First-Timer Joe Ciani Checks WSOP Main Event Off His Bucket List

Among the thousands of players who play the World Series of Poker Main Event, there are many taking part in a once-in-a-lifetime dream, including Joe Ciani, who won his way in via his local game at the Cleveland Poker League.

Tim Fiorvanti
Jul 6, 2024
Joe Ciani is sitting next to Barry Greenstein on Day 1D of the 2024 WSOP Main Event.

The World Series of Poker is one of the true egalitarian competitions in the world. Anyone who can come up with the means to pay for or win their $10,000 seat can get in, which means some of the best poker players in the world with millions of dollars in results sit down next to local poker heroes living out their once-in-a-lifetime dreams at a shot at over $10 million.

Joe Ciani, who’s in the 2024 WSOP Main Event field on Day 1D, won his way onto this grand poker stage the same way a lot of first-timers make their way into the WSOP Main Event – via their local home poker group.

It’s Ciani’s first time ever playing in the WSOP Main Event. The 45-year-old who works in real estate in his day-to-day life was feeling the nerves on Friday night, so he walked around the ballroom at Horseshoe Las Vegas to try to get himself acclimated.

“I came yesterday just to look around,” said Ciani. “Coming in here for the first time, it’s really intimidating.” He was still a little anxious as he sat down at his table at the start of play Saturday, but it didn’t take him long to get settled. “Once you sit down and then start going, it’s good. I won the very first hand, so that was cool.”

In terms of Day 1 table draws, Ciani had one of the tougher starts in the room. To his immediate left sat poker legend and WPT Champions Club member Barry Greenstein, and to their left, WSOP bracelet winner and 2013 WSOP Main Event third-place finisher Amir Lehavot. On the opposite side of the table sat Dimitar Danchev, one of only a handful of players to earn poker’s Triple Crown (a WPT Main Tour championship, a WSOP bracelet, and an EPT title).

But Ciani was taking it all in stride, especially given the opportunity to chat it up with Greenstein.

“He is a sweetheart of a guy, as sweet as a guy can be,” said Ciani. “He’s just talking about sports, and I know some people get intimidated but he’s like a lot of regular guys, just likes to B.S. and play cards.”

Ciani also met Gus Hansen while he was buying into the tournament. It’s a long way from where Ciani’s journey into this tournament field began. He’s one of 37 players who took part in the Cleveland Poker League, a 15-session series of games in the suburbs of Cleveland that sent two players into this year’s WSOP Main Event field.

“The league is amazing. The guys are great,” said Ciani. “The guy who runs it, Dex, really tries to make it fun and enjoyable for everybody. This is my second year in the league – I have two buddies that I went to high school with, they had a couple of players drop out and they messaged me. I love playing poker, and it’s a good system.”

The top points earner gets an automatic seat, while the second seat is won via one final single table tournament, which Ciani won. The poker league represents most of the poker that Ciani plays, along with the occasional game at a local golf course over the winter on Wednesday nights. The highlight of Ciani’s poker career before his adventure into the WSOP Main Event was chopping a $50 buy-in event at JACK Cleveland Casino last year.

Ciani’s received a lot of support around this trip, as several other members of the Cleveland Poker League flew out to Las Vegas. There’s also a boatload of other friends on standby if Ciani can make a deep run in this tournament.

“A couple of the guys flew out here,” said Ciani. “They’re gonna grab dinner for me if I make it that far. I got friends out the yin yang that want to come out here. They’re like, ‘Joe, we’re coming. We’re coming to help. Call Southwest, we’ll book the whole plane.’ I’m hoping that happens. It would just be a tremendous dream come true for me, and I’m just gonna grind it out and do it for the Cleveland Poker League.”

Ciani’s job gives him the flexibility to make a deep run in this tournament stress-free without having to worry about calling out of work. But he predominantly credits his wife for making it possible for him to come out to Las Vegas and play.

“My wife Gina is the rock. She’s amazing,” said Ciani. “We have three beautiful girls, an 11-year-old and twin nine-year-olds. Without Gina, none of this would be possible – she’s holding down the fort while I’m here.”

When he’s not playing poker, Ciani coaches his daughters’ flag football team and helps out at volleyball games. He’s hoping to get the chance to bring everyone out and celebrate if things go really well in the WSOP Main Event.

For now, Ciani’s just trying to navigate his way through Day 1 of what could hopefully be a marathon. 

“I’ve folded hands I would play in our poker league,” said Ciani. “You’ve just got to be patient. You just play to live to fight another day.”

What the other players at the table don’t know is that Ciani’s got a secret weapon at his disposal – the talisman that helped him win his seat in the Cleveland Poker League finale, and will hopefully be with him for more days in the 2024 WSOP Main Event.

“These are my one twin’s sunglasses,” Ciani said. “When I went to the championship game at the Cleveland Poker League, she saw me watching poker on TV and she said, ‘Here Daddy, wear my sunglasses. They’ll bring you good luck.’ And I won the thing, so I brought them here, too.”