Life ‘On The Go’ Leads Ari Engel to Record 16th WSOP Circuit Ring

Life ‘On The Go’ Leads Ari Engel to Record 16th WSOP Circuit Ring

One of the more interesting stories playing out in the world of poker in 2023 has been the ever-shifting landscape at the top of the all-time WSOP Circuit rings list. In April, Josh Reichard tied Maurice Hawkins for No. 1 with his 14th career WSOPC victory. One month later, Hawkins regained the top spot with No. 15.

At that point in time, Ari Engel was lingering slightly behind, having captured a 12th WSOPC ring of his own. But then he went to Michigan post-WSOP to play an online series, and added a 13th. His trip to Graton a few weeks later netted Engel back-to-back wins in as many days, and suddenly Engel was tied for the record.

It took another two months of travels, during which time Engel made six more WSOP-branded final tables and finished second twice across Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Iowa, and multiple online series, but Engel finally finished a major chapter of his story this week by claiming the record for himself. Engels 16th WSOPC win, which came at Horseshoe Hammond just outside of Chicago, Illinois, marked his fifth ring in four different games thus far in 2023.

Even in his triumph, Engel shied away from any type of bombastic celebratory notions.

As it became more realistic to get to the most WSOP Circuit rings, when it got close, I chose to play more Circuit events than I otherwise would have, said Engel. It’s a cool thing, for sure, [but] I don’t think I’m that great. I don’t think anything like that. I think I play a lot of these tournaments, and Im a decent player; many other decent players who would play a lot of these lower buy-in tournaments would have good results.

Still, Engel has an appreciation for what hes been able to pull off in whats been another very solid, successful year of live tournament poker. Engel is closing in on $500,000 in earnings in 2023, the 13th straight year hes cashed for at least $200,000 in live tournaments. Thats on top of a long list of online successes that stretch back for the better of two decades, which include a SCOOP (PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker) among the distinctions earned by the man long known as Bodog Ari.

You might wonder why, in a career in which hes earned over $8 million dollars in tournaments and two WSOP bracelets, the WSOPC ring record would become the standout target for Engels attention.

I’ve been playing poker professionally for 20 years now, and so Ive tried at different stages to keep my motivation high, said Engel. One of the things that helps with that is a non-monetary goal.

A major factor in his recent success on the WSOP Circuit and beyond has been his increased focus on mixed games. While seven of his first eight WSOPC rings featured No Limit Holdem, only two of the last eight have had No Limit Holdem in the mix.

I enjoy the mixed games, and they get smaller fields, so it is easier to win, said Engel. At the World Series [of Poker], the same thing happens there – the people that are chasing Player of the Year, winning a lot of bracelets, you can’t really do that without playing a lot of mixed games.

While he won a HORSE event back in 2014, Engels turn towards mixed games has really taken shape over the last five years and thats manifested in a big way in 2023.

In 2018 and 2019, that’s when I started playing a lot of mixed game tournaments at the LAPC, back when Matt Savage was in charge, said Engel. That’s where I met a lot of the mixed game crew that I played with during COVID, and that helped me get to a decent level.

I enjoy the mix games, so I’ll go out of my way to play, said Engel. At Graton, for example, they had four or five days in a row of mixed games, and then Thunder Valley just did the same thing. So that’s awesome for me to be able to play those. The gold standard for me is Seminole Hard Rock, and I’ll do the same thing when they have tons of those mixed games. When a stop does that, I’m going to try and support it to try to incentivize them to have more.

Now that hes hit No. 16, Engels on the top of the heap looking back at Hawkins and Reichard. Daniel Lowery recently made it a three-way tie at 14 rings, with Valentin Vornicu rising to 13 in the last month as well. The quest for No. 1 helped drive Engel this year, but now hes left with a choice. Does he take his foot of the gas, with a mission accomplished, or does he drive to put some distance between himself and the closing pack?

It’s something I haven’t considered too much, said Engel. For now, Ill probably try and keep at it. There are a lot of people chasing it, and like I said, it’s cool to have non-monetary goals. But it’s not like I’ll go out of my way too much.

One of the biggest reasons why Engel has the flexibility to pick and choose his spots, and make a push of this size, is the way hes chosen to live his life in and out of poker. Without a true home base to speak of, the road has largely become his home for the last decade.

I think for normal people who don’t have a home base, it’s tougher to justify traveling to certain stops, said Engel. I haven’t paid rent since 2012, so I am always going to be paying for a hotel somewhere and traveling somewhere. So it’s kind of all the same to me, whether it takes an extra 2-hour flight or 30-minute drive it’s not that different. I’m just always on the go.

I kind of enjoy moving on. The first day of a stop, I always have a level of excitement to me. And then by the last day, I’m usually really ready to move on to another on; like in Hammond, I was only there three days, but I was ready to move on to the next one. There are pros and cons, and there are definitely downsides at times. But I do like it – one day playing one place, and then the next day somewhere else. I enjoy my lifestyle.

As long as Engel continues to enjoy grinding out tournaments and miles, theres little evidence to suggest the wins will stop coming. And if thats indeed the case, Engels record wont sit at 16 wins for very long.

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