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to play $25K-plus high rollers. That’s a different skill set. That’s a different players set,” Engel said. “I like to test myself and do that occasionally, but it’s not like I think I can play them every day and beat them. Definitely not.”

There’s going to be little to no change in where Engel plies his trade. He’s always looking for the best value in each series that he treks to. He’s also planning on making the most of a changing United States online poker landscape.

“There’s so many live tournaments, online poker is returning to Pennsylvania, there’s this compact with the legal New Jersey and Nevada sites which is pretty awesome and even international is not too bad. I enjoy playing that when I get the chance to.”