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Years ago, Randi Hilsercop gave her husband, Jeremy, an official deck of cards from the World Series of Poker and an autographed 8X10 of his favorite poker player, Daniel Negreanu, as a Christmas gift. Since then, the couple has moved five or six times around the country for Jeremy's job. Throughout all of that, the couple has played poker four or five nights a week using that same deck of cards. The Negreanu picture was lost in one of the moves. So as Randi and Jeremy were opening their Christmas gifts with the rest of their family this year, Jeremy had a feeling that his wife had somehow replaced the autographed photo with a new one. He'd seen the box under the tree and picked it up and felt it. When it came time for Jeremy to unwrap the gift from his wife, he was unaware that one of his life's dreams was about to come true and that his world was about to get turned upside down in the best way possible. In a video likely now seen by the entire poker community, Jeremy unwrapped his present to find out that he was half-right. There were some autographed photos from some of his favorite poker players, but those were really just decoys. Randi had purchased airfare and hotel and put aside enough money for Jeremy to travel to Las Vegas and play in the opening event of the 2019 World Series of Poker, the Big 50. "After I got all the kids’ presents and still had some extra money, I had bought him some autographed photos on eBay. It was Daniel (Negreanu) and Phil Hellmuth, Gus Hansen, and Antonio Esfandiari, and then we still had money left over," Randi said. "I follow the WSOP on Twitter, and they had just released their tournament schedule, and then I saw at the end of May, first week of June, they had this Big 50 tournament, and I thought, 'Okay, we could do that. That's affordable'. It was $500. I was like, 'Okay, we have $500. We don't have much, but we have $500.'" She started searching for the cheapest flights possible from Nashville to Las Vegas and found a few within her budget. Then she saw that the Rio Hotel had some good rates for the dates she needed and she knew Jeremy would want to stay there because he'd seen it on TV so many times while watching the WSOP. Before she booked everything though, she called Jeremy's dad to see if he would be able to take care of their two kids, Michael, 9, and Madison, 10. "I got a sitter, and then I was able to buy everything and still have enough money without overdrafting - but just barely," said Randi, a stay-at-home mom. She wrapped up the new autographs together with a poker chip from the Rio and a note that read, "We're going to Vegas WSOP". [caption id="attachment_621932" align="aligncenter" width="720"] The Negreanu autograph and the travel information for Jeremy’s Las Vegas trip.[/caption] The video first made its way to Facebook, where friends and family were commenting on how great of a moment it was. Wanting to share it with even more people, Randi first took it to the poker subreddit on Reddit before posting it on her Twitter account. In the video, Jeremy showed emotion that even Randi was surprised by. "He doesn't really cry. I mean, when it comes to our kids and stuff, but he doesn't really cry. I knew he'd be really excited, but I didn't know he'd be so emotional, but it's been his dream since he was so young," Randi said. "It was just a really real moment, which was amazing." The video went viral in a heartbeat as some of the world's most famous poker players started sharing the video. Joey Ingram shared the video and wanted to find a way to do something more for Jeremy. PokerStars didn't waste much time in agreeing to Ingram's terms and conditions and suddenly Jeremy was not only going to be playing in the 2019 WSOP, but he was going to be on his way to the Bahamas to play in a $25,000 buy-in tournament against some of the best players in the world. Jeremy couldn’t believe it. "It wasn't real at first. I mean, my wife had shown me the post and I kept reading it and kept reading it, and it's like you just sit there and think, 'Well, this can't happen. That's not real,’ and then suddenly it just sank in, like, 'Oh, my God. This is real ... and it's crazy,’ and it was just a whole bunch of emotions," Jeremy said. "At first, it was definitely nerves, and then when everything started settling in, it definitely became excitement. I'm still very, very excited, but now I'm starting to try to focus on playing cards, trying to get myself ready for the events to take place, and get myself prepared and in a spot where I need to be." While Jeremy is a huge fan of poker and studies as much as possible, he doesn't have a great wealth of live poker experience to rely on when he sits down to play on January 6. The biggest buy-in tournament he's ever played was a $170 buy-in event back in Ohio. He didn't make the final table that day, but he did cash and instead of adding to his bankroll or playing another tournament, Jeremy put the extra money where he knew it would have the biggest impact - his family. "We took that money and used it for things we needed," said Jeremy. While playing on some of poker's biggest stages is a dream come true for Jeremy, the couple is also well aware of what even a min-cash would mean for their family of four. "I can't even imagine. I don't