(Editor's note: This week columnists Chip Scoggins, Jim Souhan and Patrick Reusse revisit some of their favorite people from stories of years past. In the fifth of a six-part series, Patrick checks in on poker player Danielle Andersen, whom he first wrote about July 29, 2017.)
The World Series of Poker was scheduled to start this week at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. There were 187,298 participants in 2019, with $293 million distributed in winnings.
There were 8,569 players, including Danielle Andersen of Lake Crystal, Minn., in the main event, which has had the same $10,000 buy-in since 1972.
"I had a decent run," she said. "I think it was 301st, for $38,000. Three hundred out of 8,000 isn't bad."
There will be a far different scene this year in Las Vegas from Memorial Day to the middle of July, without poker players competing in 60-some tournaments that are part of the World Series of Poker to fill hotels and casinos.
On April 20, the World Series, a seven-week extravaganza in the heat of a Vegas summer, was postponed to unspecified dates in the fall. The casinos, shut by the pandemic since mid-March, have been given the go-ahead to open Thursday.
Andersen, 36, is a professional poker player and has been living with her family in Las Vegas since 2014. Her family name in Lake Crystal was Moon, and she gained a following in online poker as "dmoongirl."
On April 15, 2011, the Justice Department shut down online poker nationally. The date became known as "Black Friday" in the poker world. Danielle and her husband, Kory Andersen, a former state heavyweight wrestling champion at St. James, were living in New Ulm with their son, Easton.
Danielle's poker skills were a-wastin', and with Kory's encouragement, they moved to Las Vegas. He landed as a teacher and a coach at Liberty High School in suburban Henderson.
"This was Kory's first year as the head coach in track and field," Andersen said. "It was an exciting opportunity for him, but they only had one meet, then the schools went to remote teaching and athletics wound up being canceled."
Easton is now 12. Danielle's routine had been breakfast and conversation in the morning, send him off to school, and head to a casino to find a game.
"I've been going to the Aria most of the time," Andersen said. "They have a nice little backroom for private games with high stakes."
Then came Nevada's order that all of the state's 440 casinos must cease operation at midnight on March 17.
"A while back, we took a drive up and down the Strip just to see what it looked like," Danielle said. "Some casinos had lights on, others didn't. Few cars, no people. I was expecting to see sagebrush blowing across the street, like in the old westerns."
The extent of the casinos' reopening next week remains up in the air. For sure, the Strip won't look like it would with thousands of poker players in Vegas for the various World Series tournaments.
"The consensus is the poker rooms will be the last thing to open," Danielle said. "They are worried about quite a few people being in a confined area. One suggestion from the gaming commission was four-person poker games.
"That's not a poker game. We play with nine. The absolute minimum would be six. And even with six, the recreational players with some knowledge wouldn't play, because they would have no chance."
Online poker is legal again in four states: Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Andersen said she played a limited amount online during the shutdown, but also hosted some low-limit games on Zoom.
Her most frequent card games have been at the kitchen table with Easton and pair of young sisters from across the street, Kendall and Emmerson.
"The two girls are bored, too," Danielle said. "We keep the garage door open, and there's a pingpong table in there. We play a hundred games of that a day, and some cards."
Andersen sees a different World Series of Poker this fall and a different Las Vegas in general when and if the pandemic is put in the rearview mirror.
"I don't think we're going to get nearly the number of WSOP players from other countries as we've had in recent years, with international travel complications," Andersen said. "And as far as Vegas getting back to the normal level of business … there has been all the conversation about trying to reduce 'herding.'
"Herding is what people do in Las Vegas. That's what makes us a success. You can't have the real Vegas without herding."