After busting in 3rd place in 2003, Dan Harrington famously said, when ESPN asked him for a prediction, that “No one over 40 is ever going to win this tournament again.” Somebody obviously didn’t tell that to Neil Blumenfield, who we showcase in a very special ‘November Nine’ edition of ‘Meet the Pro’
I asked Neil whether he felt motivated by Harrington’s words over 12 years ago. “Dan Harrington is definitely a hero of mine, and his books were among the first ones that I read on Hold’em. It is a little motivating because I kind of feel like I’m playing not just for myself, my friends and my family, but I’m playing for my generation.”
“The fact that Pierre’s there as well I think really highlights how special this is.”
By his own admission, both he and fellow November-Niner Pierre Neuville are the “old guys” left in the Main Event. “It wasn’t expected that old guys could really be competitive in this game anymore, mostly because of this grind.”
I asked Neil if he felt either Pierre or himself were at any disadvantage. “If you listen to Pierre’s interviews, he talks about how he’s doing better cognitively now than he was ten years ago. I may be in the same situation, I don’t know, but my ability to focus over long periods of time is not what it was when I was 25.”
“That is the struggle and the mental grind is more of an issue as you get older. When I was 25 I could play poker for a few days straight, and it was not a problem. Now that clearly is a problem.”
Blumenfield pinpointed one moment where he felt the effects of this. “I knew late Day 5 that I was exhausted mentally, and unfortunately I played like I was exhausted mentally and made a couple of big expensive mistakes. The result of that was my 3.5 million stack became just 500,000.”
“I think the ability to recover and to see things in perspective actually is something that is easier for me than it is for younger guys. There’s some give and take there.
Blumenfield recently was laid off from his technology job, and is now aiming to pursue poker as a full-time career. I suppose making the November Nine is a good enough start! “It’s been a passion and a hobby for a long time but it’s something that I’m looking to basically be doing for the rest of my life.”
“As more baby boomers leave their jobs, and they’ve perhaps played poker recreationally, I think it’s a good message if we can say “Yeah there’s no reasons why you can’t continue to play this game, and actually play on a very high level as you get into your 60s and 70s or more.”
“There’s a guy, William Wachter, who cashed the Main Event this year who was 94 years old! That’s great! That’s more impressive than what I’ve done I think.”
Playing 70 hours of poker in nine days is a grind for even the spriteliest of young-guns, and in a structure like the Main Event it can take a long hard grind to build chips up, and they can be gone in a heartbeat. “One bad mistake and your tournament can be over, even after playing great,” says Blumenfield. “I definitely did not play mistake free, and there’s a handful of hands that looking back I can’t believe how horribly I played them.”
Neil’s stack was up and down throughout the Main Event (“…and down a lot” he said), and he spent much of the days 6-7 grinding 12-20 big blinds. “That’s draining! Playing mistake free for that length of time is very highly unlikely, maybe even impossible! You cannot focus on what you should have done, or how many chips you have now in relation to earlier. You’ve got to keep moving forward.”
So what has Neil been doing between July and now? He’s travelled to France with his girlfriend, played in Florida alongside Dan Colman (“The guy is brilliant. He’s a nice guy and I was infinitely impressed with his game.”), and putting in the work that every player will do on their game in the run up to the November Nine.
“I’m going to prepare for the guys I’m playing with, the situation I’m in relative to stack sizes etc. But a lot of it is just getting better at the game in general.”
There is also news on his rail, which can be summed up in one word: big.
“I grew up in Chicago, so I still have family there so they will be coming down. I have a lot of poker friends from the Bay area, as well as from Denver and LA. I’ve also got a good contingent coming from France, including some people who I’ve met once! My girlfriend’s family are coming and a lot of their friends. Herson is coming from Hong Kong. It’ll be an amazingly diverse and interesting rail
“If I was going to get up on my pedestal to promote two things it would be firstly my generation playing the game, and secondly online poker in the United States. The reality is, looking at the status of poker overall, that American players are at a huge disadvantage. It’s unreasonable.”
“Online poker obviously has a place, and it’s a good thing for the game. I support the Poker Player’s Alliance, and anyone else who’s working towards the legislation of online poker in the USA, because it really does help the game, and help to make American players more competitive.”