For the average poker hobbyist, the allure of poker, and indeed the World Series of Poker, has always remained the same. Unlike basketball, football, golf, or tennis, in poker, anyone can take on the best in the world and win. Anyone with the cash to buy in can come to the WSOP, take a shot and end up in the winner's circle.
Saturday night in the 2015 WSOP Event #25: $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em 8-Handed that's exactly what happened. A 51-year-old high school football coach from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida outlasted a field of 493 of the toughest players on the planet, including a final table full of heroes, to win a WSOP bracelet and $567,724.
"This is like a dream come true," said Jeff Tomlinson. "I just had a four-day run where everything just kind of broke right. I got to the final table today and there were seven really, really good poker players that were staring at me, and I know that. People were just telling me to just play my game and don't be intimidated. I'm sure everyone was saying, 'this guys a football coach, he's not a pro, he doesn't play online.' But you know, that's what's so great about poker and the World Series. Anybody can win."
The $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em events at the WSOP have traditionally been some of the toughest no-limit hold'em fields assembled, and this event was no different. The final table itself included 2014 WSOP Bracelet winner Pierre Milan, WPT Season XIII Player of the Year Anthony Zinno, WPT Season VI Player of the Year Jonathan Little, three-time WSOP bracelet winner Dominik Nitsche, 2014 WPT Montreal Champion Jonathan Jaffe, five-time WSOP final table participant Dan O'Brien, and online star Andrius Bielskis.
But the football coach, competitive baseball player and passionate poker hobbyist was never intimidated.
"I really don't have any fear on the poker table," Tomlinson said. "I feel like I can play with anybody. That doesn't mean I'm going to go out and win ten bracelets, but I feel like I can go out and compete with anybody on the poker table. Last night people were calling and asking me 'Do you have any idea whose at the table with you? This guy's got three bracelets, this guy's written two books,' and I'm like ok, well, I coach football."
Tomlinson also plays regularly in the $5,000-$10,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em and Omaha games at the Palm Beach Kennel Club back home and credited patience with giving him the edge he needed to win Saturday.
"In the first hour I didn't get a card, but instead of pushing the panic button, when everyone was kind of taking my blinds and I was kind of getting dwindled down a little bit, I just said to myself 'be patient, it'll come,'" he said. "Every time I kind of got down a little I just said 'don't panic and stay patient.'
"It wasn't like I ran everybody over. I just tried to stay patient and play good poker and being patient was really the key to me outlasting them."
Tomlinson has three kids in college and said the prize money will go along way towards helping pay for that. He said he may stick around Las Vegas to play a few more tournaments before his football team starts up practice again next week, and he might even return to play the WSOP Main Event. Tomlinson also said he may have earned something more than just the cash and jewelry in this event.
"The last few days I was on the table with some good players and I think I held my own," he said. "In the end maybe I got a little respect.
"All the pros are probably thinking 'how'd this guy win this tournament?' and probably rightfully so. I thought I played pretty well though, and I was blessed the poker gods were looking out for me the last couple of days."