Many of you may have heard the name Neil Blumenfield before, but once he exploded onto the poker scene in 2015 with a blessed run in the WSOP main event, everyone knew who he was. Blumenfield, a staple at the tables during the Heartland Poker Tour, eventually finished third and proved that age is only a number – anyone can compete for a world championship.
I recently caught up with Neil where we discussed making the November Nine, what he’s been up to, and how 60 is the new 40!
PokerUpdate: What have you been up to since the 2015 November Nine? Do any particular moments on or off the felt stand out over the last year?
Neil Blumenfield: A lot is going on. I finished my move to Florida, so I have been flying coast to coast frequently. I have been playing a lot of tournaments. Played in Europe (Prague) at the EPT for the first time. Had a great time but no poker success. A lot of small cashes in Florida and in California. Only first place was $32K at a Lucky Chances monthly tournament.
Mostly it’s been great shaking a lot of hands and taking a lot of photos with players who have been so complimentary about my performance. Highlight was probably at Thunder Valley a few weeks ago. A very nice young guy who had been living in Australia, coaching American football, told me that seeing me inspired him to pick up the game. He had won his first tournament in the last week or two. That’s a pretty incredible feeling.
I hope that even though I finished third, not first, that I was able to inspire people, especially people in their 40’s. 50’s, 60’s and beyond, to renew their interest in the game.
PokerUpdate: What’s the most memorable thing about your run to the November Nine? Did you expect to get that far and finish in third place?
Neil: So, obviously, prior to day 6, getting to the November Nine was a total fantasy. Of course, it is something I had thought about, just like you think about what you would do if you won a lottery for $500M. But it was on that same level. As I got through Day 6 and into Day 7, it changed into much more of a serious consideration. It became a real possibility after the 2 consecutive doubles versus John Hinds on Day 7 and I felt very confident when I doubled late in Day 7 versus Zvi Stern to get to a more comfortable stack (18M+).
Once I made it to the final table and spent about 300 hours with Amir and additional time with Tom Marchese, Matt Stout, Ryan Welch and all the other elite players at my sims, I felt like I was really ready for the final table (actually didn’t feel that way until 7 days before the November Nine) and I would have been disappointed with anything less than fifth and I felt like second or third was well within reach, and that even winning it, though a long shot, was possible.
Go to Nurse Pract'r at new Dr, tell her I use lunesta to sleep during multi day poker tournaments. She notes "gambler" on my medical record— Neil Blumenfield (@nrb1) April 12, 2016
PokerUpdate: Obviously everyone looks back at how they played – if you could do something differently, what would you have done?
Neil: I would have been more aggressive on Monday (second day) and tighter on Tuesday (third day) with $1M on the table just to finish second rather than third. I would have played three hands differently that day, just checking the Q8 versus Joe’s limp and be willing to check it all the way down or lay it down to a bet. I should have just shoved the A7h versus Josh rather than 3 bet and fold to his shove, and I should have laid down the 22 in the knockout hand.
PokerUpdate: What was it like playing against Daniel Negreanu until such a late stage of the tournament and how did you react when he busted?
Neil: It was mostly pretty unprofitable. I played four significant hands with Daniel days 5 and 6 and lost all but the last. I only feel like I played one of them badly (JJ vs AA) but nonetheless he took a lot of chips from me. He was very ready to play any 2 cards against me in position, and he kept making hands. Apart from that, he is obviously a great guy to play with, a lot of fun at the table.
Honestly, when he busted 11th my only thought was that I was now one elimination away from November. The fact that it was Daniel was obviously significant for the poker world, and having Daniel there in November would have been great for the game, but my focus was just getting to November, not who else would be there.
PokerUpdate: There were quite a few comments regarding slow play at the WSOP Main Event final table. With the WPT introducing the Action Clock during their Tournament of Champions, do you think the WSOP and other major poker tournament series should adopt it as well?
Neil: For televised tables, it would be a good thing. The speed of play was an issue for people watching on TV, but not really for the players at the final table. If use of a shot clock is going to extend beyond final tables, it has to be pretty fool proof. It would be horrible (and counterproductive) if there are mistakes in time used, available additional time, etc.
PokerUpdate: What sort of schedule are planning on playing at this year’s WSOP? Any specific events you’re looking forward to?
Neil: For the first time ever, I am coming to the WSOP without a day job. So I’ll be there for most of the 6 weeks. I’ll certainly play the Seniors and the Main Event. I will play the Colossus on June 2 and after that, I will mostly play it by ear, see what looks good. I like the mixed max and six handed events so I will certainly play some of those. I expect to play 12-15 tournaments.
PokerUpdate: Are you planning on attacking the Main Event in the same way you did last year or is there something you plan on doing differently this time around?
Neil: I plan on playing much better from Day 1 on. I played poorly last year on Day 1 and made a lot of mistakes through Days 1-7. With the 50K starting stack, good play will be even more rewarded.
PokerUpdate: Earlier this year, you finished second at the 2016 WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open. Do you feel your game is missing something that would enable you to “close it out” or is it strictly a matter of variance?
Neil: It’s really more about variance but I would like to have a first place finish in a big tournament. At the Borgata, 1) it was a charity event and the only tournament I have played while I was doing a lot of drinking. 2) everyone was drinking and re-entries were the norm, so play was a little wild, 3) It was more about fun and giving to the CSOP charity but I did play with great players, including Vanessa Selbst for the first time in about 5 years, and 4) we got down to 3 handed, Jamie, Matt Stout and me. I was chip leader, but we agreed to a 3 way all in on the next hand, so it was more or less a chop.
PokerUpdate: What advice would you give to someone who is playing in the WSOP Main Event for the first time?
Neil: For recreational players, I suggest forgetting about the big stage, big event and play your A game, which may be more aggressive than you would tend to be in the biggest event in the poker world. I know a number of recreational players who get there and play way too tight, just trying to get to Day 2. You need to open up and be unpredictable.
PokerUpdate: Along with Pierre Neuville, you represented the “old guard” at last year’s November Nine. It’s no secret that stamina is much easier to maintain when you’re in your twenties and thirties than later on in life. To what do you attribute your success and do you feel other 60+ poker players can continue making deep Main Event runs?
Neil: For one thing, 60 is the new 40. When I think about my generation vs my parents’ generation, we have so much more going on and lead much more active lives into our 60’s, 70’s and beyond. Pierre is a great testament to what a positive lifestyle and positive attitude can bring, not just to poker, but to life in general.
I think I would be surprised if there’s not a least one 50+ player at future final tables. If Pierre and I encouraged more players of my generation to take a shot at it, I think there is no reason why it can’t be normal to have 2 generations represented in November. And there is going to be a woman in the final table soon.
For me, I have spent a lot of time in the last 6 months on physical conditioning. That, plus keeping active and challenged mentally, which poker does, are the best approaches to avoiding fatigue and losing focus. And when I am feeling tired, it is best just to slow down and really ponder every significant decision.
In all the talk about age, and young guys who dominate the game, there is a big piece missing. One of the reasons that guys like Fedor Holz have great success is because they work so hard on their game. It’s not just playing lots of hands online (which is huge and needs to be fixed for US players) but it’s all the study they do away from the table, analyzing their play, others play, doing the difficult math, watching other players in tournaments or in videos, using a wealth of increasingly good analytical tools. The great young players have a lot of skill and talent, but they work very hard on improving their game. The only thing stopping a 60 year old from doing the same is the willingness and ability to invest the time. And that is not always easy as life tends to pile on all kinds of distractions that are not there when you’re 22.