Pierre Neuville is, by some way, the oldest player in the High Roller field. We know this not because he looks in any way ancient, but because he just told us it is his 69th birthday today. While many retired gentlemen of a certain age may be happy to stay at home with their slippers in front a log fire, Neuville is today going toe-to-toe with some of the fiercest young poker players on the planet. And he laid $25,000 on the line to do so.
Neuville is something of a trailblazer; I have discovered he is currently undergoing regular medical tests that should go on to prove that when you get to a certain age in life, playing poker will make you younger, at least in a mental and physical way. I'm not kidding; this is not some far-fetched fantasy, but part of a real study by proper medical folk at a scientific medical center back in Brugge, Belgium.
It started some years ago when Neuville thought he may be losing his memory a little. Though not unusual for a man of a certain age, Neuville was understandably concerned and went for specialist tests, six hours worth of physical and mental examinations that give a 'true age' as opposed to an individual's genuine age. Neuville was asked to return every six months for the tests to be repeated so any changes could be noted.
The results have been staggering: in the course of the past two years, Neuville's 'true age', as determined by the tests, has fallen 18 months since he first went. Simple math tells you, therefore, that he is now, physically and mentally at least, 3.5 years younger than he was when he first walked through the medical experts' door two years ago.
So excited are the men at the center that have now asked Neuville to keep coming back every six months at no expense; they believe they will gather enough evidence to produce a paper showing that playing poker can not only keep you mentally alert, it can improve your faculties.
This would be wonderful news for Team PokerStars Pro Neuville, who has long been an inspiration for people of a certain age wanting to play poker.
"At first many people who were retired like me were telling me I was too old to play poker," Neuville said. "But now they have seen what I have done, and now they too would like to try and qualify for PokerStars EPT events. It's funny, no one wants to be the oldest, but let's be honest, with me around there is no danger of that - not even for Barry Greenstein!"
Neuville always believed playing poker would help keep him young. He became rather good at it, and finishing runner-up at EPT Vilamoura in 2009 for a $384,000 score was a stand-out performance in total live tournament winnings of more than $1 million in just a few years. But what has also made Neuville's name is his 'Serial PokerStars Qualifier' tag that I first gave him some years ago, thanks to his extraordinary habit of qualifying online for just about every PokerStars live event going. As well as his Team Pro patch, his shirt also sports his home made Serial PokerStars Qualifier logo.
"The tests I have been getting have given me extra belief that playing poker not only keeps you young, but makes you younger. I see it in all areas - where I used to struggle playing two tables online at once, I can now play three with no problem.
"The doctors say this is encouraging, which is why they want me to keep going for six-monthly tests to confirm what the results over the first two years have shown... mentally and physically at least, I am getting younger! Normally, once you reach about 66 years old, your mind starts slowing down; it's the natural thing to happen. But for me, mine is proving to get more active.
"The doctors have given me extra dietary tips, and of course advise me not to smoke or drink, but they need not worry, I am careful about that. They are excited to think that in a couple more years they can produce a study that shows that playing poker can help your mental and physical ability. It will be great to prove it!"
Being a man of certain age has benefits at the table for Neuville. He explained: "When I sit down, a young player who does not know me will look at me and think, 'Who is this old guy? What is he doing here?' They play me in a way that is profitable for me, but it does not take them long to realise I know what I am doing.
"I am living a bit of a dream. To be playing in this $25,000 High Roller event on this, my 69th birthday, is amazing. I feel very lucky, but I know it is something others can do. I hope I am inspiration to older people to feel they can do this, too. It does not have to be a young person's game."
Neuville starts this event in the Bahamas in traditional fashion, stuck as he is between two of poker's most fearsome young guns. On his right? Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst. On his left? None other than new WSOP world champion and fellow Team PokerStars Pro Pius Heinz.
As we have explained, however, that does not faze Neuville one bit. In fact, a couple of towers of green, 25 chips suggest he's been the more active at this table in the early levels. Watch out for the old timer, folks.
Happy birthday, Pierre, from Team PokerStars Blog (proved by medics to slow down mentally and physically after a couple of years in the job).