Pierre Neuville Lives Post-Retirement Poker Dreams to the Fullest

Pierre Neuville had a long and winding journey to this point, but the 72-year-old Belgian is making a strong push towards the November Nine in the 2015 WSOP Main Event. (Kevin Mathers photo)

Pierre Neuville had a long and winding journey to this point, but the 72-year-old Belgian is making a strong push towards the November Nine in the 2015 WSOP Main Event. (Kevin Mathers photo)

Pierre Neuville’s poker career is a story in two parts. The origins of the 72-year-old Belgian board game creator and executive’s history with this card game sounds oddly similar to those of players a third of his age.

Neuville’s reached a peak in his poker career in this second life as a serious player by capturing the chip lead to end Day 5 of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event.

It all started with games that started in his teenage years, lighting a fire that’s yet to be extinguished – though those dreams were, for a time, dimmed to a dull glow as Neuville pursued another path.

The games got serious during Neuville’s time at the Université libre de Bruxelles, which he attended starting in 1963.

“I started to play poker in 1957,” said Neuville. “At that time I didn’t get tired – sometimes I played 20 hours a day. During six years at university in Brussels, poker players were coming from all over the world.”

International students came from every corner of the globe, and the foundation for Neuville’s poker game can be traced all the way back to those games held in the student dormitories. A love for competition and games of skill also led him to what would become his path in life.

In 1969 he created a game and toy company, and by 1982 he’d sold that company to Hasbro, where he eventually rose to a role of vice chairman of the company in Europe. The contract he signed to fulfill that role put him in charge of vast sums of money and at that time, with the stigmas surrounding gambling, the slightest sign of anything nefarious would be devastating for him and the company.

“When I took responsibilities, I was the signer for big amounts and I was the president in a few countries,” said Neuville. “They said I could take not one step in a casino.”

Neuville continued along his lucrative career path, but after several decades of hard work in the games industry he retired in 2008 – which allowed him to return his attention to one of his earliest loves.

The first time two of his greatest loves interacted with each other, Neuville’s wife was incredulous that he could compete on any level, let alone with the kind of field that would come out for a $10,000 tournament. Neuville was fearless, though, and jumped right in the deep end by playing the 2008 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event.

“I met my wife 28 years ago, and for 20 years she never saw me with a card in my hand,” said Neuville. “The first time [after I retired] that we went on holiday, I said ‘let’s go to the Bahamas’, back in 2008. I told her, ‘I just retired – I’m going to play this tournament’. She told me, ‘But you can’t play, those are real poker players – you don’t know that game’.”

Neuville proved something to himself in that event, making a deep run that would kick-start his career. He also made a believer of his wife, who’s been a believer ever since.

“I was happy enough, I ended in 18th,” said Neuville. “It started my bankroll, and my bankroll’s never disappeared since then.”

Since that achievement, Neuville accumulated some big results for himself. He finished second at EPT Vilamoura in 2009, and he was runner-up again in the EPT Copenhagen Main Event in 2012 after falling one spot shy heads-up against Mickey Petersen.

Neuville made his first big splash on US soil in 2014, when he’d again post a second place finish in the $5,000 Six Max No Limit Hold’em event. His love of the game isn’t just centered on throwing down big sums of money to play for major titles – Neuville will play at almost any buy-in level, and has. He once satellited into 23 consecutive EPT Main Events – a record that’s not likely to be matched any time soon.

With all of those second place finishes, a win in the Main Event would be especially sweet. It’s an achievement in and of itself, and Neuville is both proud and confident of his role in amassing so many chips at a critical point in the tournament.

“It’s been, really, magic,” said Neuville, “It’s absolutely fantastic. With tactics, I would say, I set up to play almost [all] lowball, never put my tournament at risk, never pushed any hand [and never] been in a flip the whole tournament. I think I’m one of the best [and] I am not modest about my game post-flop, because all of the young ones try to raise, three-bet, four-bet for all of it. I won most of my hands post-flop without taking risks, but of course the luck was there.”

The normally well-prepared Neuville did get caught up in the moment during the final level of Day 5. Once he grabbed the chip lead his table was moved to one of the secondary featured areas, and the bright lights and high stakes were a bit overwhelming.

“It was so intense that I forgot to drink [water] the last three hours,” said Neuville. “Normally, I am so well-organized. On dinner I’ll eat very light, and I exercise every day to be able to handle these 13 hours, but the last hour here [on Day 5], I didn’t know what was happening, so 45 minutes before the end I decided I won’t play anymore.” said Neuville. “I was really exhausted, and I am.”

Neuville credited his preparedness for allowing him the chance to take it easy during the final hour of play. While sleep is in short supply and vital during a tournament of this length and size, he’s found his research helped him to play particularly well against certain opponents.

“When I arrive at my table, I have more than anybody, probably, all notes in my pocket,” said Neuville. “I have the history of each player at the table, all his results. I know all their first names – sometimes they are astonished because I call them all by their first names. I think it’s been very helpful to know who is a pro, who is aggressive, who’s in this tournament for the first time.”

By the end of the night Sunday, Neuville beamed as he reflected on the journey that led him to this point in the tournament and his life. While he surpassed even his own lofty expectations, he was already thinking about how to ground himself back in reality in order to put his best effort forward in one of the biggest spots he’s ever bound to be in.

“I’ve never [even] had a dream that I would be chip leader in the Main Event,” said Neuville. “I think it’s outside a reasonable expectation, so now I will have to wake up tomorrow morning and set up a realistic new way of playing this tournament. I probably don’t really realize it right now.”

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Tim Fiorvanti

Tim Fiorvanti graduated from St. John's University with a B.S. in Journalism in 2008. After several years in the industry, he started working for BLUFF in the summer of 2010. He worked his way up at BLUFF and joined full time as a Senior Writer in April of 2012. Fiorvanti now serves as the Managing Editor of BLUFF. He's a tortured Mets and Jets fan, along with several other frustrating allegiances, but he's also a two-time defending BLUFF Fantasy Football Champion.
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