When Yorkshireman John Hesp made his professional poker debut in the winter of 2016, he could not have played in more modest surroundings.
It was on November 6th that Hesp made his way into Napoleon’s Casino and Restaurant, so that he could participate in a £10 No Limit Hold ‘em tournament. The Hull native left that day with a $213 cash prize after finishing in fifth place, and so began the story of poker’s newest and most unlikely star!
Just seven tournaments and eight months later, Hesp had stunned the world by finishing fourth in the 48th World Series of Poker (WSOP), while lighting up the Vegas strip with his colourful clothing, outgoing personality and fearless nature.
But who exactly is John Hesp, and is he really poker’s latest star or simply a man who got lucky on the grandest of stages? We’ll try to answer this below while profiling one of Hull’s most famous natives.
How did Hesp Make his Name on the Vegas Strip?
Prior to his arrival in Vegas, Hesp’s biggest win was $1000, which was achieved after he won the £10 No Limit Hold ‘em Sunday Rebuy event on June 11th 2017.
In fact, the novice star had amassed a little over $2,000 in career earnings by the time he entered into the WSOP Main Event, and it’s fair to surmise that his arrival in Vegas went completely unnoticed.
Hesp entered the tournament with a buy-in of £7,500, as he combined his previous winnings with a some savings to secure a spot at poker’s most coveted tournament.
The caravan salesman went on to shock the world over the course of the next few days, as he claimed an impressive fourth place in Sin City and an incredible prize of £2.6 million.
He achieved this finish despite the presence of an extremely competitive field, which featured more than 7,000 professional and amateur competitors from across the globe.
The 65-year old grandad of seven also achieved notoriety for his colourful persona, which was embodied by a trademark trilby, wacky suits and an enduringly heart-warming smile.
Has Hesp Continued his Winning Streak?
Immediately after his deserved windfall, Hesp announced that he would treat his wife Mandy to a caravan holiday, and many believed that the pensioner would never again grace the bright lights of the Vegas strip.
This perception did a disservice to Hesp’s level of ambition, however, as he instantly set his sights on appearing in multiple tournaments and even returning to Vegas for this years’ iteration of the WSOP.
While he maintained the modest goal of finishing in the top 1000, there’s no doubt that he was keen on continuing this winning streak for as long as possible.
In between last years’ appearance at the WSOP and the 2018 tournament, Hesp took part in two tournaments in his hometown of Hull. He earned a little over $1,500 overall, winning a £50 + 5 No Limit Hold ‘em at Napoleons Casino and Restaurant on June 24th.
This preceded his next tilt at WSOP glory, which ended when he was knocked out on the second day of tournament play.
While he brought the same level of colour and energy to the table as he did during his stellar run in 2017, he struggled to maintain the same success and was defeated when his ace-king hand was beaten by a rival who held two aces.
However, Hesp was philosophical in defeat, as he basked in the unpredictable nature of tournament poker and found himself overwhelmed by the sheer quality of his competition.
He has already rebounded from this early defeat too, attending a low-level competition in Coventry as he begins his preparation for the WSOP in 2019. This augers well for his future, as he looks to continue a career that has already earned the Yorkshireman close to $3 million.
What’s Next for Hesp – Is Vegas or Hollywood Beckoning?
Hesp has earned his money is less than two years, putting him in 31st place on England’s all-time money list.
Incredibly, the loveable pensioner has also risen to 561st on the all-time money list, which is quite an achievement given his relatively brief career.
In terms of gameplay, the relatively green Yorkshireman has a global poker index ranking of 9,446th, and a far higher popularity ranking of 797th.
Beyond this, Hesp’s story has inspired a number of narrators and even Hollywood producers, many of whom are interested in sharing this with a global audience.
Prior to his departure from Vegas, Hesp was wined and dined by a pair of prominent Hollywood producers, who have moved to buy the rights to the story and transform into a hit for the silver screen.
Hesp was typically humble in response, claiming that the “script writes itself” and “he was just a small town regular guy who had risen to international poker stardom by accident”.
So despite being at the centre of an amazing and unique story, the unlikely poker star remains as modest and as level-headed as he was when his journey first began. The cash that he’ll generate by selling the rights to the story will also elevate the star’s personal wealth, as this incredible fairytale continues at pace.
The story may not be over either, particularly with Hesp expected to compete at the 50th WSOP in Vegas in 2019. This will provide him with another shot at glory, while helping him to amass an even bigger pension fund in the process!
In the meantime, Hesp is likely to return to his native Hull and continue to build his buy-in fund at the Napoleons Casino and Restaurant. He’s certainly a popular and iconic figure in these parts, and one who serves as an inspiration for every amateur or aspiring investor who has even opened a deck of cards.