Orthodox Jewish businessman vies for the crown at World Series of Poker’s main event


(JTA) — As Gershon Distenfeld sees it, life and poker have their similarities – notably “a certain amount of uncertainty.”

“There is a little bit of luck involved — sometimes a lot of luck,” an Orthodox Jewish businessman from Bergenfield, New Jersey, told the morning show “Bloomberg Surveillance” last week, as reported by the Forward. “But in the end, skill does win out.”

Distenfeld, 43, is hoping any combination of luck and skill will land him the champion’s bracelet at the World Series of Poker’s final table starting Dec. 28 in Las Vegas. He sits in sixth place among the nine challengers in the no-limit Texas hold ‘em tournament, far off the chip lead, following two days of online play earlier this month.

So he’ll need the cards to fall correctly and make the proper calls — maybe a bluff or two? — to take the crown. Distenfeld is already in coveted territory reaching the main event’s final table, as 705 players paid the $10,000 entry fee for the prestigious tournament.

Due to COVID-19, the event moved online, so players had to be located in New Jersey or Nevada — thus dramatically narrowing the typical field of amateurs and pros from the thousands who typically compete in Las Vegas each year. They played only the two days rather than 10, and neither was on Shabbat, clearing the path for the observant Distenfeld.

They’re vying for a top prize of a $1,553,256. Distenfeld has assured himself of $98,813 by reaching the final table. If he finishes sixth, he gets $215,222.

The Yeshiva University graduate plans to donate all of his winnings from the tournament to charity.

Along with his poker playing and work as credit director at the asset management firm AllianceBernstein, Distenfeld also writes the blog “The Right Side of History,” launched in September to explore the effects of the pandemic on his Jewish community in Bergen County.

The Forward reported that his initial post, on curbing precautions at Jewish day schools, was widely circulated and drew over 100 comments.

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