In poker parlance, I’m the equivalent of that 926-pound mako the captain and crew of the Jenny Lee hooked in Hudson Canyon last weekend.
That’s especially true of Texas Hold’em. I know all the words to Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” by heart, but sit me at a poker table and I still don’t know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
But Scott Blumstein sure does.
While the Jenny Lee was catching that humongous shark off New Jersey, Blumstein was reeling in his own big prize in Las Vegas. The 25-year-old Brigantine resident won $8.15 million and a jewel-encrusted bracelet with a victory in the World Series of Poker’s Main Event.
“The last few days have been pretty crazy,” Blumstein told me in a phone interview from Vegas on Monday afternoon. “I’m still feeling like I’m in a state of shock.”
LAS VEGAS — A Brigantine man with a degree in accounting is this year’s World Series of Poke…
Blumstein’s victory capped an impressive string of poker performances at the WSOP by local players. Lower Township’s Thomas Cannuli, who placed sixth in the 2015 Main Event, and Stafford Township’s Tom Pomponio both won WSOP events — poker’s version of undercard bouts — this summer. North Wildwood native Jeff Tomlinson, who now lives in Florida, placed second in a tournament after winning one two years ago.
Their victories were not flukes.
Sure, there was an element of luck involved, but skill also played a part. Getting good cards is one thing. Getting bad ones and still managing to win the hand is more impressive.
Blumstein was an unknown in Vegas — this was the first time he had entered the Main Event — but is known in Atlantic City as an astute, savvy player.
He earned that reputation at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s poker room. Prior to his win in Vegas, his biggest career victory came during Borgata’s 2016 Summer Open. He earned just short of $200,000 by taking first place in the No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack Kickoff.
That win helped make his latest victory possible.
Until this year, Blumstein had never played in the Main Event partly because he couldn’t afford the $10,000 entry fee.
Both Blumstein and Cannuli are among the new wave of poker players who developed their talents by playing online, a trend that was first made popular by Chris Moneymaker.
Blumstein was an 11-year-old fifth-grader in Morristown (Morris County) when Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP Main Event.
“That’s what got me interested in poker,” he said. “My friends and I started playing with our fathers, and when I got to high school (he’s a 2010 Morristown High School graduate) I started to get into it a little more. I started playing a lot after I graduated from Temple (University in 2014).”
It didn’t take an accounting degree — although Blumstein has one from Temple — to realize that success in poker could pay off in a big way.
He rented houses in Brigantine the last two winters and last summer in part because of its proximity to Atlantic City.
Playing in tournaments honed his ability to read opponents, an underrated skill that can’t be developed by staring at a cellphone or a laptop.
He used that ability to win last year’s Borgata Summer Open event.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and Scott won that tournament with one of the greatest calls I’ve ever seen,” said Steven Agranoff, who was serving as a tournament supervisor for this year’s Summer Open on Monday. “Scott had queen-nine and was going against a guy that was betting very aggressively. The other guy raised $3 million before the river. Scott hesitated for a minute, then called. It was amazing. The other guy had nothing.”
Blumstein enlisted some extra help in Las Vegas.
After reaching the final table, he had a quick session with Eliott Roe, a self-described mindset coach from Salt Lake City who works with poker players and other athletes.
“I work with a lot of poker players, UFC fighters and even stockbrokers,” Roe said in a phone interview. “Without going into specifics, the sessions basically involve visualization techniques that help them prepare for best- and worst-case scenarios.
“With a poker player, there are going to be times when your stack goes up and down. Players often start to panic when they lose a few hands in a row, but they need to keep playing the same way.”
Maybe that’s my problem with poker.
I don’t have the right mindset. I’m easily distracted and have no clue how to bluff. Big blind, small blind, doesn’t matter.
Most of the time, I wind up like that shark.
(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)