Jewish Players Angry Over WPT Tournament of Champions Schedule

4 years ago
Jewish Players Unable to Play WPT Tournament of Champions for Religious Reasons
15 May

When it comes to scheduling big poker events, there are a few days in the calendar which are pretty much out of the question automatically - Christmas Day probably being the biggest no-go area for organisers for fairly obvious reasons.

Jewish poker players, however, have taken to the Twittersphere to voice their unhappiness that the WPT failed to take into account their religious observance when it came to dates for the Tournament of Champions event this year.

April 22nd to 24th saw the winners of WPT events congregate for the season finale ‘play-off’, a hugely important event in the WPT calendar which was taken down by Moroccan Farid Yachou.

The problem for observers of the Jewish faith, of course, was that the Jewish celebration of the freedom from Egyptian slavery, Passover, began on the same day as the WPT event, leaving many players either unable, unwilling, or uncertain about playing – torn between their career and their faith.

Asher Conniff, who scooped the WPT World Championship event last year for close to $1million, commented that it was "a major Jewish holiday and I would like to be home with my family" but he felt he simply couldn’t turn down the chance to play a major event. "I play poker for a living and they chose to schedule it when they did," he said.

Poker journalist Robbie Strazynski explained to the Jewish Chronicle newspaper that he believes “a lot of Jewish poker champions who qualify for the event will be skipping it." As an Orthodox Jew himself, he turned down a trip to cover the Tournament of Champions final, explaining:

It's more important to remain involved in the tradition."

Of course, with so many religions in the world, event organisers’ would be hard pushed to keep everyone happy. With the biggest events taking place in (at least nominally) predominantly Christian countries, ‘minority faiths’ and their religious observance are likely to be rather low on the list.

“There aren't enough Jews - we don't have a big enough voice,” says relative newbie to the big tournament scene Matthew Wantman, adding "A couple of weeks ago, I was playing in a tournament and they skipped a day for Easter.”

Strazynski points out, "It's a no-brainer that no poker tournament would ever be scheduled on New Year's, Christmas, or Easter. I don't think it's a case of, 'let's see how we can screw the Jews!' But organisers should take care to schedule tournaments on the clearest calendar day possible."

Of course, Jews are not the only ones to face difficult decisions when it comes to equating their beliefs with a life of poker. Tamer Kamel, who reached the final table of the WPT’s UK visit a couple of years ago, is a Muslim and explained his thinking on the matter to

“It was a tough one for me,” he said. “Even in my personal family, there are people who don’t agree with what I do.”

He was helped, however, by online pro Nick ‘fu_15’ Maimone who he befriended several years ago in Vegas, who “helped me a lot in trying to explain to my family the whole point of how I don’t think it has to be this thing where poker is on one side and religion on the other.”

“They can both come together. If you take the positives out of poker, and use them in a good way, you can help people who are less privileged than you in the world.”

Back in the Jewish ‘fold’, poker legend Barry Greenstein relates how he was asked for advice back in poker’s heyday by young Jewish players:

Jewish kids in yamulkes would ask me to advocate for them. They wanted to play poker, but tournaments were falling on Passover or across the Sabbath. I told them to come into the 21st century."

He continued "It's great to celebrate your culture, and if you're Jewish, you can't deny the role religion played in keeping people together - but religious people trying to assert themselves in modern times is one of our biggest problems."

All in all, it seems to be an unfortunate overlap rather than a thoughtless sleight. Here at Pokertube, we hope our more religious Jewish players have found a way around the inconvenience. This editor, personally, would suggest that the WPT allow religious players to cash out their buy-in when religious conflicts occur. Something which would hopefully cover a wide range of players without significantly impacting the tournament.

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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