How to Score Selfies with Poker Superstars at the WSOP
A little while ago on this blog, I had the pleasure to write about my experiences collecting autographs from my favorite poker pros.
However, after reflecting on the post, I realized that the younger generation may not have the same affinity for celebrity signatures. For millions of millennials out there, the autograph has been replaced by the selfie, and even hailing from the “old school,” I can definitely see why.
Snapping a photo of a poker pro you revere is always a treat, especially when you can catch them in action on the felt. But having the opportunity to actually pose for a selfie with a poker superstar is even better. You’re capturing a unique moment in time, and depending on the player in question, you might just make a new friend in the process.
Ever since my nephew showed me the ropes on Instagram – and no, I’m not revealing my handle anytime soon – I’ve turned into a scavenger hunter of sorts.
I want photos of myself standing with the game’s greats, of course, but I also have a penchant for recent bracelet winners. Maybe it’s because these players just accomplished every poker player’s dream, and riding on cloud nine makes them more amenable to selfie requests. I also get a kick out of asking lesser-known players – the up-and-coming grinders, if you will. Most of the time, these players are so unfamiliar with the trappings of poker fame that they happily oblige.
My regular trips to Las Vegas and other regional stops on the touring tournament circuit have also managed to take on a dual role.
First and foremost, I’m there to play poker and win a few bucks. But even when the cards aren’t on my side on a given day, I can still have plenty of fun scoring selfies with my favorite players. There’s a bit of art to the whole affair, between timing a tournament’s scheduled breaks, recognizing a player’s relative mood based on their stack size, and having the stones to step up and ask gruff, tough poker people for a few seconds to snap a selfie.
This collection can’t rival my autographs, at least not yet, but I’m doing my best to scratch names off the list with each tournament series I attend. It’s become a second hobby at this point, and one I quite enjoy.
On that note, I’d like to add a supplement to my previous post on autograph hounds. Below, you’ll find my how-to guide to scoring selfies with poker pros at the upcoming 2018 World Series of Poker (WSOP). First up, I’ll run through a few tricks of the trade to give you a leg up, before running through some of the poker world’s softest selfie targets. In the end, I hope to leave readers ready to hit the Rio this summer confident and comfortable with asking any poker star for a quick selfie.
Tools, Tips, and Tricks for Poker Selfies
The following advice should give you a fighting chance when it comes to grabbing selfies during the rough and tumble of a WSOP summer.
Study the Schedule
Before you brave the wilds of the WSOP in search of selfies, it’s best to know exactly what you’re getting into.
The 2018 edition of poker’s pinnacle kicks off on May 30 and concludes on July 15, giving you just over six weeks to work with. Using this handy schedule of all 78 bracelet events, you can schedule a trip to the Rio that gives you a chance to chase a bracelet of your own, before heading off to expand your selfie collection.
Another way to use the schedule to your advantage is to seek out Day 1s and starting flights. During the first day of a tournament, even a prestigious bracelet event, players tend to be optimistic and in their element. The game has just begun, they have a full starting stack to work with, and the sky is the limit. Catch almost any pro on a Day 1 break, and they’ll usually be happy to snap a pic or two for fans.
On the other hand, Day 2s and final tables are an extremely intense experience. Big money is on the line, not to mention that coveted gold WSOP bracelet, and even sponsorship opportunities and all the rest. Simply put, players competing during the latter stages of a tournament will be focused and in the zone.
Often, you’ll notice that the talkative chatterbox on Day 1 goes into a shell by the time Day 2 or Day 3 arrives. The field is shrinking, the final table is in sight, and the last thing they want to do is break their concentration to gab with the railbirds.
For these reasons, I almost always limit my selfie requests to the first day of play. I play poker myself, after all, and I know how I’d react if some stranger sidled up with camera in hand as I worked my way toward a tournament title.
Breaks Are Best
Taking a look at this official structure sheet for Event #13: $1,500 No Limit Texas Hold’em, you can get a good idea of how WSOP breaks shake out.
The blind levels last for 60 minutes, and after every two levels have elapsed, players depart en masse to take a 20-minute bathroom break. You can use the tournament clocks located throughout the room to time these breaks down to the second. Players also get an extended dinner break of 75 minutes after Level 6, so for this event’s first day, you’ll have just over two hours or so worth of scheduled breaks to make your move.
Now, when it comes to the bathroom breaks, you’ll need to exercise caution and tact.
