As poker tilts young, seniors still can be all-in

Dorothy Canada sat down at a table Friday afternoon for the Seniors Championship at the World Series of Poker, scanned those playing alongside her and immediately began an evaluation process.

Her goal: Discover which chairs would produce the most dead money.

“There are some half-dead people and a lot of dead money,” she said. “From the minute I sit down, I basically try to figure out who is a good player and who isn’t and what weaknesses I can prey on.”

Was she assigned a strong table?

“Please,” she said. “There is one other good player, and the rest are wondering when they can eat and go to the bathroom.”

Canada is 59 and from Las Vegas, all sweet on the outside and more of a shark than any billionaire on reality television on the inside. She was back to even on chips when the first break came two hours into play at the Rio Convention Center, when thousands of players 50 years and older from all parts of the globe were afforded those snack and restroom breaks.

Poker might be proving to be more and more a young person’s game, but don’t tell that to many who packed three ballrooms here to chase a prize pool of nearly $4 million.

The winner — who might not be determined until Monday — will walk away with $634,809. That’s almost 635 times the buy-in of $1,000, and the top six finishers each will win at least $100,000.

That’s some nice change, no matter the date on a birth certificate.

The Seniors Championship was added to the WSOP in 2001 and has seen a spike in attendance each ensuing summer, from 340 entries 12 years ago to the record 4,407 who gathered to begin play Friday.

It’s true that as technology has improved, peach-fuzz kids who are far savvier in their use of the Internet can zip around the Web gaining experience and seeing more hands in a week than live players might in a year.

Poker at its highest level definitely favors the young now, those with fewer responsibilities and more able to handle the often-bizarre hours needed to become consistently good.

Example: The past five winners of the Main Event hadn’t yet reached a 25th birthday when winning their final hand. Doyle Brunson is the 79-year-old Hall of Famer who is tied for second all time with 10 WSOP bracelets.

His last one came in 2005.

You would think that with age comes patience, that with experience comes composure, that the older one is, the smarter a player he or she becomes.

But you still can’t control cards.

Joe Goldwasser discovered this again Friday, when not an hour into the Seniors Championship, the 89-year-old retired dentist from North Carolina went all-in with pocket queens. Another at his table called the raise and had a jack fall on the river for three of a kind.

Goldwasser then walked slowly across the convention hall to his cousin, Herman Moonves, who still was playing as the event’s oldest player at 92.

“I’ve got another bad-beat story for you,” Goldwasser told Moonves.

Moonves was playing the event for the first time but began trading cards with games of five-card stud at age 17 while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He thinks Goldwasser is a good player who can hold his own most days with younger competitors but agrees poker has undergone a serious generational shift.

“I watch it all the time on TV, and you have these 20-, 23-, 25-year-olds winning championships,” said Moonves, who has lived in California since 1979 and is the father of CBS president/CEO Leslie Moonves. “But I like the excitement of it. I’m a born gambler. I want to come here, last at least a day and enjoy myself. I work out at the YMCA every day. I can’t walk very far, but I don’t get tired.”

Neither does Canada. She has an errand-running business locally and has played poker for 27 years. Just don’t tell her she can’t compete.

“It’s anyone’s game,” she said. “Sometimes, I think experience is better than being younger and playing a thousand hands a day. In the end, the cream rises to the top, no matter how old you are. They’re going to pay a lot of spots with the (seniors) turnout this year, so that’s good. I’ll be (disappointed) if I don’t finish in the money, but that’s poker.

“No matter what, I’ll live to play another day.”

Live to discover more dead money at her table. And, hopefully, no dead bodies.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.