This time last year Neil Blumenfield was just one of 6,420 players living out the dream of playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event. With just a handful of previous tournament cashes he was anonymous, but he stood out too. He wore round glasses befitting of a hipster some 40 years his junior and the black, wide-brimmed hat made him easy to spot from 100 feet away.
Then it all changed. Blumenfield made it through Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and eventually, after Alexander Turyansky busted in tenth place and the 2015 November Nine were posing for pictures, Blumenfield found himself with a shot at the Main Event title.
When the players returned in November, live on ESPN, Blumenfield became the people’s champ. At 61 years old, the recreational player was living the dream for every home game hero watching at home. He eventually finished third for almost $3.4 million.
On Saturday he was one of the 800 or so players playing Day 1A of the 2016 WSOP and no longer the anonymous face in the crowd. Though the glasses and hat, now his trademark look, are both back.
“I remember coming in thinking my table was really soft and I was going to run over it and I played horribly, ended the day with 36K,” Blumenfield said of his 2015 Day 1. ”I chipped up, but I felt like it should have been 60K. So I think that was probably my worst day of play in the tournament last year.”
Walking the hallways during a break, Blumenfield gets asked for pictures with fans and fellow players, and the knowing respectful nod from another player who is hoping to have the run Blumenfield did last year. That being said, having been on ESPN had a bit of an impact on him at the table too.
“I’m no longer the old tight guy at the table so I can’t get away with that stuff anymore. It’s nice that the people know me,” said Blumenfield. “The other really nice thing about last year is that I made a bunch of just great friends from the poker community. That’s been nice – it’s also helped my game too.”
Another big change from last year is that Blumenfield no longer has a 9-5 job to report to. Thanks to that seven-figure payday, the obligations that come with having a day job are gone and Blumenfield is 100% focused on becoming a better poker player – while still continuing to win.
“This is the first time I’ve played without having a day job on the side. So that’s real different. The big change is I’m playing poker and choosing when and where I want to play and I’m not getting up for 7 AM conference calls anymore,” said Blumefield. “Last year doing well was kind of a hope, a fantasy and now I really expect to do well. Not that I expect to do what I did last year, but I expect that if I play well I have a good chance to go deep.”
Those pictures in the hallways he’s posing for are often with players playing the WSOP Main Event for the first time. Blumenfield can relate to them and recognizes the dreamy look in their eyes.
“I would say enjoy the hell out of it. This is the ultimate experience for any poker player in the world. And if you get fortunate enough to go deep just love it because it’s not going to repeat, probably,” said Blumenfield. “I had a lot of fun last year, I mean obviously it’s a little bit stressful when there’s a lot at stake, but in November I had more fun than anybody else there. I’m 100% sure of that.”
Knowing that his 2015 run was poker’s version of lightning in a bottle, Blumenfield is doing his best to enjoy this experience – as different as it is after having already made the final table once – and doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur for what may be in store for him.
“Realistically, I’m going to play well and have some sort of deep run,” said Blumenfield. “We’ll see.”