even wanna put it out there 'cause that'll jinx it, but that would be great," Randi said. "That would change our lives so much because to put money down on actually owning a home and maybe towards Jeremy and my kids, my kids could do so much with that. Put money away for them to go to school, and there are so many things that would open doors for my children alone would be amazing." Growing up in Ohio, Jeremy was introduced to poker at a very young age. Hanging out at his Grandpa Earl's house, poker - played for pennies - was what brought the family together. Six-year-old Jeremy watched in awe as his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all battled throughout the night. It was in those moments that Jeremy came to love the game. "(Poker) just brought our family together and it was a wonderful experience that I'll never forget. It made me just want to pursue poker and try to obtain that happiness," Jeremy said. "Since I was a child, this has been a dream of mine, to play poker in a bigger environment and I was never able to do that. Me and my wife met when we were very young. We've been together for 13 years, have two beautiful, amazing kids, and I've always put them first in anything, and I just never really had the time or the money to do anything like this." Jeremy and Randi have been together for over 18 years and during that time, Randi has come to love poker as well. Three or four nights a week, once the kids are in bed, Jeremy and Randi play against each other, usually with some poker playing on the TV. Sometimes it's a WSOP broadcast or an episode of two of Poker After Dark or even some High Stakes Poker. The legends who played on those shows are some of the players Jeremy idolizes now. His favorite, by far, is Negreanu. "I've studied his play and just how he acts at the table, how he treats people - amazing guy," said Jeremy. "He's always positive, always a positive poker player. I mean, everybody has their bad beats and everything. I was watching him play on The Big Game, and I mean, I've seen it over and over again where he would just flop the nuts and then turn, river, and lose, and even though that happened to him, he still maintained a positive attitude and kept going and just the way he approaches everything makes me love the guy." He also admires some of the biggest legends in the game: Gus Hansen, Tom Dwan, Phil Hellmuth, Antonio Esfandiari, and Phil Laak. Jeremy knows there's a good chance he might find himself sitting at the same table as one of the players he admires so much and he's prepared to make the most of the moment, first as a fan and then as a fellow combatant. "At first, I'm going to be in awe. I'm gonna shake their hand and tell them what a pleasure it is, and then when they sit down and they have chips in front of them and I have chips in front of me, it's definitely poker one hundred percent," said Jeremy said. There's also a few other people Jeremy and Randi are hoping to meet once they get to the Bahamas. Along with some other legends of the game, they both know they need to find one person in particular, Joey Ingram. "I'd never heard of Joey. Amazing guy. I can't thank Joey enough for what he's done for somebody that he doesn't even know, never even met. I'd never even heard of him, and I know he for sure hasn't ever heard of me, and it's just wild that somebody that you don't know would do something like that for you," said Jeremy. "Chris Moneymaker has been absolutely amazing. He's offered to pay for things, he's taking us out for dinner in the Bahamas when we get there, absolutely amazing guy. Phil Galfond has reached out to us. Just absolutely amazing." [caption id="attachment_621920" align="alignleft" width="1024"] The Hilsercop Family (L to R): Michael, Madison, Randi and Jeremy.[/caption]
When PokerStars first announced the creation of the PokerStars Players Championship and began giving away the coveted Platinum Passes, it was unclear how the Americans would be included. With PokerStars only real U.S. presence in New Jersey, it looked like there may be limited opportunities for U.S. based players to win their way into what will very likely be the largest $25K buy-in tournament of all time. However, after plenty of creative ways to include the U.S. player base, including the popular Moneymaker PSPC tour, PokerStars has now accumulated quite a number of Americans with Platinum Passes in hand. The PCA’s Team USA consists of recreational players, grinders, top-tier pros and even a few celebrities. Some of poker’s more notable names found their way to receiving a platinum pass. Super high roller David Peters was one of the first to win his way in when he picked up his pass through a random draw at the 2018 PCA. Other well-known poker names from the U.S. include vlogger Andrew Neeme, the First Lady of Poker Linda Johnson, author turned poker pro Maria Konnikova and poker's minister of information Kevin Mathers. Longtime pro Kenny Tran won one through the Moneymaker PSPC Tour in Los Angeles. Luke Vrabel picked one up at Foxwoods and Joey Ingram’s pass was part of a feel-good PokerStars promotion. So, while those players will garner plenty of attention there are plenty of other players on Team USA that have the potential to make some noise at the PSPC. New Jersey’s Anthony ’tonydatiger’ Maio has spent some time in