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WSOP Bracelet Winner Gershon Distenfeld Talks Shootout Strategy

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Apr 06, 2022


During these series of strategy columns, I will be interviewing 2021 WSOP bracelet winners. These champions will provide observations, tips, and strategies for you, the readers of Card Player, about the specific poker game in which they captured their 2021 bracelet.

The Event: $1,500 Shootout No-Limit Hold’em

The Winner: Gershon Distenfeld

If this New Jersey native’s name sounds familiar, you may have heard it during the final table of the 2020 WSOP Hybrid US bracket main event. Gershon Distenfeld was not only was playing for the most coveted WSOP bracelet, but also made headlines prior to the final table by announcing that he would donate 100% of his poker winnings to charity.

Distenfeld, who is the co-head of Fixed Income and Director of Credit for the global asset management firm, AllianceBernstein, stated that it was not about making money for him.

“When I had success at the 2020 WSOP Hybrid main event, I realized that I was never doing this for the money,” stated Distenfeld. “Before this, I actually thought there would be a cost, like entertainment value for me. So, I thought if I ever did win something, why not continue along my charitable endeavors and help make the world a better place, which is one of my passions. And that is what I have done.”

Distenfeld ended up finishing in eighth place during this unique online-live hybrid event, earning $125,885.

As an encore, during the 2021 WSOP, Distenfeld reached the final table of event no. 48, the $1,500 Shootout. Once again, the new “Robin Hood of Poker” (shout out to Barry Greenstein) pledged to donate his winnings from this event to various charities.

“I don’t care about the money. That I will give to the charities. I really want to win the bracelet.”

Utilizing an aggressive style of play, Distenfeld got heads-up versus Belgium’s Johan Schumacher for the coveted gold. After a grueling nearly four-hour heads-up battle that saw the chip lead see-saw back and forth between the two opponents, Distenfeld finally achieved his goal. In the end, he also walked away with another $204,063 to help out several charities with his donations.

During the 2021 holidays, I spoke with Gershon for my radio show (You can watch the full interview on my YouTube channel BernardLeePoker or listen on iTunes) and got some of his thoughts about playing in shootout no-limit hold’em tournaments.

Bernard: Happy Holidays! After capturing your first WSOP bracelet, there must be a lot to celebrate this holiday season.

Gershon: Thanks Bernard. 2021 was definitely a memorable year for me in the world of poker. I feel truly blessed to win a bracelet.

Bernard: You won the $1,500 shootout event. Before we proceed, I want to describe the WSOP shootout format for those who have never heard of and/or played in this type of tournament.

First, you play in a single table tournament, like a sit-n-go, but the format is winner-take-all. If you win the first single table, you are now in the money and move onto the next round.

In the second round, you play another single table tournament against other players who also won their first single table. Once again, everyone begins with the same number of chips and again, the winner takes all. If you are fortunate to win the second round, you receive a pay jump and advance to the final table.

At the final table, all the players are once again the winners of the previous round and will all start with the same number of chips. However, during the final table, there will be additional payouts for all subsequent places.

Gershon: That is correct. The format is somewhat different than a traditional multi-table tournament.

Bernard: So, based on this unique format, what strategies would you recommend to players looking to play in a shootout no-limit hold’em tournament?

Gershon: During a regular multi-table tournament, you will possibly pass up on some positive EV situations because survival is so important. You would rather last longer and potentially win more money.

But, in a shootout tournament, you are incentivized to play a much more aggressive style because it is winner take all in the first couple of rounds.

Bernard: During the first round, did you notice that players were making mistakes?

Gershon: Absolutely. Many of the players were playing overly tight as I don’t think they appreciated the differences in the format and the strategies. Players were worried about the short stack at the table and not wanting to go out before them.

In truth, who cares? In the first two rounds, playing for the win is paramount because you get nothing for finishing outside of the top spot.

Bernard: During the second round, did the players understand the strategy better?

Gershon: Since everyone had won the first round, most of these players were well versed in the strategy. It was not about moving up a spot or two. You want to have chips to give yourself the best chance to win the table. Everyone understood this and it was a much tougher table than the first round.

Bernard: The final table was a little different though since there were additional payouts for all the places. Did the players play differently, maybe trying to move up a spot or two?

Gershon: At the final table, some players were definitely paying attention to pay jumps. Also, I think some the players were affected by the enormity of playing at their first WSOP final table. Since there were additional payouts, there was now some ICM considerations that you didn’t have in the first two rounds.

Bernard: From the beginning, you stated that you were going to donate your winnings to charity. So, then winning the bracelet was your priority, correct?

Gershon: Absolutely. This tournament really incentivized players to play a much more aggressive style, which coincidentally suits my style of play. And at the final table, since some people played differently with the payouts, it really allowed me to play super aggressive and take advantage of some tighter players. I had only one goal and it was to win the bracelet.

Bernard: In 2020, you made the WSOP hybrid main event final table. Once again, you had stated that you were going to donate all of your winnings and you wanted to give yourself the best chance to win the bracelet. Did this experience help you prepare for the shootout tournament?

Gershon: Since I was planning on donating all my winnings to charity, I wanted to maximize my chance to win as much money as possible. I didn’t want to take ICM into consideration at the final table. Ironically, since I had studied that way leading to the main event final table, I feel like I had already prepared for this style of tournament.

Coming into the 2021 WSOP, I didn’t circle this event. It just happened that the event was played during the time I was there. But moving forward, I will make sure that I’m there for shootout tournaments.

Bernard: You had a grueling heads-up battle for the bracelet. Several times you had your opponent down to just a couple of big blinds but he battled back. How did you keep your composure during this tough battle?

Gershon: Overall, I try not to get too up or down in poker. You must realize that you can get it in good and not win. And you can get it in poorly and get lucky and win. It’s about making good decisions. And those who consistently make good decisions, are going to end up with more good outcomes than not.

But even though I know that logically, it was difficult as my opponent was down to two big blinds, came back and even took the chip lead. Even for someone who is very rational, I felt the adversity and had to keep my head on straight. Fortunately, it turned out in my favor.

Bernard: Where do you keep your bracelet?

Gershon: I joked if I ever won a WSOP bracelet it would never leave my wrist, so here it is (as he showed me the bracelet on his left wrist).

Bernard: I love it. I totally agree. If I’m ever fortunate to win a bracelet, I will do the same. Congratulations again and kudos to you for all your philanthropy work.

Gershon: Thanks so much Bernard. ♠

Bernard Lee broke into the poker world after a deep run in the 2005 WSOP main event. He has two WSOP Circuit rings, and is an author, having written for Card Player, the Boston Herald, Metrowest Daily News, and ESPN, where he was a host of the show The Inside Deal. His radio show and podcast, The Bernard Lee Poker Show, recently celebrated its 14th anniversary, and his latest book, Poker Satellite Success: Turn Affordable Buy-Ins Into Shots At Winning Millions, is now available on Amazon as well as D&B Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @BernardLeePoker or visit his website at or YouTube channel at