Earlier this summer, ESPN aired a World Series of Poker marathon. If you happened to tune in during the 2004 WSOP broadcast, there's a good chance you came across Gabriel Thaler. Even if your recollection of those episodes go back a decade, that name may just ring a bell.
During the WSOP's last hurrah at Binion's, Thaler notched four cashes, some of which were immortalized on television. His first was a 25th-place finish in the $1,500 Pot-Limit Hold'em event for $3,000, and a couple weeks later he placed 15th in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout for $4,000. Not big scores, but certainly a start.
A week later, Thaler took third in the $3,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em event, which was filmed for TV. You may remember that final table, which saw Phil Hellmuth and Ram Vaswani finish seventh and fifth respectively. Thaler eventually bowed out in third after suffering a bad beat courtesy of eventual winner Gavin Griffin.
It happened when Griffin raised the button to 60,000 holding the . A short-stacked Thaler looked down at the in the small blind and moved all in for 150,000. Garry Bush folded the big blind, and Griffin made the call. The flop gave Griffin an inside straight draw, while the turn made it an open-ended. Much to Thaler's dismay, the spiked on the river and that was all she wrote for Thaler, who took home $69,780 for his performance.
"What a painful way to go," Norman Chad said on the broadcast.
I'm kind of playing mom at home taking care of the kids.
Thaler then closed out the 2004 WSOP with a 168th-place finish in the Main Event for $15,000. Over the next four years Thaler added more scores to his poker résumé including fourth in the 2005 WSOP Circuit Championship Event at the Rio for $168,720 (if you recall, the final three in that particular event were Jean-Robert Bellande, Jennifer Harman, and Doug Lee); 44th in the 2005 World Poker Tour Five Diamond World Poker Classic for $32,200; and sixth in the 2008 WPT Bellagio Cup IV for $129,275.
That last result is his last documented cash, so imagine our surprise when we saw Thaler, who has lifetime earnings of $654,622, among the 2015 WSOP Main Event Day 2a/b field. Where had he been for the past seven years?
"I play three to four days a week, but other than that I'm kind of playing mom at home taking care of the kids, and just enjoying life," Thaler told PokerNews. "I live in Las Vegas, I have five kids. I have two that are going to be seniors in high school this year, all the way down to one that is going to be starting kindergarten, so you know, it really keeps you busy."
Just because the poker world doesn't see him doesn't mean he hasn't been playing.
"I usually play $5-$10 at the Wynn or one of the other places," explained Thaler. "The bigger games just kind of went away, so they just seems to be the best games for me … The Main Event is always a great time no matter what. I didn't play last year, my father was sick, but other than that I have played every year. The fields are so big you probably just didn't see me."
The fields are certainly a lot bigger nowadays than they were 11 years ago, but how else had the game changed?
"I think the game is still great and flourishing," said Thaler. "There's a huge influx of young talented people. Texas hold'em isn't that hard of a game to be good at, it's hard to be great if you aspire to be great, but it's not that hard to be good. I think overall the health of poker is good. There are some things that need to happen, some rules changed that need to happen, and they'll all happen eventually, but I think it's heading in the right direction."
While the game is heading in the right direction, at least according to Thaler, his chip stack wasn't. Thaler found himself on the rail early on Day 2a/b, officially ending his 2015 WSOP. While he didn't make a deep run like he did back in 2004, Thaler's appearance showed the poker world that, like so many others, he's still on the grind.
To see Thaler in action, check out this vintage 2004 WSOP broadcast: