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A Yorkshire grandad and the possibility of a WSOP feature film


19 Apr 2018

When approaching retirement age, many people will look to create a bucket list of dreams, experiences and activities that they are yet to enjoy, but wish to while they are still able.

This may be an adrenaline-based endeavour such as completing a skydive, visiting a distant location or taking part in a hobby, but on a much grander scale.

The latter was certainly on the bucket list of 64-year-old John Hesp, a semi-retired caravan salesman from Bridlington in East Yorkshire.

The background

Although Hesp had been a poker player for two decades, this was purely on a recreational level.

His games were largely limited to visits to a local casino in Hull once a month. The biggest payday he had ever experienced was £785 and his total tournament winnings were in the region of £2,000.

Yet, he took the decision to fulfil a dream last year to fly out to Las Vegas and pay the $10,000 (£7,000) entry fee for the World Series of Poker. It was something he had considered for a while, wanting to play some hands with professional players.

What followed was the second biggest poker cash prize ever scooped by a British player.

The main event

There were 7,220 entrants seated at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino for day one of the tournament and Hesp immediately stood out from the crowd.

The father of four was kitted out in the most colourful clothing, with a multi-patterned jacket and Panama hat the constants, to go alongside a collection of bright shirts. All of this was borrowed from a friend as a good luck charm.

Then once play commenced, Hesp’s demeanour at the table was far more cheery and joyful than the majority of other more serious players.

As others spoke little, he decided to bring fun and entertainment to whichever table he happened to be on. He socialised, he interacted and eventually this became more infectious as others lightened up in his company.

Despite playing on gut and instinct, rather than attempting to work out his mathematical position in every pot, Hesp made it through day one, day two and then day three.

Not only was he still alive in the final 1,084 players to guarantee a finish in the money, he was soon in the top 1,000, top 500 and then the top 100.

By this point he was developing a following, the media were taking notice and his everyman amateur story was gathering pace. To say he became the fan favourite is an understatement.

Hesp was positioned midway through the field on day one, made big gains on day two, consolidated on days three and four, ended day five in 40th of the last 85 players, was sixth of 27 after day six and then headed to the final table in second spot of nine.

However, going all the way was to prove one step too far. He eventually bowed out magnanimously in fourth position, scooping $2.6 million in the process.

The big screen?

“Personally I would prefer George Clooney,” was Hesp’s answer when asked who he would like to play the lead role should a movie be made about the WSOP story.

The Hull Daily Mail have reported that talks have already taken place with various producers, including some Hollywood names, but an agreement has been reached with a UK-based company.

Hesp added that talks were “about 90% through” and that the budget set aside was in the millions, with filming set for both Bridlington and Vegas.

The what if?

And what if the feature film could have had the perfect ending with Hesp walking away with the WSOP tournament winner bracelet and cash sum of $8,150.000, which is over three times more than he actually scooped?

There was a big turning point relatively early on the final table, which massively tilted the balance in favour of eventual winner Scott Blumstein.

Hesp was a comfortable chip leader at the time with $122.55 million. Blumstein was his nearest pursuer on $80.33 million. Five of the other players were short stacks.

Dealt A-10 in the big blind, Hesp called Blumstein’s raise from under the gun with A-A.

By the turn, there was an ace and 10 on the board. Rather than calling a raise, Hesp put in two raises of his own, with the second making him all in.

Blumstein obviously called and scooped the $205.28m pot, leaving Hesp back in the mix with the table’s other players. Had he lost less in this hand, the end result could have been much different.