WSOP October Nine Profile: Michael Esposito WSOP October Nine Profile: Michael Esposito

Poker players are fond of stating that the World Series of Poker Main Event represents poker’s ultimate test of endurance, which might have given Michael Esposito an edge. “It’s important to show the game as a game of ladies and gentlemen, not degenerate gamblers.” Esposito had already turned his own life around by becoming a triathlete, so he’s had a bit of experience in developing the endurance and concentration for a deep run.

Maybe that’s part of why the 44-year-old New York commodities trader finds himself right in the mix as the October Nine reconvenes late this month. Esposito returns to the finale in sixth position (of nine), with a very playable 16,260,000 stack.

Getting there, however, represented both a change of attitude and just a bit of luck.

Esposito stands as one of the contrasts in this year’s final. Unlike his eight remaining opponents, he considers himself only an amateur player, participating in only a handful of events each year.

“I believed going in that if I played focused I would have a good shot at a deep run. From the start, my goal every day was to play well and have a shot at the next day.” He’s still sampled big-event poker for more than a decade, first making the major online results databases with a 2002 seven-card-stud score worth $3,480. The following year, still playing stud, he cashed for more than $33,000 in a United States Poker Championship event.

As so many players did, Esposito started mixing no-limit hold’em tourneys into his schedule. In 2005, a final-table showing at the 2005 Atlantic City WSOP Circuit main event brought his then-biggest score, $47,310.

He has kept taking his shots, sometimes cashing, sometimes not. His first WSOP main event cash came in 2006, when he eased into the money in 540th spot for another $22,266. All told, Esposito’s career tourney cashes add up to about $170,000—not bad for a dabbler.

Esposito credits changing his own focus as the secret to making a deep run. Instead of trying to run over players early, as he tried in previous appearances, he took a page from his triathlon-training guides and settled in for the long haul.

As Esposito told pokerfuse, “I believed going in that if I played focused I would have a good shot at a deep run. From the start, my goal every day was to play well and have a shot at the next day, which didn’t mean I didn’t [sit back] but I wasn’t reckless. I folded J-J, A-Q and 10-10 when I felt I was at too much risk. So I felt good about my chances for the final table.”

Still, as anyone fortunate enough to make a deep tourney run can attest, there are those moments when one has no choice. For Esposito, a moment of truth came on Day 7, when his all-in pocket tens held up against Daniel Strelitz’s A-K. The 12 million chip pot vaulted Esposito into the final-table mix, being a coin flip that went his way.

As other players did as well, Esposito bided his time when the final table neared. He noted that France’s Gaelle Baumann, the last woman in the Main Event, played exceptionally well, being very aggressive, before finally being knocked out in tenth. Baumann ramped it up while the other short stack in the final 11, Norway’s Elisabeth Hille, tightened up a bit but also fell just short.

As often happens, a tourney’s final-table bubble involves deep stacks hoping to wait out the short stacks, sometimes even hoping to avoid their own all-in collisions. In the 2012 Main, those deeper stacks prevailed late.

Esposito, like Steven Gee, the other “elder statesman” in the October Nine, recognizes poker’s place in the public eye and would welcome a chance to serve as the game’s next ambassador.

As he told the fuse, “I think any player in the spotlight has responsibility to treat others with respect, and to realize the line from success to failure in the game is very thin. (It’s important) to show the game as a game of ladies and gentlemen, not degenerate gamblers.”

In other words, a game for everyone, from hoodie-wearing grinders to moms and pops who just want to take a shot. Like Esposito himself, who even skipped playing the 2011 WSOP to go on a vacation to Ireland with his college-aged son, or who spends his Wednesday evenings at dinner with his daughter.

In Michael Esposito’s life, poker’s something to enjoy, but not his overriding concern. Win or lose, that’s not likely to change, despite the attention and the $754,798 payday each of the October Niners have already locked up, with many millions more at stake.

Even if he won, as he told the WSOP back in July, “Honestly, I’d just go live the same life I live. I have a pretty happy life. The $8.5 million, believe me it would be the greatest thing. But I have a pretty content, happy life. I don’t need cars, I have a nice house, I have a nice quiet life.”