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September 21, 2019

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Longtime top-ranked player among pros still alive in WSOP Main Event

Steve O’Dwyer advances to fourth day in first tournament he’s played all summer

2016 WSOP Main Event: Day 3

Steve Marcus

Poker professional Steve O’Dwyer plays during Day 3 of the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio Thursday, July 14, 2016.

2016 WSOP Main Event: Day 3

Poker professional Greg Raymer plays during Day 3 of the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio Thursday, July 14, 2016. Launch slideshow »

The dealer reveals the last community card, leading Steve O’Dwyer to cut out a small bet from his towering chip stack.

Both the other two players remaining in the hand fold in rapid succession, one staying emotionless and the other shaking his head.

“No one’s going to try to bluff me?” O’Dwyer asks.

That wouldn’t be wise, not with the way the 34-year-old who recently spent a record amount of time ranked as the top player in the world has performed so far in the World Series of Poker Main Event. O’Dwyer had just moved into the top 10 out of more than 2,000 remaining players in poker’s world championship early Thursday afternoon at the Rio.

He slipped back by the end of Thursday’s third day of play, but not much. He was one of the few out of approximately 800 surviving players, all of which are guaranteed at least a $16,000 payday, who bagged more than 1 million chips. The Main Event reached the money early Friday morning at the Rio with the top 1,011 players out of the starting field of 6,737 in the $10,000 buy-in event cashing.

“I made the nuts (the best possible hand) nonstop yesterday and no one ever believed me,” O’Dwyer said on Thursday. “Today, it’s not so bad, just very swingy.”

O’Dwyer is among the notables left vying for the $8 million first-place prize and spot at the final table, which comes with a minimum $1 million payday. Others include 2013 champion Ryan Riess, 10-time bracelet winner Johnny Chan and poker’s third all-time winningest player Antonio Esfandiari.

But none of them have found as much success in 2016 as O’Dwyer. After winning two major tournaments and totaling nearly $3 million in earnings in January, O’Dwyer overtook the top spot in the Global Poker Index and held it until mid-June for a record 22-week streak.

“I played a lot of poker and always wanted to get to a point where I could be No. 1,” O’Dwyer said. “To be No. 1 for the longest anyone’s ever been, that’s kind of nice.”

O’Dywer has since to fallen to No. 6, but his decline isn’t the result of a slump. He dropped off because he took a break.

The Main Event is the first tournament he’s played since May, as he opted to instead relax in his new home in Dublin, Ireland, instead of grind the 69-tournament summer series in his former home of Las Vegas. O’Dwyer used the jam-packed hallways in the Rio convention center during a Main Event break to explain his absence.

“I hate this atmosphere,” he said. “This is like a (expletive) carnival, circus. I’d rather play in quiet, well organized environments where you don’t have to wait 15 minutes to pee.”

O’Dwyer is not the only world-class professional to experience burnout. The player who succeeded him at No. 1 in the GPI, 22-year-old Fedor Holz, shared similar feelings after winning the biggest prize of the WSOP so far.

Holz prevailed in the $111,111 buy-in High Roller For One Drop last week to win $4.9 million, bringing his six-week total to more than $10 million in earnings. But he stunned the poker community by announcing his retirement shortly after.

“I feel like there is something out there for me that I might enjoy more than poker,” Holz told

Although O’Dwyer’s malaise is more event-specific, he relates to Holz’s mindset.

“I don’t want to be around this (expletive) either,” O’Dwyer said. “I don’t blame him for not wanting to come back. He’s made enough money that he can walk away.”

O’Dwyer hopes his best is still ahead of him. Unlike many other poker players, he’s never let WSOP success define his career.

He’s one of the best players to have never won a championship bracelet and has only cashed twice in the Main Event, with his best finish a 295th place for $39,445 in 2007.

Besting that appears within sight, and would come with the added benefit of assisting in his climb to reclaim a spot in the rankings that he never really lost.

“Now that Fedor is retiring,” O’Dwyer said, “I guess I have another shot.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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