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John Hesp Is A Breath Of Fresh Air, But Will He Give New Life To Poker?

Will the Main Event run of jovial amateur John Hesp change poker? It happened in 2003 with Chris Moneymaker, and Hesp seems to have that same “it” quality.

John Hesp at WSOP
Steve Ruddock Avatar
4 mins read

[toc]The term “good for the game” gets thrown around a lot these days, but based on the social media reaction, it’s safe to say that the 2017 World Series of Poker (WSOP) coverage on PokerGO and ESPN has been good for the game.

A big reason why is 64-year-old Englishman John Hesp.

John Hesp is not a poker player. He’s simply a guy who plays poker, evidenced by the many glaring mistakes he’s made:

  • Doesn’t size his bets properly
  • Misses a lot of value
  • Shows a ton of his uncalled hands
  • He even inadvertently exposed his hand on the turn, which not only lost him the pot but inexplicably got him a penalty – Hesp took it all in stride by the way.

Basically, Hesp makes the kinds of mistakes you see players make in your $20 home game all the time.

Let me be very clear, that isn’t a slight in any way.

In fact, it’s Hesp’s shortcomings as a player, along with his wonderful personality and wardrobe choices, that make him easy to root for.

An amateur’s amateur

Hesp shouldn’t be a high-level player. He hasn’t devoted his life to poker, he’s simply a guy that enjoys playing the game on occasion.

Hesp is a very likeable and genuine person. Not even the pressure and bright lights of the WSOP Main Event could change that.

And I’d wager a lot of money that whether he busts in ninth on Thursday, or is holding a gold bracelet in the air on Saturday, John Hesp is going to be wearing a beaming smile on his face.

Anyone watching the action knows Hesp’s in over his head, and Hesp realizes it too. He told PokerNews, “I am to poker what Donald Trump is to politics – an amateur.”

“This is the main reason I’m playing poker,” Hesp added. “I just like people, everybody’s an individual. I especially like playing with nice people, and there’s a lot of nice people here.”

Let’s really stress how important that part is. If he didn’t enjoy it, he wouldn’t play. So every time a player refuses to engage the table, tanks unnecessarily, or berates another player, think of all the John Hesps that type of behavior pushes away from the game.

At WSOP, you just have to be good enough

Don’t get me wrong, Hesp is playing well enough. But he’s also getting good cards, and he’s getting a bit lucky in key spots.

When it comes to Hesp’s run, the great game of poker is playing the role of the equalizer, cancelling out some of his deficiencies.

But the truth is, you don’t need to be a robot who eats, sleeps, and breathes poker to make a deep run in the Main Event. If you want to be a poker pro, you’ll need to do that, but if you’re just an ordinary person who has enough disposable income to take a couple shots in big tournaments, your ROI depends largely on the whims of the poker gods.

What Hesp is doing is proving that because of the random elements in poker, even a flawed player can make the final table of the WSOP Main Event, and have a legitimate shot at winning the thing. If you’re not playing for the long-run, you don’t have to be a high-level player, and you don’t even need to be a winning player if you’re on the good side of variance.

More importantly, Hesp is proving you can have fun too.

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Believe it or not, poker can be fun

This dynamic has been lost in recent years. Professionals have systematically turned a live poker table – which should be one of the most social swatches of land on the planet – into some kind of bizarre social experiment designed to see how uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden you can make other people.

Whether it’s slow, deliberate movements, staring contests, or subtle and overt mocking of players who make mistakes or don’t make decisions based on game theory, the enjoyment has largely been zapped out of poker.

Hesp, along with the likes of Bartool Sports and others, are trying to change that.

But it wasn’t just Hesp that made the 2017 Main Event so refreshing. To their credit, most of the other players followed suit.

For the first time in many years, the players competing for the WSOP Main Event title seemed human. The usually stoic Ben Lamb was constantly smiling and chatting away. Antoine Saout was fist bumping Hesp when they entered a pot together. People were taking their ear buds out and talking.

Maybe Hesp’s table mannerisms were infectious, and that’s why the young wizards who usually show zero emotion and never speak engaged in table banter and talked and acted like… well, like a bunch of people playing poker.

Whatever the reason, the final two tables of the World Series of Poker Main Event were fun to watch, and with John Hesp in the mix, the final table should be just as fun.

The Hesp Effect

It might also haved a lasting effect on poker.

Imagine all of the people watching Hesp navigate his way to a (multi?) million dollar score with a huge smile on his face who are thinking, “I’m a better player than him. Maybe I’ll take a shot next year?”

That is the Hesp effect.

Steve Ruddock Avatar
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Steve Ruddock is an avid poker player and a veteran member of the gaming media. His primary focus is on the regulated US online casino and poker markets. He writes for numerous online and print publications, including,, and USA Today.

View all posts by Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is an avid poker player and a veteran member of the gaming media. His primary focus is on the regulated US online casino and poker markets. He writes for numerous online and print publications, including,, and USA Today.

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