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Chance at WSOP glory outweighs COVID pandemic for seniors

Updated October 29, 2021 - 5:52 pm

At 70 years old, James McManus said he doesn’t know how many more chances he’ll have to play at the World Series of Poker.

So, the former WSOP Main Event final table qualifier put aside concerns about playing poker amid the coronavirus pandemic and came to Las Vegas this month from Illinois.

“I’ve got the two vaccinations and the booster and a flu shot, and I’m masking up,” he said. “Since everyone else except for the dealers will be vaccinated, I felt like it was not a crazy risk to come out and play.”

McManus made it to Day 2 of the $1,000 buy-in Seniors No-limit Hold’em Championship at the Rio on Friday. Play continues until a winner is crowned Monday.

The WSOP is being played under a vaccine mandate, and McManus said he would not have come without it.

Older people have been among those most at risk during the pandemic, but the seniors event (for players 50 and up) has had one of the strongest turnouts of this WSOP.

Fields are down about 30 percent from the last time a live WSOP was held in 2019, but the seniors event is down only 8.7 percent, with 5,404 entries this year compared to 5,916 in 2019. (Adding a second starting flight this year also helped boost numbers.)

This year’s winner will receive $561,060. Howard Mash won $662,594 in 2019.

Susie Miller, 65, from Alabama, said she and her husband have been to the WSOP several times, and they came out to play the seniors and other events.

She said she doesn’t agree with the vaccine mandate, and it didn’t influence her decision to come.

Miller said she enjoys the atmosphere at the table in the seniors event without some of the younger men.

“They’re foul-mouthed and just real hard to deal with,” she said. “It’s more of a gentleman’s game in this.”

McManus is the author of three poker books, including “Positively Fifth Street,” which chronicled his deep run in the 2000 WSOP Main Event while also covering the trial of Rick Tabish and Sandy Murphy in the death of Ted Binion.

Tabish and Murphy were convicted of murder, then later retried and acquitted.

McManus finished fifth in the Main Event for $247,760. Chris Ferguson defeated T.J. Cloutier heads-up for the title and $1.5 million.

The trial ended the day after the tournament.

“When it was happening, it was just happening,” McManus said. “But now, it’s a highly unlikely coincidence of events.”

The book changed his life, he said, as he moved from primarily writing fiction to nonfiction. A limited TV series based on “Positively Fifth Street” is in development, he said.

After all these years, McManus said he is still excited to chase a WSOP title and the trophy bracelet that comes with it.

“That’s the big draw,” he said. “I’m not trying to support my family or retire from poker earnings.”

A $1,000 Super Seniors event for ages 60 and up starts Sunday.

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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