The Rio is absolutely packed and the energy has been electric as players have found their way back to the World Series of Poker. To chase bracelets, maybe win some cash, and to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of bad beats. But also, to be a small part of something bigger.
The Reunion, the first massive field event of the fall, is capturing all of that nicely. The idea was to have a coming together of poker players to reignite the fire of live tournament poker and to, essentially, enjoy making moments in one of the most prestigious series in poker.
For the most part, the players have embraced it. Lively table talk and laughs can be heard while taking laps through Brasilia. Hand histories between friends fill the hallway and while, yes, there are some formidable lines to get into The Reunion, many of those would-be bracelet winners are demonstrating the kind of patience that is praised as a profitable trait in the game.
But as much as The Reunion is a time to celebrate, it’s also a good time to remember. It’s been more than 800 days since the last hand of the 2019 WSOP was dealt and in that time poker has lost a number of notable figures in the community that has made the WSOP great. Players who have made a lasting impact on and off the felt with their play and personalities. Players who are no longer able to join us to enjoy the final WSOP at the Rio.
Mike Sexton is one of those players. The legendary voice of the World Poker Tour was an avid player at the WSOP. There’s simply no doubt that if he could be at the start of the 2021 series, he would. Sexton’s charm could light up a table and his $2.6 million in earnings let you know he could also take it down. His passing in September 2020 was a massive loss to the poker world and there’s a bit of a void for a high-profile, old-school player who is willing to mix it up at all levels of buy-ins. His last time at the series was in 2019, in the final event, the $1,500 Closer where he finished 61st for more than $8K.
Layne Flack got his “Back-To-Back” nickname at the WSOP. A Las Vegas resident and six-time bracelet winner, Flack’s outgoing personality helped define the early ESPN poker boom broadcasts. Flack played all the games and locked up two of his six wins in 2003, first in a $2,500 Limit Omaha Hi/Lo and then six days later in a $1,500 Limit Shootout. After Flack’s sudden passing, at 52, the poker world remembered him for his sense of humor and quick wit. Undoubtedly, he’d have a biting quip about the state of the WSOP, but it’d be great to hear it.
Unlike Sexton and Flack, Darvin Moon doesn’t have a long storied history with the WSOP, but it’s no less memorable. He was the logger who won a satellite to the Main Event battled Joe Cada for the 2009 title. He told a fib to his wife on national TV about what he had in a hand and became another poker icon for the everyman, maybe the biggest since Moneymaker himself. He left the WSOP with $5.1 million before disappearing back into the woods from which he first emerged but you mention Darvin Moon at the WSOP and everyone knows who you are talking about. Moon passed away in September 2020, his runner-up finish was his only WSOP cash.
Sam Grizzle’s first WSOP recorded cash was in 1990, bubbling the final table of the $1,500 Razz for roughly $4,000. While he never took home a bracelet, he splashed around in a mixed game event or three nearly every year for the better part of two decades and played as recently as 2019. Grizzle carried the reputation of pre-boom, old-school poker. A man who wasn’t afraid to say what is on his mind and even take it outside if pushed. Ask any longtime veteran about Sam Grizzle and surely a story will follow.
Norm MacDonald, long-time Bay Area player and two-time bracelet winner Howard ‘Tahoe’ Andrew, and another two-timer Rod Pardey are among them as well. Plus, all of those grinders who have taken a shot over the years, enjoyed the chase and were a part of this community.
This crop would likely shudder at the thought of being remembered with a black and white photo slideshow with “Tears In Heaven” playing in the background. They’d rather you check-raise bluff the turn. Double-tap the table when you’ve been beat. Take a photo in front of the WSOP sign. Don’t shed a tear, raise a glass and, maybe, make some memories and maybe a bit of history while you’re at it.
But most importantly: enjoy. It’s a Reunion after all.