Legacy is a word that gets thrown around quite often among tournament poker players chasing titles. The money that comes along with the top spot in a tournament is the most obvious motivation, but making a permanent mark on the game is also a driving force for players with a lot of staying power.
Josh Arieh can certainly be counted among that group. He first staked his claim to poker success in 1999, winning a $3,000 Limit Hold’em event for his first World Series of Poker bracelet. Arieh became a household name in 2004, finishing third in that year’s Main Event for $2.5 million. A second WSOP bracelet followed in 2005, in Pot Limit Omaha.
Arieh continued to make his presence felt with deep runs across the board, but for years there were more close calls than titles. Second in the 2009 Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic. A pair of runner-ups in bracelet events, including the 2019 $50,000 Poker Players championship. But that all changed in 2021 as Arieh captured his third and fourth WSOP bracelets, on his way to becoming 2021 WSOP Player of the Year.
On Sunday afternoon at Horseshoe Las Vegas, Arieh had legacy on his mind as he wrapped up WSOP bracelet No. 5 in the $10,000 Limit Hold’em championship. He had just completed a remarkable comeback from nearly out at the end of Day 3 to runaway winner, and after a job well done his mind turned towards a goal that seemed a little more within reach after the win – the Poker Hall of Fame.
“I had a really good year last year but didn’t win a bracelet,” Arieh said. “I’ve forever felt that I needed five bracelets to have a chance at the Hall of Fame,” Arieh said. “I got Player of the Year a couple of years ago, and then the fifth bracelet this year, so at least it gets me in the conversation. It’s really hard to get in, and they’re only letting one person a year in. But I’m in the conversation.”
Winning Limit Hold’em bracelets 24 years apart was something of a full circle moment for Arieh, and definitely serves him well in terms of the “playing consistently well” and “standing the test of time” criteria for the Poker Hall of Fame, for which Arieh was a finalist in 2022.
His skill set was on full display at the final table of the Limit Hold’em Championship, beyond just playing his cards. The vibe was noticeably looser than most $10K final tables, and especially so for a game like Limit Hold’em that is generally pretty stiff. That was thanks in large part to eventual third-place finisher Shimizu Nozomu who, for the second time this summer, brought a wild energy and excitement to a WSOP final table.
Arieh fed into Nozomu’s antics with plenty of banter, and the rest of the players at the final table were happy to get involved as well.
“It was really perfect because I wanted to take the heat off,” said Arieh. “I wanted people to think that we were just f—ing around. I wanted to lower the intensity. And then [Nozomu] just made it so easy. Shaun [Deeb] was telling me, he’s like, ‘Josh, you’re delirious,’ and I was like, ‘No, dude, I’m not delirious at all.’ I’m taking the intensity off these other guys. I was in full game mode, and that worked out perfectly.”
On the last hand of the night Saturday, Arieh was all in against Nozomu, who had pulled off several incredible runouts and come-from-behind victories on the way down to three-handed play. But Arieh’s hand held up, and play was paused until Sunday afternoon with Arieh, Nozomu, and two-time $10K Limit Hold’em winner Dan Idema still in the hunt.
Rather than feeling desperate, Arieh walked into the Horseshoe on the final day of the tournament feeling like it was his tournament.
“I truly always thought I was going to win,” Arieh said. “Just walking over this morning, I had this really strange sense of clarity come over me. I was truly grateful for everything. I don’t know how to explain it. I was just so happy. In today’s situation, I had one hour to register the Omaha Hi-Lo [Championship], which is a good event for me. And I would usually be double parked ready to go [and fire it in]. But I wasn’t. I just knew that no matter who wins, he has to go on a rush. And it can just as easily be me as it is them. I only have to win one more hand than they do. And it just so happened that I ran hot.”
Arieh spun up his stack and eliminated both Nozomu and Idema on the way to victory. And while he didn’t do so in time to register the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Championship, Arieh instead jumped directly into the $1,500 8-Game event, and fired up the $400 Online event on his laptop at the same time. Early on in Day 2 of the 8 Game, he’d already built up a top-10 stack as players approached the money bubble.
At 48 years old, Arieh is playing some of the best poker of his life. There could be another double bracelet year on deck, and a run at a second WSOP POY would further improve his Poker HOF credentials. But even as he played in three events on a day he won No. 5, there was an appreciation for the amount of energy required to pursue a legacy in the annals of tournament poker history.
“It’s awesome. It feels great [to win]. I love chasing bracelets, I love coming out and grinding hard,” Arieh said. “I used to do this s— every single day for the World Series, 12 hours a day and it never fazed me. Today is two weeks [in], and I’m f—ing beat.”