The World Poker Tour’s Unlikely Billionth Dollar Man: TJ Shepherd


TJ Shepherd was short-stacked and happy to have a shot at finishing 47th (WPT photo/Joe Giron)

For most people, finishing 47th place in a World Poker Tour event isn’t something worth getting excited about. Often times it returns a small profit and bitter memories of a missed opportunity at a life-changing score.

TJ Shepherd isn’t most people though and on Tuesday when he busted in 47th place from the WPT Legends of Poker, he was ecstatic..

“This is pretty cool, coming in 47th. I’m a huge fan of the WPT. I’ve watched every episode,” said Shepherd.

In the moments before his elimination, Shepherd had his aces cracked by Marvin Rettenmaier and was left short-stacked. There were 48 players left and and word had spread through the players that the eventual 47th place finisher was going to get a special prize package to celebrate the billionth dollar awarded in WPT events.

“I had 25,000 left and I just said ‘I’m going to play for 47th now’ and I got lucky and came in 47th,” said Shepherd, who qualified for the event in a $430 satellite earlier in the week. With 47 players left, Shepherd was trying to bust but the cards wouldn’t cooperate. He doubled up on the first hand before getting it all in again on the next hand.

“I’m like ‘please, don’t hold up, don’t hold up’,” said Shepherd. They didn’t and he was out in 47th.

After Shepherd’s elimination, the tournament was stopped to celebrate the milestone. Along with the $10,405 prize money, Shepherd was given a free entry to next season’s Legends of Poker Main Event and five nights hotel accommodation.

It was the culmination of a great week of poker for Shepherd. Not only did he manage to win his seat via satellite, he won $10,000 in a Survivor tournament at the Bike. It almost didn’t happen. At an eclipse-watching party, Shepherd’s mom fell and broke some ribs and punctured a lung and Shepherd felt like he had to stay and take care of her. She wasn’t having it.

“She made me come here. I was going to stay with her and help her, but she told me ‘you’d better go play’. This is what happens,” said Shepherd, who runs the family appliance business with his brother.

If an amateur were to have a checklist of things they’d like to experience in their first WPT event, Shepherd probably crossed them all off in the last week. He had the opportunity to play with Phil Hellmuth, made the money, got it in good with aces in a key pot and also got the opportunity to bust one of his favorite players.

“I had a huge thrill earlier in the tournament when I was able to knock out my hero, Mike Sexton. Just had an absolute blast playing this poker tournament,” said Shepherd.

With his recent run of success, Shepherd is already looking at the possibility of playing more tournament poker. Thanks to his 47th place finish, he’s got one event already circled on his calendar, the 2018 Legends of Poker.

“It feels amazing. To play this one time was just a great experience. The players are so good and such a tough field here in L.A.,” said Shepherd, who lives in nearby Fullerton, CA. “I’m super excited to have the freeroll for next year. This is not an easy field. $4,000 is a lot of money for me, I’m not a professional, I have a regular job.”