Poker-playing celebrities have long been a fixture at The World Series of Poker (WSOP).
In addition to the best players from around the globe, who travel to Las Vegas every summer to compete for the ultimate prize in poker -- the WSOP bracelet -- the event has been known to lure luminaries from film, television, music, and sports. This summer's festivities are no exception.
It might be tempting to include Richard Seymour on that list of dignitaries from other fields. The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end for the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders, and member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, will likely never be known more for his poker playing than for the way he blew up opposing backfields. But to be clear, Seymour is far from an amateur in this world.
Seymour has earned more than $125,000 playing poker since retiring from the NFL after the 2012 season, including a solid 18th-place finish in the $10,000 WPT Five Diamond Main Event held at the Bellagio this past December. Seymour says that after his 12-year NFL career ended, he sought an activity to challenge him and stimulate his competitive fire.
"I really get to compete from a mental intelligence standpoint, while expanding and growing with the game," Seymour says. "I have always thought that the game of poker was about people, relationships and situations where you have to make really good decisions on the spot. I am fascinated with poker and really enjoy the game."
Seymour says he started playing poker with his father and uncles, dealing out the cards while watching football on TV on weekends during his youth. Once he reached the NFL after a standout career at the University of Georgia, Seymour organized weekly poker games to alleviate stress and have fun with Patriots teammates -- who were in the midst of a run that saw the franchise win three Super Bowls in his first four years in the league.
"We would play poker a lot of times on Monday nights," Seymour recalls, "watching football and eating food. We didn't play for high stakes, as it was more a place to kick back with your buddies, relax a little and have a little competitive environment at the same time."
It was after his playing career concluded that Seymour settled back in Georgia with his family and began getting serious about poker. Finding time in the midst of a busy life with wife Tanya and their five children, Seymour read instructional books and watched videos to improve his game. He befriended pro poker players who would discuss strategies with him, and continues to work diligently on improving as a different kind of player.
"I am actively involved with my five kids and their activities," Seymour says. "But when I have opportunities to travel and play in different tournaments, that is really my current competitive outlet. It keeps me mentally engaged and wanting to keep playing at a really high level. I enter a lot of tournaments where I'm playing against some of the best players in the world. That is something that really get my competitive juices going."
"Poker pulls so much from you and has direct parallels to football. You have to be thoroughly prepared every day and be able to adjust quickly during the game. I also think you need to be poised in all situations. There are so many different decisions that you have to make in poker. Some go well, but some go south and you take a bad beat. So just the ability to not go on tilt and play each hand as its own is critical to be successful in poker. "
As his skills at the table have improved, Seymour has become an increasingly familiar face on the poker tour. He was a bounty at this year's WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star main event. But his current poker tournament schedule is never really set in stone -- Seymour says poker is still a hobby.
"I play sporadically," he says. "For me, family is first. If I have an opening in my schedule, I will go travel and play some poker, often bringing along my wife."
"She enjoys traveling so it worked out great as this past March, when we visited wine country and I could also play some poker at Bay 101. She also wanted to visit to Barcelona, so I can plan accordingly to play during in the European Poker Tour event. Earlier this year, I also made a trip down to the Bahamas for the PokerStars Championship Bahamas. Overall, it is a fun way to go sightseeing, but also play some poker."
During his poker travels, he has made connections with other professional athletes who have found a similar passion for the game. Once such player is a fellow Boston sports icon, former Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce.
"We exchanged numbers when we were at the WSOP together," Seymour says. "We text each other about certain hands and crazy spots that we have had. Obviously, he enjoys the game like me, but we haven't really talked too much strategy. Just in terms of both of us enjoying the game is where the common bond lies."
This summer marks Seymour's fourth consecutive WSOP. In his first two years, he only played in the WSOP main event. Last year, he played one preliminary event ($5,000 no-limit hold 'em) before the main. To better prepare himself for the 2017 main event, this summer he decided to play four-to-five preliminary events, finishing 24th in a $1,500 no-limit hold 'em event earlier this week.
"I am very excited to play in the main event later this summer," Seymour says. "The first year I played the main in 2014, I really had no clue what I was doing. But I said, it's the World Series of Poker, or in my mind the Super Bowl of Poker, so let's do it. And I made Day 2. But I'm much more prepared this year."
"Taking down a major event such as a WSOP bracelet is one of my goals at the end of the day. I want to have all the chips when the tournament is over."