Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Return of the American Online Grinder

Have to confess I hit the sack early last night, only following those hand-for-hand updates from the World Series of Poker Main Event until they’d gotten down to just under two tables. Looks like they managed to hit the nine-handed final table right at midnight (judging by the time stamps at WSOP.com), so it wasn’t a short final day but not too outrageously long either.

Eyeing the final nine players, I can say for sure I’ve covered four of them previously in tournaments -- Cliff Josephy, Kenny Hallaert, Vojtech Ruzicka, and Griffin Benger. I probably also reported on Jerry Wong at some point, though don’t remember him quite as well.

Probably the most interesting, obvious thread when looking at the final nine is the extensive and well known online background of Josephy (“JohnnyBax”), Hallaert (“SpaceyFCB”), Benger (“Flush_Entity”), Ruzicka (“Vojta_R”), Wong (“hummylun”), and Gordon Vayo (“holla@yoboy”).

There were other big online winners who nearly got there, too, like James Obst (“Andy McLEOD”) who ended in 13th, Tom Marchese (“Kingsofcards”) who took 14th, and Jared Bleznick (“Harrington10”) who finished 16th.

Of course for guys like Josephy, Vayo, Wong, and Marchese (Americans), online poker hasn’t been that much of an option for the past five-plus years. (Bleznick, of course, has been the focus of a lot of multi-accounting speculation in the past, including post-Black Friday.)

Sam “@SamSquid” Grafton -- Benger’s co-commentator on the Global Poker League -- tweeted today how he was looking back on the entire series as having signaled a next, belated chapter in the story of U.S. online pros.

“This year’s WSOP seems to confirm the reinvention of the last generation of US online regs into the dominant force in the post-BF live arena,” suggested Grafton. He went on to list Andrew Lichtenberger, Tony Dunst, Ryan D’Angelo, Paul Volpe, Kyle Julius, Shaun Deeb, Michael Gagliano, and Josephy as players who did well this summer in Vegas who formerly played prominent roles online -- all “top names on P5s and on training sites” when Grafton first started playing online.

“Real impressive the way these guys have survived and thrived after being stripped of their main source of income,” Grafton concluded.

It does seem like kind of a milestone of sorts being passed, perhaps given even more emphasis by Josephy being chip leader among the final nine. As he noted in his interview with the PokerNews Podcast a couple of days ago, Josephy “retired” the “JohnnyBax” nickname back in April 2011, having been made to step away from that version of himself.

Josephy’s extensive backing of other players also makes him the hub of a huge network of others, many of whom likewise transitioned from online to live. He made reference to his backing of others in this year’s Main Event in the PNPod interview, too, saying how they’d all busted and joking “I guess sometimes you gotta do the work yourself.”

These players represent a small subset of the most skilled and successful U.S. online pros, although they do (as Grafton suggests) represent a larger group who have managed to make the online-to-live transition. Of course, a much larger group made the online-to-something-else transition, but it’s still interesting and notable to consider the significance of the success of these few.

Image: Full Tilt Poker.

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