the spotlight, having made the final table of a World Poker Tour Borgata event on more than one occasion. In the midst of a red-hot 2018, Maio closed out the year by picking up his Platinum Pass during NJCOOP. Maio’s online prowess was never in doubt. With $3.4 million in online earnings, he’s one of NJ’s most prolific grinders. A strong showing in the PSPC could really take his career to the next level. A deep run could push him up over the $1 million in live career earnings mark. Thai 'thaiha91' Ha may have lucked out to win his Platinum Pass, but he certainly hasn’t luckboxed his way to over $900,000 in live earnings. At the PCA in 2018, one of the first passes was determined by an all-in flip at a random table. Everyone at the table was seated, except for Ha. Running just a bit late, Ha got to the table just in time to see his seat win the pass on the river. Since picking up his pass, Ha has spent the better part of 2018 playing a ton of poker. He finished in second place in the Big Stax 1500 for over $78,000. He also had a final table finish this summer at the Planet Hollywood 2018 Goliath $2,200 Main Event for over $75,000. Perhaps the player on Team USA who fought the hardest for their pass was Brookyln’s Nathan Manuel. Dedicated to winning his way into the PSPC, Manuel took shots whenever he could. He flew to London to compete, followed the Moneymaker PSPC tour in the U.S. and even tried to learn a new language in order to win a pass. In the end, he defeated a field of 825 players in October’s Run It Up Reno event to book his trip to the Bahamas. Manuel has a live earnings total of roughly $170,000 and he is no stranger to traveling to play poker. In addition to his globetrotting for the Platinum Pass, Manuel has recorded cashes in the UK, Bahamas, Canada, and Australia - where he picked up a career-high cash of over $33,000 at the Aussie Millions. One member of Team USA that everyone will be keeping close tabs on is Jeremy Hilsercop. Hlisercop’s heartwarming story of a gift to the WSOP which turned into a trip to the Bahamas was the talk of poker community during the holiday season. What was once just a dream is turning into a reality for the man who’s largest tournament buy-in to date is $170. He and his wife Randi will be hoping to turn this Christmas gift into a life-changing sum of money. In addition to the 28 players that picked up a pass through a victory or promotion. PokerStars has handed out a number of passes to U.S. based celebrities. UFC announcer Bruce Buffer, NBA great Paul Pierce, comedians Norm MacDonald and Clayton Fletcher, reality star Tyson Apostle and legendary skater Tony Hawk will all be in attendance. Keep tabs on the entire slate of U.S. based players when PSPC play gets underway on January 6. PokerStars PSPC Team USA PLAYERS Jacqueline Burkhart Andrew Canfield Tenzin Chakdor Tom Chiarella Clifford Ellefson Damon Ferrante Thai Ha Jeremy Hilsercop Joey Ingram (not on the website) Linda Johnson Matt Keifer Maria Konnikova Derik Li Anthony Maio Nathan Manuel Kevin Mathers Ronald Mici Jahngir (John) Mokhtari Andrew Neeme Michael Page David Peters Andres (Andy) Risquez Kenny Tran Nitis Udornpim Luke Vrabel Brandon Welter Arthur White Alice Zheng Tyson Apostol Bruce Buffer Clayton Fletcher Tony Hawk Norm Macdonald Paul Pierce
Hosted by Lance Bradley and Donnie Peters, The Fives Poker Podcast runs each week and covers the latest poker news, preview upcoming events, and debate the hottest topics in poker. This week's episode of The Fives features Lance and Donnie recapping the unusual situation at the WSOP Circuit event at Bally's in Las Vegas that saw social media "influencer" Catherine 'catrific' Valdes removed from an event and all of the fallout from that. They also celebrate - cautiously - West Virginia becoming the fifth state to regulate online poker, recap early partypoker Powerfest action and once again pour one out for what was once online poker's most sacred tournament, the PokerStars Sunday Million. Subscribe: Apple Podcasts * Google Podcasts * Stitcher
Hosted by Lance Bradley and Donnie Peters, The Fives Poker Podcast runs each week and covers the latest poker news, preview upcoming events, and debate the hottest topics in poker. On this week's episode, Lance and Donnie talk more about the latest numbers out of PokerStars' Sunday Million Experiment™, Maurice Hawkins' dominance of the World Series of Poker Circuit and why WSOP Circuit success doesn't necessarily translate to WSOP success. Lance dubs Run It Up Reno to be the "festival of fun" and talk about not only the poker results (including Loren Klein's crazy run of success there over the last three years) but also how the week-long event should be a model that other poker festivals emulate. Phil Hellmuth once again stirred up a hornet's nest on social media this week. The 15-time WSOP bracelet winner is being roasted by the World Poker Tour later this month in a private event. Hellmuth fans and haters alike both complained that the event should be open to the public and live-streamed. Lance and Donnie discuss not only the history of the annual WPT roast but also why the event has remained private over the years. Lastly, Cat 'Catrific' Valdes is leaving the Thirst Lounge and Lance and Donnie wonder what's next for her and for the Bill Perkins project, the Thirst Lounge.