These guys and gals have been grinding for two hours without a reprieve, so when the clock strikes 0:00, many make a beeline for the nearest bathroom. Asking somebody who clearly needs relief to stop for a selfie is more than simply rude, it’s counterproductive. You’ll wind up getting the brush-off in most cases, but even if they do snap a quick pic, you’ll seldom get the smile great selfies are made from.
It’s relatively late in the day, so players who survive through the dinner break are generally pleased with their progress. And with plenty of time on their hands, most of the well-known pros realize that the dinner break is the perfect time to treat their fans. They won’t stick around for long – we all need to eat – but the first few minutes of a dinner break are primetime for selfie seekers.
Break times vary between tournaments, so be sure to check the WSOP schedule link from earlier and click on “Structure” underneath any tournament for the details.
Keep Your Phone Charged at All Times
Unless you happen to be a fan of old-fashioned cameras, you can’t take any selfies at all without a decent smartphone close at hand.
A quality phone is the primary tool for any selfie specialist, so you should always keep the battery fully charged and ready to go. It’s only happened to me once, but let me tell you, approaching a pro for a selfie only to find your phone has died is a dreadful feeling.
The average WSOP day is a long one, with most tournament sessions taking 14 hours or so to wrap up. Even though that includes bathroom and dinner breaks, you can expect to be out and about at the Rio for hours on end, which leaves your phone vulnerable to battery drain.
I like to keep two of my standard phone chargers along for the ride on any WSOP excursion. You can usually find a wall outlet to plug into in the main hallways, or on the tournament room walls. These walls may have a black curtain hung over them, but find a seam and pull them back just a bit to locate a hidden outlet.
The reason I bring two phone chargers is simple – after plugging in, I might just see a selfie opportunity for the taking somewhere else in the room. After grabbing my phone, heading over to do the deed, and walking back across the room, my charger may have been snatched by a passerby. This doesn’t happen all that often, of course, as casinos are known for their cameras, but you’d be surprised what people will take when they notice a “finders keepers” situation.
Adding to my charger arsenal, I also bring a portable charging station. You can charge these up ahead of time back in your room, then toss it in the backpack for use later on. If you can’t find an open outlet, just plug your phone into the portable charging station for a jolt of juice.
These Stars Are Prime Picking for Poker Selfies
If you’re new to the world of WSOP selfies, I recommend getting your feet wet with the game’s most approachable stars.
Bagging a selfie from an elite six-time bracelet winner like Daniel Negreanu or a former Main Event-winning World Champion like Scotty Nguyen is the best way to break the ice. Once you’ve asked one the best poker players on the planet for a selfie, it’ll be that much easier to bug rank-and-file pros for a few seconds of their time.
And even better, the players below just know how to show their fans a good time.
Far and away the game’s most recognizable star, Daniel Negreanu has matured from “Kid Poker” to become a true ambassador.
As the all-time leading tournament money winner with more than $36 million and counting in earnings, Negreanu could be forgiven for isolating himself from fans. After all, superstars in any pursuit only become so successful through their sheer dedication to their craft. Surely then, a winner of Negreanu’s stature can’t take time out of his day for every selfie request, right?
Wrong. Negreanu is famous for interacting with his fans, whether in the Rio halls or on the rail during a tournament. The man is just naturally sociable, and he does small talk just as well as his legendary “small ball” style of play. Poker fans know this, too, leading to long lines just to shake his hand or snap a selfie. Nonetheless, even with more fans to cater to than any other player, Negreanu almost never fails to honor a request.
Here’s how poker reporter Howard Swains from the PokerStars Blog described Negreanu’s popularity among fans:
“The line for autographs is always longest at Negreanu’s table when Team Pros do their meet-and-greets, and his walk down the corridors of the Atlantis Resort or the Rio in Las Vegas takes longer than anybody else’s.
Fans want photos and Negreanu will always oblige.” – Howard Swains of the PokerStars Blog
And when it comes to selfies, nobody does it better than Kid Poker. Along with the handful I’ve collected over the years, I’ve personally watched him take photos with hundreds of fans – including a few of his fellow pros.
You can see for yourself by checking out this cool profile of Negreanu’s love for fan selfies. Look at that smile and tell me he’s not just as happy to be there as the fan. We all don’t get the chance to become the best at what we love, and Negreanu seems to know how fortunate he is to be poker’s icon. I’ll never cease to be amazed at how he treats his fans, so he was a slam dunk pick for the top spot on this list.
The best part about searching for Negreanu selfies is that you don’t have to look far. Just find the largest group of railbirds in the Rio, and you can bet Kid Poker is the center of attention.
