Poker Fans Should Be Rooting for Cliff Josephy to Win the WSOP Main Event

Steve Ruddock : July 19th, 2016

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When Joshua Weiss was eliminated in 10th place, the official World Series of Poker Main Event final table was set (each player guaranteed $1,000,000, with the winner set to pocket a cool $8,000,000), and when the remaining nine players return on October 30 to finish the tournament, it will be 50 year old chip leader, Cliff Josephy that will be the odds on favorite to win the tournament.

Here are the official chip counts for the nine remaining players that will play for the 2016 WSOP Main Event title:

  1. Cliff Josephy – 74,600,000
  2. Qui Nguyen – 67,925,000
  3. Gordon Vayo – 49,375,000
  4. Kenny Hallaert – 43,325,000
  5. Michael Ruane – 31,600,000
  6. Vojtech Ruzicka – 27,300,000
  7. Griffin Benger – 26,175,000
  8. Jerry Wong – 10,175,000
  9. Fernando Pons – 6,150,000

If Josephy can hang on for the win it would be great for the game of poker, as Josephy, also known by his online poker handle, JohnnyBax, has every quality one would want in a WSOP Main Event champion.

He is:

  • Not the typical internet wunderkind that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing win the WSOP Main Event. Cliff is 50 years old and doesn’t wear the dark triad of poker clothing: hoodies, hats, and sunglasses – and you can probably add scarves to that list now.
  • A likable, personable, and intelligent guy.
  • One of the most respected people in the industry. If you’re looking for someone with an impeccable reputation, look no further than Cliff.
  • A highly accomplished poker player, both online and live. Cliff is a former top-ranked online tournament player at pocketfives.com and a two-time WSOP bracelet winner.
  • The godfather of modern poker staking. Josephy and his partner at the time, Eric “Sheets” Haber, were the most prolific stakers when poker took off, and famously backed 2009 WSOP Champion Joe Cada.

I’m of the opinion that the first three bullet points are the most important for growing the game, but it’s the entire package that makes Josephy one of the easiest players to root for in WSOP Main Event history.

Age matters

Aside from a woman winning the Main Event, there are few demographics that have the potential to lead to a second poker boom as someone over the age of 40.

An older player is one of the demographics that I believe could spark a renewed interest in the game, particularly because the narrative over the past decade is poker is a young person’s game.

In 2005 Chris Bjorin took a more pragmatic view of age and the Main Event when he pronounced no one over the age of 50 would ever win the WSOP Main Event again. After making his second consecutive final table in 2004, a tired Dan Harrington purportedly said no one over the age of 40 would ever win the Main Event again, and he’s been right, although there were some close calls.

Since 2008, you could have set the line at 30 and been right.

Since Peter Eastgate won in 2008, the WSOP Main Event champions have essentially been cut from the same cloth. The 22 year old Eastgate was followed by:

  • 21 year old Joe Cada in 2009;
  • 23 year old Jonathan Duhamel in 2010;
  • 22 year old Pius Heinz in 2011;
  • 24 year old Greg Merson in 2012;
  • 23 year old Ryan Riess in 2013;
  • 27 year old Martin Jacobson in 2014;
  • 24 year old Joe McKeehen in 2015.

Based on these results, any casual viewer of the WSOP Main Event final table on ESPN in recent years who happens to be over the age of 30 would likely conclude that winning the WSOP is the domain of the young, and something they have little of chance of accomplishing.

Not only has the winner been a young online wizard for eight straight years, but the bulk of the final table looks similar, and the announcers tend to discount the older players, as inferior in skill and lacking the stamina to compete, to boot.

That won’t happen with Josephy. Unlike previous November Niners who were eligible to play in Seniors tournaments, Josephy has the poker chops to take on Gordon Vayo, Kenny Hallaert, and Griffin Benger.

Josephy would give non-20-somethings hope that winning the World Series of Poker is still an achievable dream, and something to aspire to. And as a former online legend, these 30, 40, and 50-somethings might also give online poker a first or second look.

Nice guys finish first

You’d be hard pressed to find someone as entrenched in the poker community with a more impeccable reputation than Josephy.

Whether it’s his demeanor and behavior at the poker tables, or how he interacts with people away from the tables, or how he has managed the dozens (maybe hundreds) of poker players he has staked and kept in action over the years, there are no flies on Josephy.

Josephy would also be a good interview, and could grab the attention of a more mainstream audience due to his life experiences and the funny, dramatic, and amazing anecdotes and stories he has from his years as poker’s top staker, and having a life before poker.

Josephy would be the first Main Event champion in the modern era that would have a story the average person could relate to, as our past eight champions essentially came of age in the poker community where they were 100 percent focused solely on poker and didn’t have the worldliness that allowed them to connect to a non-poker audience.

As I noted on Twitter, my litmus test for being “good for poker” is:

Image credit WSOP.com/Joe Giron

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