Just 24 hours after busting out of the WPT World Championship in 30th place, LoriAnn Persinger is back inside the Wynn Las Vegas ballroom which had played host to her dream run in the WPT World Championship and is complaining about how much her face hurts.
Okay, not complaining so much as she is bragging. For the previous six days the former Navy vet and frequent game show contestant has been smiling from ear to ear while she went on a deep run in the biggest World Poker Tour event of all time. In the process she earned a career-high cash of $119,300 and also captured the hearts of poker fans around the world.
“That’s the best part of this whole thing. People that I’ve played with or that I’ve worked with in different poker rooms coming up and saying, ‘We’re rooting for you’,” said Persinger. “It was nice that they saw a familiar face or someone they can relate to up there on the livestream.”
The 56-year-old Persinger won her way into the WPT World Championship through a Twitter contest run by vlogger and WPT ambassador Andrew Neeme. Neeme had won a WPT Global satellite and decided to give the seat to one of his followers. Persinger, who says she watches a variety of vlogs online, was actually bitten by the poker bug long before vlogs were a thing. Long before hole card cameras were a thing, too.
“I’ve been watching poker for years. Even when (Phil Hellmuth) literally first won,” Persinger said, referring to the ESPN coverage of the 1989 World Series of Poker Main Event. “I’ve (also) been watching WPT since day one, when it was on the Travel Channel.”
Persinger got a Twitter notification that Neeme had drawn her as the winner of the Twitter contest at a moment when good news was in short supply for Persinger and her husband, Rick. He had just left town to attend his brother-in-law’s funeral after he passed away unexpectedly.
“I started screaming and crying. Andrew didn’t know this at the time, but his timing was perfect,” Persinger said. “I thought Rick could use some good news. I honestly think he was happier for me than I was.”
It was actually her husband who got Lori Ann into poker in the first place. The pair lived in San Diego and would take vacations to Las Vegas. For Persinger, those trips were all about enjoying Bailey’s and coffee while smashing buttons on the slot machines.
“But my husband would play poker, and he’s like, ‘You need to play. You’re a math person. You’ll love the game. Sit down.’ So, I actually started just playing Limit Hold’em at the Flamingo Poker Room – $2/$4 Limit,” said Persinger. “My first foray into No Limit was in the Venetian Poker Room. Once you sit down, you just kind of like, ‘I think I kind of like this’. I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”
Turns out it has been a very good thing. Poker has become a big part of their life since then. They were regulars in the Sycuan poker room just outside of San Diego, CA until they moved to Las Vegas and now use some of the nightly tournaments on the Las Vegas Strip as a date night Persinger also spent some time working as a live reporter for PokerNews.
‘I’ve dreamed about this for years. You’ve got nothing to lose, everything to gain. Just enjoy it’
She’s no stranger to cashing in poker tournaments, but only two of her 119 career cashes were in events with buy-ins above $1,000. The night before Day 1A of the WPT World Championship, Persinger didn’t have any grand visions of anything, other than finding a way to get to Day 2.
“My goal Day 1 was to bag for Day 2. That was literally my only goal. That was it. I keep it simple,” said Persinger. She did exactly that, finishing the day with 229,000 from a starting stack of 100,000, and she was one of 234 players who advanced from Day 1A. She compared her pre-tournament mentality to her appearances on game shows like Wheel of Fortune, The Price is Right, Catch 21, and The Great Escape.
“I had already won because my goal was just to get on the show. Anything else above that was just, as I like to say, ‘icing on a cake’, or even better, ‘gravy on the mashed potatoes’,” Persinger said. “That’s the attitude I had coming here. I felt I had already won and I just thought, ‘I’ve dreamed about this for years. You’ve got nothing to lose, everything to gain. Just enjoy it’.”
Day 2 was nearly a perfect experience for Persinger. She made it through the day and finished with 1,155,000 chips. Things were going so well that she felt comfortable enough to adjust her goal a little bit to one that is very familiar to recreational players battling it out in a tournament well above their normal buy-in level.
“My goal was just get to Day 3 and just min-cash, honestly, because I’m on a freeroll. This is the first time in my life a min-cash would be great,” Persinger said.
Starting Day 3 so close to that newfound goal, and the $17,400 windfall that would come with it, Persinger was nervous but never really had to do anything but play straightforward poker as players around her were eliminated. Having a slightly above-average stack as the bubble approached allowed her to enjoy a sense of calm that others in the room weren’t quite as fortunate to have.
“I was never in any danger on the bubble, which was very nice for the biggest tournament of my life, to not even have a sweat on the money bubble. It was just freaking awesome,” Persinger said. One of her tablemates wasn’t so lucky, and ended up being one of the two that tied for the bubble position. “I had Freddy Deeb sitting on my left. I remember that because he actually busted the poor lady. We had a double bust out. Tony Dunst on the one table, and then the lady at my table had aces against the tens.”
Persinger not only survived the bubble, but made it to the last level of Day 3. That’s when her table was chosen to head to the main stage and be streamed live around the world. During the break, Persinger found herself nervous once again when she saw a somewhat familiar face, WPT ambassador Brad Owen.
“When they told me we were going to be at the feature table, I texted my husband and said ‘just let everybody know, and explain how it works’,” Persinger said. “I was nervous at first, and I was (in the hallway) on break charging my phone and Brad Owen walked by and I stopped him and said ‘Can you please give me some advice on the livestream?’. He told me ‘Just be yourself, and just keep doing what you’re doing’.
The bright lights didn’t seem to phase Persinger, and she wrapped up the day with 3,055,000 as one of 128 players still holding on to the hope of winning $4.1 million and the WPT World Championship title. The long, pressure-filled days were starting to take a toll on Persinger.
“It took me a little while to come home and go to sleep and one night, going into Day 5, I actually fell asleep on the couch. My husband, because his working hours are 6 pm to 2 am, he came home and just let me sleep. He didn’t even wake me,” Persinger said.
Her appearances on the livestream also meant more attention, which led to more of her friends and family reaching out at all hours.
“I only responded to my family and immediate friends, other than that I ignored the phone because it was just so overwhelming because I was like, ‘I’m going into Day 5, I actually need to get sleep’,” Persinger said.
She arrived on Day 5 with 5,125,000 and just 36 other players in her way. Unfortunately, the day didn’t go her way. Persinger’s journey ended in a fairly standard spot, with her not being able to catch up to Jean-Claude Moussa’s .
Busting out of the biggest tournament of a poker player’s career is a gut punch no matter where they finish. But Persinger continued to smile through all of it and left the ballroom simply grateful for the experience and the opportunity.
“I didn’t win the $4.1 million, the fact that I don’t take for granted that I still won $119,000 playing poker for four days. I don’t take that for granted and never will.”