By Sean Chaffin
Ralph Perry entered Day 3 of the WPT Bobby Baldwin Classic eighth in chips. With only 20 players remaining, this poker rounder with 25 years in the game was looking for the ultimate score. He was already in the money and was dedicating his play to someone special in his life.
Perry’s mother-in-law, Penny Levinson, passed away on May 12 of cancer. Although he and his wife are divorced, Levinson always meant a lot to Perry and his children. He remembers her as a great woman and grandmother, and a heck of a card player.
“When I first came to town in the early ‘90s, I played at the Mirage and back then she was a big high-stakes seven-card stud player,” Perry said. “Penny was an old timer. She played $30-$60 stud and $20-$40 hold’em. In the old days, she used to play at the Stardust, and used to even play with Stu Ungar. She knew all the old-timers.”
A Poker Family
Mostly a cash game player, Levinson managed family life with poker life. A woman playing at the tables was pretty rare at that time, but she found a way to excel.
“She just loved the game of poker, and she played so much,” Perry said.
Perry married Levinson’s daughter Merri and they have two sons, Sean and Joseph. Poker certainly runs through the Perry and Levinson families, and Ralph’s son, Sean, has now gotten in on the action a bit.
“Sean plays a lot,” Perry said. “He takes after me. He made the [WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic] final table at the Bellagio. It was a big story. He played the tournament and made the final table on his birthday.”
The younger Perry finished fourth in that event, the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December, and took home more than $500,000. He’s also had several other nice finishes since he began playing tournaments last year.
Throughout her life, Levinson also loved animals and one memory stands out in Perry’s mind. He remembers distinctly how she fed neighborhood ducks at her home in The Lakes (a community within Las Vegas).
“She was such a kind, loving person,” Perry said.
Israel to Brooklyn to Broke
The route to becoming a full-time player with more than $3.1 million in live tournament winnings began in Russia for Ralph Perry. In 1979, his Jewish family moved to Israel when he was only 5. At age 17, Ralph dropped out of high school and moved to Brooklyn, New York.
Without much money, he knew he had to get to work.
“I had so many jobs,” Perry said. “I sold ice cream in Manhattan, and I sold peanuts. At my last job, I drove a limo.”
Then he found poker. With a one-way ticket and $7,000 in his bankroll, Ralph moved to Vegas in the early-1990s. At first, things went well. He built that bankroll up to $100,000. Then, he went broke. Devastated, Ralph decided to leave Vegas and gambling behind and flew back to New York.
Two weeks later, Ralph had second thoughts. He decided to give it another shot. With only $1,000 in his bank account, he bought another one-way ticket back to Vegas for $200, spent $100 on a place to stay for a week, and was left with a $700 bankroll. Another bad streak and his poker life would be finished.
“I did it,” Perry told WPT.com. “I built my bankroll up. I’ve been living here ever since.”
On the Move
Ralph has been playing poker full-time for more than two decades, and also now has some real estate investments with no plans to ever go broke again. He feels it’s kind of his destiny to run so well after the death of someone who meant so much to him. The cards have just continued to fall his way.
“Throughout the [WPT Bobby Baldwin Classic], I’ve not been playing my best,” Perry said. “I did some crazy bluffs that somehow worked. I don’t know how it happened. And here I am, so it’s like a miracle. To be to be honest, this is a real tough tournament.
“Every table I played at has had excellent talent. It’s amazing how I made it this far and how I made some of the great players lay down big hands against me.”
With two career WPT final tables on his résumé, Ralph is still hoping to add to that with a WPT title after he busted in 11th place for $30,845. His name on the prestigious WPT Champions Cup would be a feather in the cap of the longtime professional grinder.
“I’ve been playing since day one, since the start of the WPT – even the founder Lyle Berman, I played poker with him,” Perry said. “To be a WPT champion, that would mean everything.”
If you’re interested in becoming a WPT champion, you can play for your chance on ClubWPT.com. ClubWPT is where eligible VIP members can play for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes each month, including seats to WPT events. No purchase is necessary for the ClubWPT sweepstakes and the service is void in states where prohibited. See terms and conditions at ClubWPT.com.