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No Rest for the Wicked

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Jul 01, 2010


Any professional live player will probably measure his longest session at the tables in days rather than hours, a good game being tough to leave when it’s in full flow, regardless of heading into a.m., then p.m. again, getting stuck or getting the lot.

Some of the most famous games in poker history have been of the marathon variety, from the legendary Nick “the Greek” Dandolos and Johnny Moss heads-up battle over three months in 1951 (credited as giving rise to the World Series of Poker) to the varied attempts to break the record for continuous play.

Chip Reese and Andy Bloch

The 2006 $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament at the WSOP broke the Series’ heads-up record as Chip Reese and Andy Bloch played for seven hours and 10 minutes out of the final table’s full 12 on their own.

That tournament was grueling throughout — the previous day had run from 2 p.m. until 10 a.m., making it as much a test of stamina and concentration as mastery of all five disciplines. Winner Reese said he was intending to celebrate his victory, “By sleeping.”

Poker players, while not all renowned for their physical fitness, seem
addicted to putting themselves through the wringer of the long game, and while most individual record attempts are in the format of heads-up tournaments for charity, when it’s a cash game a mistake made through a fog of fatigue can be personally costly.

Recently the filmed-for-TV 48-Hour Cash Game held at London’s Les Ambassadeurs club was just such a test, giving an international line-up the chance to play for two straight days at a table where the standard buy-in was £10,000, every move was scrutinised live by commentators with a view of holecard cameras, and the longest break was a matter of minutes.

While many might have voiced their intention to play every hand, and some like Phil Laak made the 24-hour-plus mark, only two put their money where their mouth was — David “Viffer” Peat and Neil Channing. Strictly speaking Peat was the only one to be sat at the table throughout as Channing had a half-hour on the rail due to an interesting innovation, the vote-off.

In a cruel twist which often led to the pattern of “get stuck — get booted”, every few hours the players would vote off one of their number, and a newcomer (often rested and fresh) would take their seat. The player with the highest aggression level in the previous session was exempt, and that was Viffer from start to finish.

It was interesting to watch as even these veterans showed slight cracks as the hours rolled by, with some Weakest Link-style accusations of tactical voting flying about, one player drawing on a moustache with a pencil, and the talk at the table ending up the sort which would be covered in asterisks in an online chatbox.

Despite taking some huge hits over the course of the night (and day, and following night, and day) David Peat rode the rollercoaster with the brakes off right from the start, and ended up the overall winner, with a final profit of £147,275.

This was after losing two chunkily dramatic pots, one to an all-in set-over-set against Neil Channing who hit his one out on the river, and the other to Phil Laak whose all-in (uncalled) could have dropped him back to square one at hour 45.

He might have worn a sign saying “PHIL’S BITCH” for the next interval, but he proved that the stamina element of the game was something he’d pretty much mastered. Other winners included Jennifer Tilly, Ellis Reuben, Laurence Grondin, and Paul Zimbler, who had a relatively brief sojourn at the table but whose credentials in the marathon arena were never in doubt.

Zimbler set the heads up live poker record with his 78 hour 45 minute session at the WSOPE in 2009, playing 183 opponents back-to-back and raising £35,000 for charity in the process.

His table occupied a corner of the Empire Casino not overrun by the main tournaments, but even unseen he could eventually be heard making unusual noises as the hours took their toll, and eventually headed unsteadily off giving the impression of having temporarily but firmly taken leave of his senses.

Sleep deprivation has been argued as being classifiable as a torture method, and logical decision making, language processing, and ability to react to change all suffer as the period without sleep lengthens. To play any game at all, let alone you’re “A-game” after three days awake is surely impossible, but players like Zimbler (James Dempsey and Ronald Fenelli were just two others who went after this record in recent years) repeatedly take up the challenge, wearing their temporary insanity at the end as a badge of accomplishment.

Online multi-tablers can rack up phenomenal numbers of hands in sessions interrupted only by five-minute breaks, but few if any go for this kind of round-the-clock play. To concentrate on 10 tables for 10 hours at the online rate of hands per hour would be exhausting, to do it for a few days straight unfeasible, and any chance of a profit at the end would seem slim indeed.

The records for continuous play are pretty much a feature of the live domain, therefore — and perhaps don’t appeal to those who are used to a lot more going on at once when they sit at a poker table — but that doesn’t mean that all online players can’t pull the long shifts.

Jen Mason is a part of She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.