The Week That Was In Poker, October 25 to October 31, 2021: Examining What Went on in the World of Poker the past Seven Days

Weekly Poker Update Nov 1 2021

The philanthropic side of poker came to the fore in a pair of incidents surrounding the World Series of Poker this past week. Read all about that and much more in the week that was in poker.

Because of its association with gambling, many people who don’t know much about poker simply assume it is populated entirely by seedy types. There are certainly some of those folks in the game, just as there are some in every other sport or business. But focusing on that misses the bigger picture.

There is also a genuine spirit of giving that pervades poker. It helps that these folks are often coming from a place of great wealth so that they can afford to be more generous than the average person. But these good deeds perpetrated by poker people often have more to do with giving of themselves than simply coughing up some spare bucks for a cause.

Three of those incidents came to the fore this past week in the World Series of Poker. Because of the grand stage of this event, the biggest in poker, these incidents received a lot of publicity. But this kind of thing goes on all the time, with players stepping up to help others in some way attached to the game.

Graydon’s Grace

This week, the news broke about 40-year-old Michael Graydon, a married father of two who recently received devastating health news. As reported by Pokernews, he was diagnosed with a rare, inoperable form of brain cancer, with, at the moment, no chance to recover.

While not a pro by any stretch, Graydon has occasionally competed on some big poker stages in the past. Cashing here and there, he only participated now and then because of work and family demands. But he has a passion for the game and, with a renewed sense of urgency due to the health issues, decided he wanted to take on the World Series of Poker this year.

To pay for it, he decided to go to social media to see if he could scare up 70 percent of the $10,000 buy-in. He offered whoever would stake him a straight cut of the profits without any markup. The winnings weren’t as important to him as just getting to compete.

Poker Pros Unite

When the poker community found out, they rallied in a way that Graydon never saw coming. First up was MJ Gonzales. Gonzales has made his name in the poker community as an in-demand coach, with Daniel Negreanu among his most notable clients.

Gonzales didn’t wait around for anybody else to help him out, instead offering Graydon the entire $10,000 buy-in. And he told Graydon that he could keep all his winnings. Considering the likely pressure of medical bills, Gonzales’ gift was especially timely and helpful.

Michael Graydon at the WSOP

But it didn’t stop there. Top pro, Jonathan Depa, helped out Gonzalez by splitting up the buy-in for Graydon. Another poker luminary, Maria Ho, then chipped in with an offer to pay for the plane ticket to get Graydon from his Alabama home to the event.

Food For Thought

The icing on top was when All-American Dave, a local food truck establishment, heard about Graydon’s story and agreed to give him meals while he was in Vegas for the tournament. Graydon is set to play on November 6 in the Main Event. He’ll likely have a large sentimental backing as he tries to advance.

But in reality, you have to say that Graydon has already scored a major victory in terms of the good feelings flowing his way from the world of poker. They have stepped up for one of their own in a time of need. All of us are pulling for Michael Graydon to beat the odds in more ways than one.

The Son Steps Up For The Father

Pokernews also reported on the story of Craig Varnell and his father, Kevin. While this feel-good saga is largely contained within a family, it still provides evidence of the good hearts of these players. Sadly, this story also involves brain cancer, but it also involves generosity and warmth, two qualities people don’t associate with poker players often enough.

For those who don’t know, the younger Varnell is a top pro who will be competing throughout the World Series of Poker. His father, however, is nothing more than a recreational player who has never been in anything resembling a top tourney. But that all changed this past week.

On Wednesday, Kevin Varnell, aged 65, was out there winging it in the $1,000 Buy-In Seniors Championship. Why would someone who would no doubt be in over his head in such top-flight competition even bother with the substantial buy-in? Because he didn’t have to worry about the buy-in.

A Grand For Dad

It was son Craig Varnell who decided to gift his Dad with the buy-in to give him a chance to compete in the biggest poker tournament of all. This wasn’t something that the father asked for in particular. But his son, knowing what the event is like, figured it would be something that Kevin would enjoy.

By all accounts, he did enjoy it, even if it didn’t last that long. As might be expected, the elder Varnell wasn’t quite up to the task of hanging with the outstanding competition. Even before the first break of the day had been announced, he had busted out his entire stack and was eliminated.

But the event, which was still going on at press time, was richer for having Kevin Varnell be a part of it. As is the case with the story above, the actual poker isn’t the important part of it. It is the giving, in this case from a father to a son, that really makes it special.

Winning For Others

It’s one thing to say that you’re going to give away all of your poker winnings before you even start to play. But it’s another thing to do that when you have serious talent. Gershon Distenfeld definitely proved this past week that his poker talent matches the philanthropy.

The event was a $1,500 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold’em shootout at the World Series of Poker. Distenfeld entered with the idea that he would be donating his entire purse to a variety of charities. That’s very noble, but it doesn’t really mean a hill of beans unless you can back it up with a good play to make money for the causes.

Gershon Distenfeld at the WSOP

There was some serious talent that made it to the final table of ten players. But Distenfeld, who made a final table at last year’s online WSOP, stayed strong throughout the action, eventually making it to the final table. He ended up going head to head with Johan Schumacher of Belgium in what proved to be an entertaining showdown.

Showdown Excitement

Going into it, Distenfeld was at a disadvantage with around half the chips of his opponent. But a race where Distenfeld’s ace-ten came out on top of a pair of deuces for Schumacher practically swapped the dynamic. From there, it was Distenfeld in control, looking for opportunities to close it out.

Give Schumacher credit for his ability to stay alive in the battle. There were several occasions where he was on the ropes and all-in against Distenfeld. And he kept hanging in there and doubling up.

Unfortunately, his chip stack stayed low enough that those double-ups didn’t really make enough of a dent. It looked like Schumacher finally might have a chance to make a big change when he got in with queen-ten against the queen-four of Distenfeld. But that’s when the luck ran out, as Distenfeld paired up his four on the turn, and it stood up for the win.

Giving It Away

Distenfeld’s knowledge of philanthropy can be seen in the way that he split up his $204,063 proceeds between eight different charities. He also hoped that his actions would inspire other players to do the same and give up some of their winnings along the way.

It will be interesting to see if Distenfeld can continue to succeed and perhaps become that inspiration. Even if not, what he’s doing is commendable on its own, both as a player and as a giver.

Poker Back In The Bay State

The saga of live poker in the state of Massachusetts is something that we’ve been following closely over the last few months. Like many states, their casinos returned live in the summer of 2020. But unlike other states, their poker rooms never opened back up again.

As a result, poker players began to lodge complaints with the gaming board. Casino officials in the state countered that it wasn’t financially feasible for them to open the rooms back up. In some cases, slot machines had been installed in the state and were more profitable.

There were also issues with getting dealers and also deciding whether players would be OK with fewer players per table. But the players continued to make themselves heard. They were not going to be denied in their quest, especially when the precedent was set in other parts of the country.

It’s Back

GM Springfield had relented with the announcement a few weeks back that they would indeed be reinstituting the poker rooms. Still, some wondered if that was just a delaying tactic. They finally followed through this past week.

Friday morning, MGM Springfield poker was fully operational once again with 13 tables. And nine players per table were allowed, meaning that cash games would look pretty much like they normally do. It will be interesting to see if the players pack those tables after all those months of complaints.

We’re also waiting to see if Encore Boston Harbor, the state’s other casino, will follow suit. They are still without a poker room on their end. Maybe the action at MGM Springfield will put some pressure on them to relent.

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