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This was 64-year-old recreational player John Hesp’s first WSOP Main Event and with two tables left he’s got a big following hoping he’ll make the final nine.
Hesp told PokerListings.com this is his first time visiting Las Vegas and that his biggest previous tournament was probably a $250 buy-in.
Now Hesp is one of the big stacks with 13 players left. He’s guaranteed at least $535,000 and chances are he’ll end up with far more.
Hesp is here in Las Vegas checking an item off his bucket list: Playing in poker’s world championship event.
He said one of the moments he’ll remember forever is when Phil Hellmuth introduced himself, and gave him a signed copy of his book which is now sitting beside Hesp at the outer feature table.
“Hellmuth came across to the table and said it was great to meet me and it made my day,” said Hesp.
“He gave me a copy of his book. I opened it up and it said, ‘To John. Please make the final table. Poker needs someone like you.’”
It’s not just Hellmuth that’s pulling for the Brit. Hesp’s flashy clothing and gregarious personality have quickly made him the fan favorite as this year’s Main Event closes in on the final table.
Rec Games to Poker’s Biggest Stage
Hesp lives in the small seaside town of Bridlington in East Yorkshire, England and says he plays poker once or twice a month at a nearby casino called Napolean’s.
He’s been playing recreationally for 20 years and says he stepped up his poker schedule to three times a month in order to prepare for the Main Event.
Now that he’s here he says he’s having the time of his life.
“I’ve relaxed a bit and I’m starting to play a bit tighter,” said Hesp.
“I’ve said right from the start this isn’t about the money for me but it is serious money and it is serious poker.
“I’m living the dream all the time right now.
“My first goal was to make the top 1,000, then 500, then 100, now we’re down to 17. That’s eight places away from the final table.
“It’s significant so I have to adjust my game a bit. It’s been my gut and my head that have been making decisions but I don’t know which one it is sometimes.
“The poker gods have been shining on me but I can’t rely on that forever.”
Should Hesp make the final table tonight he’ll be guaranteed at least $1 million with a shot at the first-place prize of $8.15 million and the title of world champion.
Hesp said if he does make the final table his wife, son and son-in-law will be on the next plane from England to cheer him on.
Can Poker Revitalize Bridlington?
Hesp told PokerListings that one of his biggest interests is helping revitalize his home town’s economy, and he thinks poker could play a part.
“I’d love to be able to take a mini version of this to my home town,” explained Hesp.
“Bridlington is and always has been a tourist destination for people coming from the industrialized west riding of Yorkshire. When the mines and steelworks all closed down in recent years the tourism dropped right off.
“Bridlington went into decline and I think something like this could help rejuvenate the town. For all the people and the businesses, in a lot of cases their jobs are on the line.
“My interest is to try to help keep my community alive.”
Should Hesp go on to make the final table and potentially become the next world champion, he’d certainly have the name recognition and the resources to get this project off the ground.