By Sean Chaffin
Returning to a tournament after winning the previous event usually brings a certain amount of hype and energy. Can the champ make a big run at back-to-back titles? Can he relive the glory and add his name to the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup for a second time? Those kinds of thoughts seem muted at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic this year.
Alex Foxen added his name to the Cup in 2019 and now returns to the field after a two-year, COVID-induced layoff. The entire scenario seems a bit different than a normal tournament scenario.
“It definitely feels like a lot of time has passed,” he says. “It feels almost like another world when that happened. So yes, it definitely feels longer than it normally would to have some title defense, but I’m excited to get the chance.”
The delay has left Foxen not feeling too much like a returning champion. A deep run at the Bellagio, however, might change some of that.
“To be honest, it’s not something I’ve thought about at all yet,” he says. “It’s come up in conversation a couple times, but other than that it’s not as much of a focal point as it would have been the following year.”
The pandemic left some players scrambling to find more action online before some live poker began returning last year. Foxen faced his own challenges as an elite-level rounder.
“It was interesting,” he says. “At the beginning of quarantine there was a lot of online action, so there were long hours inside and that’s a little different than what I’ve been used to at the time. So that had challenges in itself. [There was] a lot of volume, which is great, but then there were challenges in coming back to live and masks definitely added a different element.”
In May, Foxen and his girlfriend and fellow poker superstar Kristen Bicknell became engaged. Foxen said the card-playing power couple are planning a wedding for March or April.
Foxen certainly has plenty of wins to keep track of. The Five Diamond win in 2019 brought Foxen a score of $1.7 million and his first WPT title. He now has more than $20 million in live tournament winnings and has notched numerous six-figure finishes over the last two years.
As events play out in the Bellagio, it’s obvious the pandemic has brought some changes to the game. Mandatory masks may offer a challenge for players trying to read opponents. With half a player’s face covered, picking up on tells, subtle movements, and perhaps even hearing opponents presents an additional change to the game. Foxen believes savvy players can adjust.
“People definitely have their faces more covered in general, so there’s got to be some element of their facial expressions that you can no longer see,” he says. “There are other ways to glean information and just paying attention to how people act is probably more important than their faces sometimes.”
The last two years now offer Foxen a unique opportunity to complete a three-year, back-to-back challenge.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer based in New Mexico and Texas. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.