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Israeli WSOP Bracelet Winner Proves Red Tape Can’t Strangle Talent

Small Country Captures Gold On Poker's Biggest Stage

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When you weigh up the facts, Israel shouldn’t be the force it is at the felt.

Given its relative size and anti-gaming laws, it’s impressive that the country has produced nine World Series of Poker champions in recent times. Although it hasn’t quite got to the point where Israeli players are winning a bracelet every year, it has become something of a trend. In 2018, Ramla native Timur Margolin continued this growing tradition by taking down Event #43, the $2,500 No Limit Hold’em showdown. Part of a 1,248-entry field, Margolin didn’t have it easy as he played his way to a final table of six on June 23.

However, as the likes of David Baker, Tony Dunst and Jeff Gross fell by the wayside, the Israeli grinder found himself out in front with a commanding chip lead. However, with thoughts of his second-place finish back in 2015 looming large, Margolin was determined not to get complacent. Unfortunately, as it often does, fate had other ideas and his route to victory took a few twists and turns. Eventually, however, after regaining the lead against Ismael Bojang, the Israeli clinched the title with Kc Qs. When the final pot was pushed his way, an elated Margolin celebrated with his gang of supporters.

A Small Country that’s Big on Talent

As the lights went down and another Israeli name went into the record books, the poker world was left to ponder how a country of just 8.5 million people could be so successful at the WSOP. What’s even more impressive is the context in which Israelis have achieved success in poker. Despite a concerted effort to convince people that poker is a game of skill, the courts have ruled that it’s all luck. Based on this definition, poker is classed as a form of gambling. In fact, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed to make casinos legal in Israel. However, despite these efforts, poker still exists in the shadows. Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped winners showing their skills and the country producing winners.

For many, trips outside of Israel have become the norm. Visiting venues in the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe has allowed players like 2011 WSOP PLO champion Rafi Amit to hone their skill alongside Europe’s finest. Using a VPN has also become a common practice for some players. By masking the location of their IP address, Israelis have been able to play poker and casino games on international sites. Although many of the leading UK casinos and poker rooms have blocked VPNs many haven’t. It’s through these online platforms that Israelis have been able to, practice, play and enjoy a variety of games, including poker.

Israelis Continue to Win Despite a Legal Firewall

Although modern technology is helping Israelis play and, importantly, become more skilled at a game they love, there is always hope that things will change. Under Israeli Penal Law 5737-1977, scratchcards, the national lottery and sports betting are exempt. In other words, law makers haven’t been totally opposed to the idea of gambling in the past. On top of this, there have been previous attempts to organize a union for poker players and use university professors to explain that winning requires more than luck. Essentially, although previous attempts to have the gambling laws changed have failed, it may not be that way forever.

For now, those wanting to follow in the footsteps of Margolin will have to play elsewhere in the world or find ways to access the leading gaming sites in the UK and beyond. However, what can’t be ignored in all of this is that Israel is punching way above its weight when it comes to WSOP results. With another native taking home a bracelet this summer, the country is now ninth in the national standings ahead of Spain, Italy and Brazil. Therefore, even if the laws don’t change in the coming years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if we see Israeli players notch up a few more wins at the WSOP in the coming years.