And to make things even easier, Negreanu posts his annual WSOP schedule to his personal blog at Full Contact Poker, so you’ll know exactly which events to scout out. He tends to play mostly large-buy-in events and mixed games, so don’t expect to find Negreanu grinding a $1,000 No Limit Hold’em tournament anytime soon.
Another legend of the game who lavishes his fans with attention is Scotty Nguyen, the “Prince of Poker” himself.
Nguyen famously won the 1998 WSOP Main Event, baiting amateur opponent Kevin McBride for the title heads up with one unforgettable line – “you call now, and it’s all over, baby!”
With his signature gold chains, flowing locks, and Michelob bottle in hand, Nguyen is one of poker’s most recognizable figures. He knows it, too, and like many celebrities, Nguyen relishes his time in the limelight. Just walk up and ask, and he’ll never fail to light up with a smile, all while calling you “baby” for the epic callback.
In a 2017 interview with PokerNews, Nguyen was asked about his love for the legions of poker fans who still come calling 20 years after his crowning achievement.
“I never turn down a picture. It’s their moment. Without them, I’d never have made it. Every time I play, I always think about the fans. When I have a bad day, they cheer me up, they make me want to do better and better.
I came here to Las Vegas with nothing. No dollars, no family, nothing. This place has given me what I need.
The players, the fans, they are my family. Every time they see me and smile, it just feels so good.” – Scotty Nguyen, winner of the 1998 WSOP Main Event
I still remember my selfie experience with The Prince like it was yesterday. He had just busted out of a bracelet event, and in brutal fashion at that. In cases like these, I tend to shut it down and shy away out of respect for the situation. Poker is an intense game, and being eliminated from a tournament is always tough. Throw in a genuine bad beat, and I’m not about to bug the player for a photo right then and there.
But in this case, Scotty saw me watching the game along the rail, and he was the one who stopped and initiated contact. He asked me if I saw the hand, I commiserated about the cards not cooperating in that spot, and he just shrugged while laughing it off – “That’s poker, baby!”
With the ice now broken, Nguyen asked if I wanted a beer, and who could pass up an opportunity like that? We flagged down a server, ordered three Michelobs – one for myself and two for him – then sat at an empty table to wait. This guy was poker’s World Champion, but once the beers arrived, he was eagerly asking me about my time at the WSOP, which tournaments I’d played, and if I was entering the Main Event.
It was a surreal experience, to say the least, and in the end, Nguyen graciously offered to snap a selfie with me. I still pull it up from time to time, just to remember one my best days yet as a poker fan.
Nguyen doesn’t play a full tournament schedule much these days, but he’ll still be around the Rio enjoying the spotlight. He usually hops in a few of the $10,000 championship-level events, along with the Main, of course.
One of the young guns trying to lead the next poker boom, Doug Polk has become a major player for modern fans.
After launching the instructional platform Upswing Poker a few years back, alongside partner Kevin Fee, the pair made a name for themselves by immediately winning the 2016 WSOP Tag Team event. From there, Polk went on to capture the 2017 WSOP One Drop High Roller, parlaying his $111,111 entry into more than $3.6 million.
A star was born in the eyes of many older poker fans like myself, but for the online whiz kids, Polk was already a legend. Playing under the screen name “WCGRider” in the highest-stake cash games online, Polk became a dominant figure well before the WSOP breakthrough.
With three gold bracelets now in his trophy case, Polk is one the most recognizable faces in poker today. Part of that popularity derives from his popular “Polker Hands” YouTube channel, where he hosts humorous strategy segments and industry gossip sessions. The channel has become a smash hit by YouTube standards, winning awards while racking up viewers and subscriptions.
As a result of his internet fame, Polk has emerged as a fan favorite. He’s embraced this role to the fullest, so don’t be shy about asking him for a selfie.
Whether it’s autographs or selfies, finding ways to engage on a personal level with your poker heroes is all part of the game’s appeal. This isn’t the NFL, where fans are 50 feet away from the field and players are hidden behind helmets. You can get right on the rail and sweat your favorite pro as they play for gold and glory.
There’s nothing quite like the WSOP in all the world in terms of fan interaction. Where else can you actually compete against – and even beat – elite professionals at the peak of their powers?
For me, visiting the WSOP is all about making memories like that, and a selfie is the height of the form in this digital age. You can share your experience with friends and family via social media, or collate your collection with online scrapbooks. This all adds to the fun, so be creative and take your selfie status to the next level.
I hope the tips offered in this tutorial get you started on the right track, because poker would be nothing without the recreational players and fans who make the game great. Good luck at the upcoming WSOP, and if you see a guy with a grey beard and ballcap pestering pros for a pic, come by and say hello.