At last.
 
Andy Bloch breathed a colossal sigh of relief on Saturday night when he finally won what had been an elusive accolade of near-mythical proportions.  He finally won his first World Series of Gold bracelet, following 18 years of hammering away in the world's most prestigious tournaments and ultimately suffering the perennial heartache of disappointment after disappointment at each and every WSOP since 1995.
 
No doubt, Bloch's most painful moment took place six years ago, in one of the most epic confrontations in poker history.  Bloch faced legendary poker icon David "Chip" Reese heads-up in the inaugural $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship, which was nationally televised on ESPN.  Bloch had the great Reese all-in and drawing slim a few times.  But Reese managed to survive and eventually won what turned out to become the longest heads-up match in WSOP history -- clocking in at a mind-numbing seven hours.
 
But tonight, Bloch erased all that.  He woke up from a nightmare.  Literally on the exact same spot at the Rio Las Vegas where Reese had slain Bloch in 2006, leaving him bracelet-less once again, this time the roles were reversed and Bloch got to feel what it was like to drag the final pot of a WSOP tournament.
 
Bloch won the $1,500 buy-in Seven-Card Stud tournament, which was played over the course of his 43rd birthday (June 1st).  The event, which began with 367 entrants, included a stellar final table lineup of rivals that made the victory all the more poignant.  His comeback finale included former two gold bracelet winners playing the roles of extras in Bloch's triumphant biopic -- David Williams and Barry Greenstein -- their golden amulets of previous accomplishment, no doubt, annoyingly ringing in Bloch’s ears each time a new hand was dealt and chips were bet.
 
But in the end, which came at 10 pm in front of a small circle of intimate friends and well-wishers, Bloch was the victor and vanquisher of all the demons of WSOPs past – finally righting the recurrent wrong that had plagued his otherwise astral tournament career like a mustard stain on a tuxedo.

"Now, no one can say, 'Andy Bloch is the best player to never win a gold bracelet," Bloch said moments after the victory.  "That is really annoying because there are so many great other players too, who have not won.  I've been coming here for 18 years now.  I never thought it would have taken so long."
 
The radiant new poker champion collected $126,363 in prize money.  However, this victory wasn't so much about dollars as it was about shedding a monkey and slaying a ghost.
 
Bloch’s victory gives him his first WSOP title, to go along with 28 cashes, 8 final table appearances, and more than $2.3 million in WSOP earnings, to date.
 
MEET NEW WSOP GOLD BRACELET CHAMPION – ANDREW BLOCH

Name:  Andrew (Andy) Bloch

Birthplace:  New Haven, CT (USA)

Childhood:  Connecticut (USA)

Current Residence: Las Vegas, NV (USA)

Age at Time of Victory:  43

Marital Status:  Single (girlfriend)

Children:  None

Education:  Graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (electrical engineering) and Harvard Law School (JD degree)    

Profession:  Professional Poker Player

Number of WSOP Cashes:  28 (3 WSOP Circuit cashes – 1 gold ring  won in 2005)

Number of WSOP final table appearances:  8

Number of WSOP gold bracelet victory (with this tournament):  1

Best Previous WSOP finish:  Second (twice)

Total WSOP Earnings:  $2,324,284 ($2,411,554 with WSOP Circuit earnings included)

Bio Fact 1:  Part of the MIT Blackjack team, which was the basis of the book Bringing Down the House and movie 21.

Bio fact 2:  Was the first player ever to volunteer to have all of his play tracked in a WSOP Main Event (1997).  That became known as “The Andy Bloch Project,” published in Card Player magazine.

WINNER QUOTES (POST-TOURNAMENT INTERVIEW)

On frustration the last 18 years, seeing everyone else seemingly win a gold bracelet, but repeatedly missing out:  Yeah, it’s only been 18 years or something like that.  I think you can look back at my first WSOP cash.  I think that was the first year I played the World Series (in 1995).  I finished 9th in the stud tournament, and I’ve been replaying that bust-out hand over and over many times (in my head).  You know the first time you bust out of a World Series event.  And the first time I got heads up against Chip Reese six years ago—2006.  Of course that was a little bit of a letdown at the end, but I was just proud and happy to be at that final table with such great poker players and to make it heads-up and have a chance to win.  And looking back on those events, I felt like I played not as well as I could have—sure you could always do better—but I thought I played pretty well and, you know, had a chance to win.  And the cards just didn’t come.  It doesn’t’ feel as bad as if the reason I lost was because I made a really bad mistake, like bluffed off all my chips in a horrible spot or called off all my chips when I was drawing dead.  And that kinda’ thing is much easier to deal with coming in second I think—at least for me because I’m not superstitious—when you did everything that you pretty much could do.

