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Last year, on the World Series return to the Las Vegas Strip, the ‘Year of Dan’ saw Dan Zack outrun friend and rival Daniel Weinman in the tightest Player of the Year race for some years. We caught up with him at Paris casino in Las Vegas to see how the champ is enjoying being back amongst it.
Last year, Dan’s victory in the WSOP Player of the Year race earned him the respect of his peers, along with a giant flag congratulating him on the win. This year it has been raised and placed at the Horseshoe Las Vegas. Dan, being the humble guy he is, is happy that it’s not too prominent.
“It’s good they actually hid it this year!” he said. “I didn’t need it front and center the way Josh [Arieh] did last year; it’s round the corner in the Horseshoe. It’s fun to see it up there – my family really wanted to see pictures of it with me in the foreground so they sent it out to friends.”
Dan’s recent achievements in the game are vast and the reigning 2022 Player of the Year at WSOP already has over $3.2 million in live cashes alone. The Princeton-raised professional didn’t always find it easy in the early days, however.
“My family weren’t super-supportive when I first dropped out of college to play professionally,” he says. “They’ve been much more supportive in recent years. They all sweat the World Series with me from a distance.”
Last year’s Player of the Year race came down to a two-way battle at the end of the WSOP between Dan and his friend Daniel Weinman.
“[He] and I are close, we’ve been friends in the same cash games for a long time,” says Dan. “We both wanted to win, and both anti-sweated the other one’s final tables. I ended winning mine, and he ended up coming fourth. If he’d won and I’d come fourth, I think he’d have ended up with more points than me. But it never felt like true animosity. We’re definitely still friends. It was awkward to be in such close competition with someone you’re so friendly with.”
Coming back to the 95-event live WSOP as the current Player of the Year, Dan admits that when he walked back along the Strip and first stepped inside the casino, he felt that he had a lot to live up to.
“I definitely felt pressure at the start because wanting to ‘repeat’ was a goal of mine, even though it is very unrealistic. The pressure has tapered off because I’m so far behind at this point!”
As Dan points out, not only has Chad Eveslage won two of the first 10 events to take place, giving himself a commanding lead, but Shaun Deeb is off to a very good start too.
“I’ve bricked the first week fully, which puts them almost impossible to catch.” He concedes. “There was pressure at the start but I’m no longer feeling it. I’m just going to play the events that I want to at this point.”
This year’s Player of the Year race winner will receive not only the unique trophy and a banner that will be in place for the 2024 World Series, but a ticket into the 2024 WSOP Main Event too. That alone is worth $10,000.
If there is another reason to look forward to the summer in Las Vegas for Dan, it’s the healthy addition of so many mixed games to the festival. This year sees a first dedicated tournament in Badugi alongside plenty of other different variants. It’s a key part of the attraction for the 2022 Player of the Year.
“I really like the mixed game tournaments because there’s no other chance to [play them] the rest of the year. There’s almost nowhere than runs mid-to-high stakes mixed game tournaments in specific disciplines like Stud 8, Stud High or Badugi, all these games.”
As well as the annual World Series, Dan is quick to credit the other location where this level of mixed game competition – and prize money – are guaranteed.
“This is one of only two places to do it. PokerGO finally introduced their version. I love tournaments but I love my mixed games and it’s so rare to get to do those at the same time.”
Last year, towards the end of the 2022 WSOP Player of the Year race, Dan was firing into events multiple times. This year, unless things change dramatically very soon in the standings, he won’t be doing so and that feels good.
“When I was in the lead, I was really all-in on maximizing my chances.” He describes. “I said if I lose by 50 or 100 points, I’d never forgive myself. That included in $600 events purposely putting it all in with random nonsense, ‘cause there’s a lot of rebuys [to] get every chance to build a big stack. Burning $600 at a time to chase a min-cash… it never feels good to incinerate a couple thousand dollars just for a round-the-margins chance of increasing your percentage of not missing out on the opportunity. Not having to do that this year will be nice, it was stressful and felt very dumb in real time last year!
This year’s average attendance for the events already played is well ahead of last year, with some tournaments reporting an increase of 15-20% on the 2022 field. Clearly, poker is doing very well back on the Strip and in general, the ecosystem is thriving.
“Poker’s booming,” Dan agrees. “I think it was even through the COVID years. Numbers were impressive given the fact there was a global pandemic happening. [This year] the Stud High 10k broke numbers I don’t think have been seen in a decade.
It’s not only about the other events. The WSOP Main Event will be a big indication of exactly how healthy poker is. Dan believes we could be looking at the record being smashed.
“Almost every event is up,” he says. “I think almost every event will top what it did last year, including the Main Event. I think this will be very clearly the biggest Main Event of all time.”
He’s an experienced campaigner now, but Dan can still look back with fondness on the first time he arrived in Las Vegas to play the World Series of Poker. He has some advice for players making it out to Sin City for their first adventure.
“If you’re a new timer, don’t play a full schedule. It’s really grueling, you don’t get enough meals or sleep. Pick and choose the best events for you, come in fresh, go home, get rest, don’t go out partying afterwards. Take care of yourself – it’s a really long series.”
Playing loads of events in an attempt to become Player of the Year isn’t something Dan is thinking about and if he was trying in his first year, he’d advise taking a step back to be much more strategic about bracelet events.
“You don’t have to play all of them.” He says. “Don’t be insane like me, Shaun or Chad! Pick and choose your spots and have fun with it.”
With that, the reigning Player of the Year is off to do exactly that. He may have bricked the first 10 events, but he’s cashed three times in Events #11- #20, including a 45th place in that inaugural Badugi event.
Don’t count Dan Zack out of being front and center right here in Las Vegas very soon.
PokerGO is the place to be for live streaming the World Series of Poker 2023. Sign up today and access all the action from Las Vegas, Nevada, the home of the WSOP.
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