It has now been two weeks since Pierre Neuville played the poker tournament of his life.
That’s exactly how he approached it: a whole new tournament he had four months to prepare for and that he could tackle with serenity as he had an average stack.
The 72-year-old Belgian, armed with his records and all his experience, knew better than anyone else that it was still “just” poker.
Everything was possible, from a World Championship title to a ninth-place finish after the first hand of the November Nine. Two days before the start of the final table, he said:
“Imagine the first hand, I get aces mid-position, I raise. McKeehen’s small blind with kings raises again. We go all-in pre-flop and he wins his 20/80.”
It seemed like the Belgian was prepared for everything. He even had a tactic to adapt his game to play post-flop and reduce the probability of his opponents getting lucky.
Unfortunately, November 8th just wasn’t his day.
"The Worst Has Happened to Me"
So how does he feel after such a brutal ending to the biggest adventure of his poker career?
Much different feeling than July.
“Everyone is still congratulating me, they don’t realize the worst has happened to me,” he opens.
“In July, I felt complete happiness. I was playing the best poker of my life and I had the ability to go up a few more places, to win a few more million and to help many more people as well as One Drop (His free sponsor, an organization that brings drinking water to children in developing countries) and buy presents for my friends and family.
"But that’s all gone now because this 7th place means I’ve barely won enough to cover what I’ve spent over the last three months and the people I invited here.”
“I tried to be prepared for the worst but I was still too optimistic. I knew I could lose with aces but I didn’t expect all my best hands to lose.
"We could play that final table 20 times, I’d do better 19 times out of the 20. But the 20th happened.”
"It Was a Blow to the Head"
Neuville even explained that he deliberately ramped up the drama when he had aces and Zvi Stern hesitated to call his 4-bet with KJ:
“Yes, I did quite a performance there. I really wanted him to know that I had the aces. I was too scared that he would call and that I’d lose on a bad beat.
A show for Stern.
"When he folded, he told me he knew I was max preflop but that he had the perfect hand to take a chance.”
So how did Neuville handle his bust?
“It was a blow to the head. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... For three days I thought I’d have a hard time getting my motivation back.”
Three days that he spent with his family between the Grand Canyon and the city, where he bought small gifts for his grandchildren on the Strip. He also bought his whole team a round of drinks the day before he flew back to Europe.
His staff, his family, his fans and the Belgian journalists all met to talk about nothing and everything, but it was obviously hard not to talk about poker.
Once on the plane Neuville had a dozen hours to reflect on his future. He made several decisions on that flight -- particularly to give everything he has in order to get even better.
"Millions of Players Would Like to Be in My Place"
“I plan to lose 12kg over the next few months, thanks to sports and nutrition. I don’t know if I’ll reach my goal but the more people I tell the more obliged I feel to do it.
Rolling up sleeves for more in 2016.
"As for poker I’ll get back on the horse at the Unibet Antwerpen at the end of November. After that there will be the usual big tournaments, in Prague in particular (WPT and EPT).
"I’ll be back in Vegas in 2016, of course, and also in Barcelona where the EPT will surely break many more records.
"I’m planning to play twice as many tournaments in 2016, which is a much as the younger players. My goal is to reach the GPI Top 20, a performance that no senior player has ever achieved.
"In that prospect I want to reach a final table for each circuit (EPT, WPT, WSOP). It’s very ambitious but that’s what I need.
"I’m also hoping to be part of the team for Alex Dreyfus’s Global Poker League, which I think would be an amazing adventure.”
In the meantime Neuville is trying to focus on what the Main Event brought him:
“I’ve met a lot of very interesting people, so I really can’t complain. Millions of players would like to be in my place.”
Right after his bust he even said that he’d “give anything to be unlucky at the final table again next year," realizing that he still did better than more than 6,400 players.
And, as he’s repeated many times over the last two weeks, Neuville will especially remember all the warm messages he was sent and all the articles that were written.
However he couldn’t really answer when we asked him if he was still as motivated by online qualifiers - his specialty.
Mixed emotions; unbowed determination.
Satisfaction and Disappointment
So that’s it for the 2015 WSOP Main Event for Pierre Neuville.
Between satisfaction and disappointment. Between motivation and detachment.
Sometimes paradoxical, it shows how honest he is. Genuine and clear-headed he is aware that he feels so conflicted precisely because it was such a blow.
We’re convinced he will be back stronger than ever.