Poker Says Goodbye to a Friend, Jack Ury, Oldest-Ever WSOP Participant

Poker News RSS / Short-Stacked Shamus / 04 February 2011 / Leave a Comment

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Most of our memories of Ury’s play at the WSOP tend to evoke that idea of human persistence -- of the importance of persevering, not just in a poker tournament but in a larger sense.

Jack Ury, the oldest-ever participant at the World Series of Poker, passed away this week at the age of 97. Ury leaves behind a large family of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren, having been married more than 66 years to his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 2008.

A former postal worker and U.S. Navy veteran, Ury also leaves poker fans and players a considerable collection of memories from his appearances at the WSOP. While Ury failed to cash in any of his four tries at the Main Event, he most certainly won the respect and admiration of numerous players, fans, and media along the way.

In July 2007, Ury and his grandson, Seth Harrold, first made the trip to Vegas from Terre Haute, Indiana to play in the Main Event. The pair registered for Day 1d, the fourth of four Day Ones.

In an interview with the Terre Haute Tribune-Star given at the time, the then-94-year-old Ury explained he'd been playing poker since age 10. "Poker is a very treacherous game," he noted. "You can win with anything or lose with anything."

The article explained Ury's physical limitations. Wheelchair-bound, blind in one eye and with only 20% vision in the other, and only able to hear in one ear, Ury nonetheless managed to hold his own, surviving a marathon day of play that began at noon and didn't end until nearly 4 a.m.

In fact, after 16 hours at the Rio, Ury apparently was ready for more, telling his grandson (who also played in the Main Event) that he wanted to continue playing at the Mirage where the two were staying.

A highlight of that Day 1d -- both for Ury and for many others -- came late in the day. After limping in from middle position, Ury ended up calling a raise from the big blind. Ury and his opponent then checked both the flop and turn, and when the river card made the board 4d-7d-10h-9d-10s the big blind fired a bet of 10,000 -- more than what Ury had left.

Ury checked his cards and the board several times while deciding what to do. By this point, Ury had already drawn a lot of attention in the Amazon Room as the oldest ever participant in the Main Event, and many reporters and players from neighboring tables had gathered nearby as the hand developed, all curious to see how it would turn out.

At last Ury made the call, declaring he had a straight. Unfortunately he'd misread the situation as he turned over but a pair of sixes. All looked to his opponent, who perhaps surprisingly mucked his cards.

"And the place went wild," Ury's grandson told the Tribune-Star, the article further noting that Ury's opponent had held pocket fives. The PokerNews report of the hand declared it was "the loudest cheer we have yet heard" on that day of play.

In the context of poker, it's just another "survival" story. It's easy to see, though, how such a story possessed more significance here, those cheers in the Amazon Room showing how all were immediately affected. Indeed, most of our memories of Ury's play at the WSOP tend to evoke that idea of human persistence -- of the importance of persevering, not just in a poker tournament but in a larger sense.

Ury would be eliminated early on Day 2 that year, but both he and his grandson would return in 2008 when both again made it to Day 2 before being eliminated. That year Ury's final hand saw him losing the last of his short stack when his pocket tens failed to improve against an opponent's pocket jacks.

"I can't walk, I can't see, can't hear, but I can still play poker!" Ury told PokerNews after his bustout hand. "I'll be back again next year... if I'm still alive!"

The following year saw Ury play what was probably his most memorable WSOP hand, one captured by the ESPN cameras. It's a hand that is impossible to watch without smiling, no matter how many times one has seen it.

Once again surviving into the second day of play with a short stack, Ury and an opponent, Steven Friedlander, had built a pot of 5,550 when the flop came 6c-6d-7c. "I'll bet one," Ury casually says after examining the board, tossing out a single yellow (1,000) chip and leaving himself just a little over 5,000 behind.

"You don't want to get 'em all in?" asks Friedlander. "Let's get 'em all in," he adds, raising enough to force Ury to commit his remaining chips. After taking a moment to figure things out, the nonagenarian drops the last of his chips in the middle.

Friedlander quickly tables his cards -- 7h-6h -- showing he'd flopped a full house, sixes full of sevens. Ury, undeterred, looks up at his opponent from beneath the brim of his white baseball cap and smiles.

"You're in trouble," he says calmly.

The line provokes laughter, all assuming it is meant ironically. Then -- after several seconds -- Ury shows his hand, revealing that he wasn't being ironic at all! Take a look:

Norman Chad jokes that Ury "slowrolled" his opponent by taking the extra seconds before showing his pocket sevens for the better boat, but obviously that charge is meant humorously -- much like the cheeky understatement Ury used to describe his opponent's situation. Friedlander's sheepish, good-sport grin is priceless, adding significantly to the fun of the hand.

Ury would eventually be eliminated on that Day 2. Last year he was back again, and in fact made it all of the way through the second day of play with a very short stack, although didn't return for Day 3 and his chips were blinded off.

I remember Ury being in my section during Day 1d last summer, and while I didn't report any of his hands I did watch him play several. He acted slowly, often having to be helped by others or reminded what his options were. The other players were all consistently patient and considerate, and I got the sense that whatever difficulty his presence at their table might have presented them was more than made up for by the positive energy his being there afforded everyone.

I say that because there was something inspiring about watching a person who has lived such a lengthy, full life still engaged in an activity that was meaningful to him and that he clearly loved doing.

On the second day of play last year my colleague Danafish reported a hand of Ury's, another one in which he'd committed his short stack and survived. Being told he was still in the tourney, he responded with a laugh, adding afterwards "I never give up."

"Sage advice indeed," wrote Danafish, summing up both the hand and Ury's considerable contribution to poker and the WSOP's storied history.

Read more about Ury and leave condolences at the Callahan-DeBaun Funeral Home website.

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