On if he’s surprised that he won first gold bracelet playing Seven-Card Stud?  I’m not really too surprised.  Some people think, ‘Oh, you’re a No-limit Hold’em player,’ and they tell me that all the time, not realizing that I’ve been playing for a long time.  I began my casino poker career at Foxwoods (Casino) back east where stud was king.  Almost nobody played Hold’em, and when they did, it was limit Hold’em.  Big games were all Stud, 75/150 Stud and up.  So, I played a lot of Seven-card Stud over the years, and my cashes in the World Series of Poker run the whole breath of games that are offered here.  I don’t know if there’s any game type that I haven’t cashed in at least a little bit.  I mean, except Badugi (laughing).  

On playing against Barry Greenstein heads-up and against many other good players:  Yeah.  I mean, you know what, sit down at a table like this, and you see great players in the game with like multiple bracelets, and you know, David Williams who won this event a couple years ago, and yeah, you’d rather have completely unknowns that play badly.  But when you do win, people can’t say, ‘Oh, you know, he got lucky because he was against such bad players.’  In some sense, certainly after you win, it’s weird if the table is tough.  The final table was tough, the final three opponents especially.  I think if I had to choose, I wouldn’t have wanted those three guys to be at the final four.  And I got really lucky (late in the tournament).  I went on a bad run before dinner, and I went down to 250,000 or something, and pretty much tripled-up almost right away after dinner.

On previously being called the “Best Player Not to Win a Gold Bracelet:”  I joke around sometimes that it gets to me.  People will say, ‘Oh, you have a bracelet.’  Usually, they’re not actually needling me, but I’ll just say, ‘Screw you.  What are you talking about?’  You know, joke with them cause they didn’t really mean it.  I had opportunities where I probably could have played better and also opportunities that I probably could have gotten lucky.  So, it didn’t really bother me.  You can look down; I’d waste time looking at the Hendon Mob list and see who the biggest winners are that never had a bracelet or final tabled the Main Event.  I think I might’ve been number one.  I didn’t actually go through the whole list and figure it out as far as most money won in tournaments.  I don’t know.  I think Tom McCormick is due to win a bracelet.  I haven’t seen him here yet (laughs).*

Writer’s Note:  McCormick is/was similar to Bloch in that he’s cashes many times and come close to winning, but still has no gold bracelet.  Bloch was joking that McCormick should be next to win.

More on the “Best Player Not to Win a Gold Bracelet:  There’s a lot of other great players.  It’s kind of embarrassing, I think.  People will say all the time, ‘Andy Bloch is one of the best players to never win a bracelet.’  Especially when they say, ‘Andy Bloch is the best player to never win a bracelet.’  There are so many great players now-a-days and so many better ones, and most of the ones…you know, some of them weren’t even born when I started—well I guess, I started playing the World Series 20 years ago—but when I could’ve started playing the World Series, some of them weren’t even born yet.  And they’re better players than I’ll probably ever be.  And some of them, nobody’s ever heard of, and some of them people know who they are, and they just haven’t played enough.  It takes awhile.  You can’t win every 400-player tournament you enter.  Even winning one out of 100 is a huge accomplishment.

On how things went in this tournament:  You know, when I got heads up or when I got close to a million in chips, I started thinking, ‘Now I’ve got enough chance.’  Obviously you start the tournament like, ‘Okay, I got a half-percent chance of me winning.’  Then every day you increase your chips and you think, ‘Okay, I’ve got a larger chance of winning a bracelet, coming to the table with double average chips.’  And I’m thinking, ‘Probably going to be my best chance to win a bracelet this year, if not in a long time.’  It’s not often that you have 20/25 percent of chips in the tournament.  But you never think with those kind of players—with David Williams sitting to my left and Barry Greenstein at the table and these other guys—you never take it for granted.  You can’t because once you do, you’re going to start playing too loose.  You know, then you’re really going to have to get lucky to win.

On the past 12 months being a tough year and the meaning of winning at the 2012 WSOP in light of other circumstances that happened to poker in April 2011, and afterwards:  It’s certainly a bittersweet win.  I don’t think it does anything to ease the pain that a lot of people have gone through the past year, and people have gone through absolute hell for some of them.  I hope things end up getting resolved for everybody involved in the right way.  We’ll see.  Hopefully there will be some kind of announcement during the World Series of Poker.  I don’t know anything else.

-- by Nolan Dalla