It’s been a bad, bad start to the 2022 World Series of Poker when it comes to COVID-19, as in the first couple of weeks, dozens of well-known players have come down with the virus. That’s probably just the tip of the virtual iceberg, and it’s likely that hundreds of players, staff, and affiliated media have been infected to date. Among them are a sizable minority of COVID disbelievers and people who either have the virus and are asymptomatic or are mindless of the risk to others and continue to play despite all the coughing and wheezing.
If there’s a small silver lining to the outbreak, it’s that the variant appears to produce a relatively mild version of the illness in most of its victims, roughly the equivalent of a bad, sticky head cold. Still, COVID victims who progress to more serious stages of the disease often begin with mild cases that slowly progress over time, so who’s to say. While data reporting lags the actual occurrence of cases, most of those who’ve contracted the virus while at the WSOP or at other summer Vegas poker events have likely contracted one of the new and very transmissible Omicron variants.
Twitter’s been a disaster zone of players reporting positive tests for the airborne virus. Phil Hellmuth and David “ODB” Baker were among the earliest victims, and have since cleared protocol and returned to the series. Let’s sample just some of those who’ve been forced to sit out a week or more of the series to date:
Phil Hellmuth – “Just tested positive for Covid. Thought maybe I was immune (neither of my sons got it, nor did my Mom)…Good news: no cough. Not hungry all day! Mind is a little foggy as I slept “17 awful hours.” I feel like my best chance for a bracelet was todays @WSOP $10,000 Omaha 8/B, sigh.”
David “ODB” Baker – “Was hoping for a Covid bracelet but will have to take my first cash of the series. Felt awful for stretches but grinded it out.”
Matt Waxman – “Throat felt scratchy this afternoon, so took a COVID test instead of regging the $3k – it was POSITIVE. Symptoms are mild, but obviously sitting out from #WSOP events until we’re back to ‘100’ and test negative. I’d recommend masking up while walking through big crowds on break.”
Allen Cunningham – “Just got to the the WSOP and already got Covid. I was at least hoping to win a couple bracelets first.”
Speaking of recent bracelet winners, Adam Friedman – “I just tested positive for Covid this morning after 3 prior negative tests over the past couple days. Other than a hint of a sore throat, I’m doing alright. Stay safe out there everyone and continue getting tested.”
Chris “Fox” Wallace – “Just tested positive for Covid. Been home feeling rough for a few days, but first two tests were negative. This time the second line on the test popped up right away. Wife also has it and feeling miserable.”
Rene “Storage Wars” Nezhoda – “Went to the @wsop 100% healthy and vaccinated and now I got #covid be careful out there and if you sick stay away @PokerNews #storagewars #americascardroom #pariscasino #poker“
Dylan Weisman – “Just tested positive for Covid on 2 antigen tests. Still gonna get PCR to confirm, but I most likely will be skipping the $25k tomorrow and possibly the $50k on Monday. NGL feel super bummed rn. WSOP $25k is my favorite event of the year. Stay safe out there fam <3”
Kitty Kuo – “Well, I need to say ‘I test positive in hospital’ Going to take few days off, if u r same table with me yesterday, please test it . Wear the mask all the time, still can’t avoid Covid, never get before, it’s my first time, in fact, I feel only headache, throat hurt, energy low.”
Mike Gorodinsky – “Tested positive for COVID this morning so won’t be around WSOP for a while. Seems like quite a few people who played the dealers choice have it currently. I personally won’t be back until I have a negative test and significantly reduced symptoms- assume that’s the standard?”
Elio Fox – “Just tested positive for COVID, not sure how long I have had it. But if you played w me last few days you were likely exposed.”
Steven “tizzle” McLoughlin – “Confirmed detected. They got me 🙁 I feel like shit.”
Dutch Boyd – “A couple of people asked how the WSOP has been going. Played one event so far. Didn’t cash. Did catch COVID, tho. And now the kids and @1st have it too. Going to just stick to the online events this year. It was stupid for me to try to fade the virus.”
David “Bakes” Baker, who publicly laid the wood to Caesars Entertainment and the WSOP: “I know exactly which dealer gave me Covid. He was open coughing for three days straight dealing my events. What can I do? Get him fired? No thanks. This is on management. Want to run a big event during a pandemic? You pay extra to keep people safe. Caesars did not.”
And on and on and on and on and on. No telling how many dealers or tourney staff have been infected, since there seems to be an informal gag order against employees talking about it on social media. In terms of actual poker media, they’ve been hit had as well. Wallace, listed above, spends a lot of his time in the WSOP media room as a writer/photographer; he could have been the one who got me, or vice versa. (Yes, I’ve got it, too.) I don’t know a ton of other poker media by name but those who’ve contracted it while at the WSOP also include PN’s Chad Holloway and Jon Sofen, along with Jennifer Newell. It’s difficult to cover the series without milling around, which arguably puts media at increased exposure.
At least a few players have said “no thanks” to attending the WSOP for now. Doyle Brunson and Andrew Brokos are two prominent pros who cancelled plans to attend, while David “Gunslinger” Bach played a couple of events and has since withdrawn from the festival. Many other and lesser-known players have also announced on social media that they’ve canceled their original plans to play.
It’s going to be that kind of year. Play at your own risk, and mind that it’s a high risk, too.