EPT8 Deauville: Engel shooting on the live tournament trail
Ari Engel is one of those interesting looking guys you see in a poker tournament, and he tends to be easy to spot. For one thing Engel tends to stand up a lot, something I thought was related to the size of his stack but which Engel himself puts down to simple leg stretching over the course of a long day. Second, as an orthodox Jew he wears a Yarmulke. On a given day there aren't many players at a European Poker Tour event standing up wearing a Yarmulke.
Familiar he may now be, Engel, 28, is relatively new to the EPT scene, having played his first event just before Christmas at EPT Prague. It was a tournament Engel had already decided to play before he won a seat on PokerStars, with the Prague festival offering numerous opportunities for the jobbing pro to make some money. Regardless it was a profitable decision. Engel went deep, finishing sixth to collect €125,000.
"I came home and played as many satellites as I could and won a seat to the PCA and to here," said Engel. "I busted the PCA but I'm here."
Engel's route into poker is not unfamiliar, having discovered the game in college when his roommate (Andrew Brown), who would go on to win a bracelet, taught him how to play. Still plugged in to real life however, Engel went the job route, graduating and starting work with a start-up computer company ("entry level, $500 a week, nothing good"), dropping out of the poker scene. That was until he opened an online account and made $10,000 in three days.
"Five days later I quit my job," said Engel. "I had one losing week in my first year."
A few months later Engel was invited to play the World Series main event which at that time was only his eighth live poker tournament.
"I went out there and got the tournament bug," said Engel. "I busted in like three hours but came back and got into tournaments more."
That meant getting a Pocket Fives ranking and then a year later, in 2006, being rated number one on the site. Happy times for Engel, but poker doesn't stand still and there's always someone new about to steal your thunder. For Engel it means a pragmatic approach to the game.
"Poker grew more and more and got a lot tougher," said Engel, reflecting on the years following his early success online. "I like to think I've held my own but there's a lot of top notch competition that's come up."
Engel has held his own. His live tournament record bears the hallmarks of a hard working pro making some money without the benefit of a big score. The scars are there, from places like Council Bluffs, Lake Tahoe, Harrahs' Chester, as well as Las Vegas, but there's money there too.
For Engel though poker is not a live game, it's an online game, a place where he readily admits to playing 99 per cent of his poker.
Engel enduring the realities of live tournament poker
"I've always played mainly online so my live record is a little bit deceiving. It really was just filling in the blanks."
It's online that Engel also branched out into coaching (ariengel.com) where more than 200 students have benefitted from the experience of players like Engel, perhaps not with the intention of winning major tournaments but to become winning players. Then who knows?
"I've worked with the guy who came third in the main event, a guy who finished second in another bracelet event and countless World Series final tables, rings and stuff like that," said Engel.
"It wasn't a natural thing," added Engel, denying that it was something that came naturally. "At one stage I had a partner in it and he got me into coaching. I didn't like it to begin with and also I thought that poker was only for certain people and that other people probably wouldn't be able to make it.
"What happened was we started getting so many different people from different backgrounds and they were actually doing well. It was amazing to me that a 60-year-old lady could three bet light."
Engel seems more surprised than most that he was able to teach people who might not have appeared typecast for the game.
"I remember one nice lady from LA," said Engel. "Her husband does very well and she plays recreationally. She called me and said 'I just withdrew $3,000! I'm down at least 100k in poker but this month I withdrew money. I'm so happy!'"
For now it's a mixture of teaching people to make some money and and making some himself by exploring this new world of major events. Standing up, and with a yarmulke, he's easy to spot. Engle may well be scoring big again sometime soon.