The World Series of Poker has one chance this year to gain a champion like no other. Poker has the opportunity to crown an ambassador who is likely to do more for the game than the last handful of Main Event champions put together. And poker fans may be able to watch one of the most entertaining and joyous paths to victory ever witnessed at a poker table.
This can happen if Pierre Neuville wins the upcoming November Nine final table and captures the WSOP Main Event title, which, incidentally, comes with a cool $7.68 million.
(No pressure, Pierre!)
Let’s start with a disclaimer: I do not personally know Mr. Neuville, nor have I ever interviewed him. We may have crossed paths at a poker tournament and exchanged niceties, but that is the extent of my interaction with him.
My impressions of Pierre come from being an observer of the game. For more than a decade, I have watched and read about poker. For most of that time, I have also written about the game, sometimes from the tournament floor but most often from afar. Numerous poker players have caught my attention, be it for his or her interesting journey to poker, passion for the game, odds overcome to achieve success, or special role in advancing or promoting the game. Pierre is one of those competitors who has long been on my radar.
His story is unique. From his career beginnings in the development of board games to his choice to retire made from a hospital bed, and from his feat of winning online satellites to 23 consecutive European Poker Tour main events to his WSOP Main Event play this year that put him at the final table, Pierre has caught the eye of many a poker writer.
Even more so, the Belgian is a happily married 72-year-old poker player who is respected and respectful. He innately knows how to balance the risks of the game with the realism of it. And by all accounts ever recorded, Pierre is kind, friendly, and positive man with a youthful spirit.
Could the WSOP ask for a better champion?
In my humble opinion, the answer is no.
A Life of Games
Pierre Neuville started playing poker in 1957 and became more immersed in games like Seven-Card Stud during his time at a Brussels university. He claimed to play with a range of international students, sometimes up to 20 hours per day, in the dormitories.
After schooling, he created board games and a toy company, one that he sold to Hasbro in 1982. He became the Vice Chairman of the company in Europe, but he had to separate himself from all things gambling, including poker, for the image of the business. He worked that job loyally until a serious illness put him in the hospital in 2007, at which point he chose to retire and focus on his health and happiness.
Part of finding happiness involved a return to poker. He proposed that his wife join him for a trip to the Bahamas for the 2008 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. He wanted to play the $8K buy-in Main Event, which he did, and he ultimately finished in 18th place for $48K. That launched his bankroll and official entry to the global poker world, not to mention his wife’s belief in his poker abilities.
Starting to play close to home, Pierre found himself with a ninth place finish at an €1,080 event at the WPT Spanish Championship in Barcelona, and then he trekked to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, where he took 40th place in a $1,500 NLHE tournament for $9,434.
The EPT is where Pierre found a comfortable home, though. He found great success on the tour, starting with the 2009 EPT Sanremo Main Event, where he took ninth place for €78,800, and the EPT Vilamoura later that year, where he finished second in that Main Event for €257,681. In 2012, he finished second at the EPT Copenhagen Main Event for nearly $283K. But throughout that time, Pierre made a name for himself by repeatedly qualifying for EPT main event tournaments online at PokerStars. He won those seats online for 23 EPT main events in a row, actually, setting a record and prompting the site to sign him to a “Friend of PokerStars” sponsorship for a period of time.
A WSOP Dream
Throughout Pierre’s retirement life as a poker player, he made the trip to Las Vegas for the WSOP every summer. His results in the desert were mediocre at best, with a few deep runs. In 2011, he finished 13th in both a $5K NLHE Triple Chance and a $1K NLHE, but final tables were elusive until 2014. That year, he not only made the final table of the $5K NLHE Six-Handed event but finished second young gun Kevin Eyster and took home $385,041 for the result. He cashed in eight WSOP events that summer.
When he returned to America in 2015 for the WSOP, he played quite a few events. He cashed in the $1,500 NLHE Millionaire Maker tournament in June for a small profit, but nothing else materialized until he played the $10K buy-in Main Event.
Pierre played Day 1A of the marathon tournament so that if he busted, he could head home to Europe. But he finished the night in 69th chip position with nearly 80K chips. He soared even higher on Day 2AB and bagged 357,600 chips that night, 12th in the field. Day 3 wasn’t as much of a success, and he had less than 300K when that night ended. He improved on that during Day 4 and wrote 956K on that night’s bag of chips, and Day 5 ended with Pierre as the chip leader of the final 69 players with more than 7.1 million chips. He lost ground on Day 6. When the night ended, he had 6 million chips of the 27 players remaining.
On the all-deciding Day 7, Pierre soared again, ultimately finishing as a member of the November Nine with 21,075,000 chips, fourth overall. He was guaranteed at least $1,001,020 for the minimum ninth place finish in the WSOP Main Event, and he took that money before leaving Las Vegas.
In just a few weeks, Pierre is set to return to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, this time to the Penn and Teller Theater instead of the cavernous convention center ballroom. There will be a live audience of friends and family and poker fans to watch the nine finalists play out the table semi-live on ESPN television for the most prestigious title in all of poker – WSOP Main Event world champion.
Why Pierre, You Still Ask?
As previously mentioned, Pierre is a respected player and has the ultimate respect for the game and his opponents. He is a happily married, retired player who not only has the time but the desire to travel the world to play more poker. He could embrace the role of poker ambassador and world champion with the passion necessary to use it for the good of the game.
Pierre has a lifelong zest for games and remains a student of poker. He is a working example of proper bankroll management, a proponent of satellites, and an advocate for the various positive aspects of online poker. The outgoing player also has a desire to help others and encourage them to play and do well.
As the oldest person to ever garner a sponsorship at PokerStars, Pierre can speak to a previously unsolicited market of players who are often intimidated by the young competitors that today’s game produces. Seniors the world over could bring a new wave of players and viewers to poker.
In his 70s, he is also an example of a healthy poker player. Pierre stays healthy with a carefully planned diet and workouts, even when he faces long days at the tournament tables. At one point, concerned about his memory, he saw a specialist for tests, and the tests showed that his healthy ways and focus on poker actually improved his memory and reduced his “true age,” according to doctors, over time. He hopes to help them prove that poker improves a person’s mental faculties when age tries to diminish it.
When he returns to the November Nine final table on November 8, he faces a group of players mostly much younger than he. In fact, Pierre is the oldest player to make the November Nine. And if he wins, he will be the oldest Main Event champion in WSOP history, as Johnny Moss in 1974 was only 67.
Pierre Neuville plays for the love of the game. He exemplifies the joy of poker, both live and online.
As a world champion, Pierre has the potential to grow the game more than the modest gentleman would probably acknowledge.
I will be watching this year with an excitement I cannot remember in the past few years, with the fervent hope that the contagiously happy Pierre Neuville wins the tournament.