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Tom McCormick: ‘I’ve Had A Dream Of A World Series Of Poker Bracelet Since 1991’

Poker Veteran Approaching 60 Lifetime Cashes, Still Looking For Win

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Sixty nine bracelet events were on the schedule for the 2016 World Series of Poker, which was the most in the history of the annual summer festival. For poker player Tom McCormick, capturing just one of them would mean the world.

McCormick, a 66 year old from Fargo, North Dakota, had 59 cashes lifetime at the WSOP as of early July, which put him tied for second behind Tony Cousineau (73). Roland Israelashvili also had 59 cashes and no win as of July 3. McCormick began the summer with 52 cashes. Thanks to his strong performance so far, he passed Phil Ivey on the cashes list. Unlike McCormick, Ivey has a bracelet—actually 10 of them.

Israelashvili began the summer with fewer than McCormick, but thanks to nine of them by July 2 he was able to pass him. Then McCormick cashed and tied it up again.

McCormick, the president of a construction company his dad and grandfather founded in the 1930s, has 12 final tables to his name, which, according to him, is the most without a win.

All of the cashes and final tables, and no wins, shows just how tough it is to close out tournaments, and how incredible of an accomplishment it is to win WSOP gold. Though, there have been roughly 1,200 bracelets awarded in the history of the WSOP. McCormick would do pretty much anything to capture one of them.

Card Player spoke with McCormick about his quest for a bracelet.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about your summer so far and what it would mean to get that bracelet?

Tom McCormick: Tony has the most cashes without a bracelet, and I have the most final tables without a bracelet. I am second in cashes. The first 10 days of the summer I had four cashes. I almost had a fifth. I was on the bubble in a no-limit event and short, but I didn’t need to play a hand. The cashes mean a little more to me than others because I am in the top 20 now in cashes. So, that is a little bit of history, and I have been playing here since 1991. I am sitting here going, “I don’t need to play a hand.” Then the small blind moves in on me, and I look down at two kings. Of course I call, and he has A-3, and he hits an ace. I did get a fifth [and sixth and seventh] cash later on. I was running really well early on. A lot people talk about the money and the bracelet, and the money would be great. I have had a dream of a bracelet now since 1991. No luck. Maybe these other guys are better than me, but I keep working on my game the best I can. My no-limit is a lot better.

BP: Can you talk about some of your closest calls to a bracelet?

TM: In 1995 I was down to the final three and second in chips in a limit hold’em event, with Humberto Brenes and Mickey Appleman. I had aces against Brenes’ nines [in a big pot] and he flopped a nine. In a stud eight-or-better event that Phil Ivey won in 2001 or something, I was doing really well. I started off [a hand] with A-2-3-4, and Robert Turner had trip sixes, and Ivey had queens, and they were raising back and forth. I am not sure why Ivey was raising back at me, it was pretty obvious Turner had trip sixes. Turner won the pot with trip sixes. I ended up with aces and deuces and no low, and of course that was no good. The first final table I ever had was in 1991. The final four guys included Phil Hellmuth, who came to the private games in Fargo. When he won the main event, somebody said to me, “Phil Hellmuth won the main event.” I said, “That tall, quiet guy from Madison with headphones who plays in our game once in awhile?” Of course then he was only in his [early 20s] and playing with adults. After he won, it was something else.

A lot of my final tables were earlier. I have only had one in the past four or five years. Maybe I want it too bad. I see someone like Jason Mercier, who gets two firsts and a second in $10,000 events in a seven or eight-day period, and I think that if I did that I must have died and went to heaven. That’s incredible. I guess all I can do is keep working on it.

BP: Do you think part of this struggle is that tournaments have gotten tougher over time? You can also go on a hot streak in tournaments and then go through a long drought.

TM: Yeah, I think the odds are against me winning one, but if I do, I think I’ll win two or three (laughs). The WSOP is special to me. In January, I am waiting for the schedule to come out. I get so pumped up. I usually go back home for three or four days before the main event, but I am here for the rest of it. I play all the events.

McCormick In 2006BP: People know Tony as the guy with the most cashes without a bracelet. Do you get people commenting on your number of cashes? Or is it more under the radar?

TM: Maybe five or six years ago at the tables I talked about [not having a bracelet], but I don’t really do that anymore. Some guys know about it. There are a couple of players who I still talk about it with. Allen Kessler told me he is going to catch me in cashes. He said at the end of last year he was coming after me, so we have a little bit of a rivalry. Get this: Last year in an event I was at a table with Allen and Tony (laughs). It was nice to get off to a fast start this year and stay ahead of Allen.

BP: Have you thought about how many more years you’ll be playing a full schedule of events?

TM: You know, this is my going away to the spa for the summer. You go to spas to get healthy and relaxed, and while I don’t get relaxed at the WSOP, I lose weight here. When I am at home I get up to 185 pounds, and I just checked and saw I’m down to 170. I work out everyday. I’m in good shape. I had to be in good in shape earlier this summer when I was jumping back and forth between the eight-game mix and the Millionaire Maker. I cashed in both of them. I feel good, and I am healthy. It’s a blessing. I think it’s funny when a 66-year-old man is going down the hallway passing the young kids. My mom always said that when I wanted to go somewhere I would just put my head down and go (laughs). I don’t have many vices. I have a couple of glasses of wine at night. I think when I’ve stopped coming to the WSOP it means I’ve died. Right now, my plans are to come back here every year and try to win a bracelet.

BP: Let’s say you win a bracelet, would you ever contemplate that being your last tournament ever? Would you want to retire “on top,” as they say?

TM: (Laughs). My golfing buddies are mad at me for leaving them for six or seven weeks in the summer. They say that once I win I’ll come back, and I say, “Are you kidding me?” Once I win I will be going for two. It’s highly unlikely that winning a bracelet would be my last tournament (laughs).

BP: What’s the Fargo poker scene like these days? How do you stay sharp with your tournament game when you aren’t in Las Vegas?

TM: Well, I used to play blackjack in the 1970s, and then I started reading about the World Series of Poker. In 1980, I pretty much quit blackjack and started playing poker. There was a quadriplegic friend in Fargo that had a poker game. I remember in college watching people play poker all night long and thinking that they were insane. But then I started playing every Monday night from around 7 p.m. to four or five in the morning. Those were sizable games. We did that for about 15 years. I came down in 1983 and played in the $2,000 limit hold’em that Tom McEvoy won about a week before he won the main event. After playing in that I realized I was out-classed and I didn’t come back again until 1991. I’ve been coming ever since. The poker game in Fargo kind of started breaking up in the late 1990s. I’ve read a lot of poker books. I’ve never really done much online. Reading and playing the tournaments, that’s most of my experience.

For more coverage from the summer series, visit the 2016 WSOP landing page complete with a full schedule, news, player interviews and event recaps.