The tournament is now in the history books. The 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event is over, and Joe McKeehen won $7.68 million for his first place finish. He beat Josh Beckley in the heads-up portion of the event on November 10.
Several of members of the 2015 WSOP November Nine created buzz before the final table got underway in Las Vegas on November 8. Neil Blumenfield was a 61-year-old amateur player, Zvi Stern was coached by now-former WSOP champion Martin Jacobson, and Federico Butteroni brought Italian energy with his short stack. And then there was Pierre Neuville, the 72-year-old Belgian who had the chance to make history with a win. Of course, he was also my personal pick.
Neuville was optimistic, confident, and prepared when he arrived in Las Vegas for the November Nine. He was in good health and making good use of the gym and spa at the Rio, as well as employing the services of French poker pros for hand simulations and general practice. He and wife Claudine enjoyed some activities around the city while also relaxing as friends and family joined his entourage over the course of the week leading up to the WSOP action.
On the afternoon of November 8, he was whisked through the Rio by the WSOP staff for last-minute preparations. His cheering section gathered in the hallway outside of the Penn & Teller Theater, and he had very little time with them before they took seats inside the venue. Neuville was able to visit with those he selected for stage seating, however, and made the most of his three strategists in the front row.
When action got underway, it took only two hands for Patrick Chan to exit in ninth place, which lifted some weight from the shoulders of the other players who then knew a profit was to be made.
Neuville won a few chips from Thomas Cannuli and a few more in a three-way hand a short time later. After 30 hands, Neuville was up from 21,075,000 chips to 24,075,000. But just after returning from a break, Neuville lost several chips to Zvi Stern and then more to Cannuli when the young player turned the nut flush. Butteroni busted on the 35th hand of the night.
Several hands later, Neuville lost a big pot to Blumenfield, who turned a full house. He was then relegated to a stack of 7.5 million chips, which was equal to only 15 big blinds. Blinded down to just three million, he moved all-in preflop with Ac-Jc. McKeehen called with Jh-6h, and the board of Qd-Td-3h-Qh-Th rivered a flush for McKeehen. The bad beat eliminated Neuville in seventh place for $1,203,293.
@pierre_neuville Thank YOU for being such an interesting and captivating interview. One of my very favourites of all time.— Kara Scott (@KaraOTR) November 9, 2015
Neuville received condolences from his rail before exiting stage right. WSOP host Kara Scott interviewed him for ESPN television, and he then walked to the theater lobby and took to the elevated podium to speak to the journalists and fans. He discussed the experience and the positive coverage he received in the press, especially the Belgian media.
“This time, I think I have just lived a love affair,” Neuville said. “It couldn’t have been better. I will really remember, for the rest of my life, for the next 20 years that I expect to play poker and beat them (pointing to the theater where his opponents remained) and have some revenge, I will remember these last few months as one of the best dreams of my life. And I will forget the last two hours, the last two cards,” he laughed.
Gracious and positive, Neuville kept a smile on his face and a told of his grand experiences surrounding the WSOP final table.
Neuville walked toward his room, stopping only when several friends stopped him in the casino and encouraged him to pause at the bar for a drink. By that time, Claudine had already escaped the interview madness and gone to their hotel room. And her husband was consumed with worry about her, knowing that she was sad and disappointed that he had been eliminated, so he stayed only briefly before going to her.
The following day, Neuville did not respond to media requests. He spent the day with his family, as he did on Tuesday as well. On Tuesday night, as his family sorted through gifts they bought at the M&M store on the Las Vegas Strip, he sat with me at the bar to chat about his experiences, having had a bit of time to contemplate and sort through his thoughts.
“I got seventh in the world championship,” he told me with a smile. “For an old guy like me, that’s a fantastic result, so I cannot complain.”
At the same time, he admitted that the finish was disappointing. “In July, I played the best poker of my life. Here, compared to that situation and possibilities and edge and stacks, the reality is that I had the worst result of my life. I lost all of the hands. I’m convinced that we could play this final table 20 times more, and not one of the times would I finish that way. That is why I say it is the worst result.”
Meanwhile, our chat was interrupted by a fan at the other end of the bar who bought a beer for him. And a gentleman in his 50s approached to thank Neuville for being an inspiration for a generation of poker players who find it difficult to identify with younger players. He requested a photo with Neuville, who happily obliged.
“People underestimate people between 50 and 70 who are stimulated by poker. Men can sometimes be stubborn or lazy or undecided. Women hate to see that. Women tell me that their husbands want to go play poker but do not have the energy, but their wives see me and tell them to go!” Neuville smiled. “I received thousands of letters and messages of good wishes, about 80% from women. My wife is not jealous, thank god! But they say their husbands would like to play, and they want my help to encourage them to do it.”
About those messages, he admitted, “For me, receiving thousands of messages is a plus in life. It’s positive.”
However, Neuville explained the tie-in to the disappointment surrounding his finish. “For my wife, the messages were surprising, and there was a pressure with so many good wishes. This has all been new to her. She was with me 20 years without knowing I had poker in mind, and she slowly discovered it after I retired. But she still doesn’t know the poker world as I do. The pressure is not there when she watches me play online. But our discreet life became more public after I made the November Nine, and it affected her. The publicity, the pressure, the attention… It was a lot, and then to finish seventh, it was all a shock for her.”
His concern extended further. “Practically, I was expecting to give a big gift to One Drop, but instead I broke even. I did not talk much publicly about charities, but I had the plan to help people in my country, those in the streets, those who need help. I was ready with my bank to establish a foundation for my grandchildren, meet the needs of my family and friends, help others with troubles because I didn’t need to keep much for me,” he said with a distinct sadness in his eyes. “When I saw the third heart on the table, I felt I let down all of the people. They were hurt to see that card. That hurt me.”
“This has all been a lesson for me,” he thought aloud. “I was living a bit of a dream, a fable. Perhaps I should have been more cautious with people, with my intentions. This is food for thought.”
Neuville’s son-in-law was learning video poker at the bar but was anxious to try some table games on the casino floor. His wife and daughter were clearly tired from experiencing Las Vegas as tourists, especially after having already been away from home for more than one week.
He continued to talk for a time, though, wanting to return to the positive aspects of his experience at the WSOP final table.
“I met so many interesting people through this. And I cannot complain about anything, as millions of poker players would like to be in my seat, to be seventh in the World Series of Poker.”
Neuville went on to discuss the members of the media he met through the experience, the impact that some articles and messages had on him, and the lessons he learned. “I admire people who have great value, a deep personal value. Most of the time, they are anonymous, but it is great when I meet them and know them. It has been something very positive.”
Ultimately, Neuville plans to take some time to reflect and relax. “Maybe I should start from scratch now!” he joked.
More conversation seemed to indicate that he would not be away from the poker tables for long. “I will recover, take care of myself, and be stronger next year. I know that if I can still make it happen, it will be valuable for myself, for many people. I have more reason than ever to make it happen.”
“I’m not going to any other tournament until I am really motivated. I need to feel 100%. But I might get motivated soon enough.” He paused and looked toward Claudine. “My wife knows that I will be back soon.”
With family at the core of his life, it was only fitting to see him leave the bar to join them on the casino floor. Neuville put his arm around his wife. It was easy to see how the WSOP seventh place finisher quickly returned to normalcy after the cameras and lights were in the distance.