October is now upon us, which in the northern hemisphere means the nights drawing in, the temperature gradually dropping and circumstances improving for long nights on the poker grind. It’s best to be indoors, whether playing online or a live tournament at a casino.
By the end of the month, there will be another reason to lock the doors: it will be Halloween, when the liberated spirits of the other world run freely through ours. And in this instance, playing poker will be no defence. Over the past years, professional poker players have embraced Halloween with great enthusiasm, reaching for every last cosmetic, turning out old wardrobes of ill-fitting clothes, dressing up, dressing down, and bringing the costume party to the poker table.
In fact, it’s not only Halloween that brings out this tendency. Every year a sizeable handful of players mark the grand occasion that is the World Series of Poker (WSOP), with a dip into the costume box. Here we celebrate Halloween by taking a look at some of the best costumes at the poker table and beyond.
ElkY asks: “Why so serious?”
The French pro Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier is one of online poker’s earliest superstars, transitioning from the high-glitz world of professional Starcraft to the more profitable environs of poker. But having spent much of his gamer career in Asia, and adopted much of that world’s love of all things bright and shiny, ElkY very often stuck out at the poker table: a dazzle of bleached hair and sequins in an otherwise drab environment. Even so, nothing quite prepared the APPT field in Macau for ElkY’s 2008 arrival, when he showed up to the tournament room with an unusual cackle, and a walking advertisement for that year’s hit movie The Dark Knight.
The many talents and many faces of Victoria Coren Mitchell
In the poker world, Victoria Coren Mitchell is known as the first woman ever to win a Main Event on the European Poker Tour (EPT) and also the first (and so far only) person to win two of them. For all that, in the UK, she’s probably even better known as a writer turned TV presenter, and a regular face on the small screen. Every year, she is one of a clutch of lucky people invited to a Halloween party hosted by British chat-show host Jonathan Ross, and every year Coren Mitchell steals a march on the tabloid photographers camped outside Ross’s house by tweeting her costume for the evening. So our second entry here is the Coren Mitchell Halloween gallery, from cat to skeleton to nurse and everything in between.
The phenomenon of Mason “Uncle Ron” Hinkle
The Hinkle brothers of Kansas City are both prominent figures in the contemporary poker scene. Blair has recorded live tournament cashes of more than $4.5 million, the most in Missouri, including a WSOP bracelet and five circuit rings. Mason meanwhile pulls a wheely trolley carrying a watermelon, sports a thick brush moustache, wears a fanny-pack and a wide variety of garish threads and goes by the character name “Uncle Ron”. In the ultra professional high-stakes world, where we don’t even get out of bed for $4.5 million, it’s Mason who really draws the crowds. If Mason has explained the genesis and the purpose of his Uncle Ron alter ego, then we’ve missed it. But equally it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t need a reason. Wherever there’s a major poker event in the United States, the self-styled “ultimate railbird” Uncle Ron is likely to be there, throwing rakes or dodging balls or petting that watermelon.
By the way: There’s a similar lack of explanation for why Kyle Miholich shows up to the World Series every year wearing the head of the mascot from burger chain Jack In The Box. But he does. Miholich is one of a loose collective of recreational players from Southern California who call themselves the “Poker Sharks”. They document their travels on YouTube, where they state: “We hope you learn from our poker journey, and have a few laughs along the way.” The arrival of Jack In The Box is pretty much guaranteed every year at the WSOP, though as far as records show he is still cashless in the Main Event.
A grown man: Phil Hellmuth
In 2018 film producer Randall Emmett strode into the World Series of Poker Main Event trailed by a brass band and a harem of women wearing feather explosions from their heads. (Emmett himself wore cargo shorts and a black T-shirt, along with a couple of promotional patches.) Though Emmett’s arrival took all by surprise, it was only because it was him and not Phil Hellmuth at the centre of the melee. Hellmuth, the former Main Event champion and all time leading bracelet winner, has made something of a habit of arriving to the WSOP late and loud. Over the past decade he has showed up dressed as everything from a Roman emperor, lounging on a lectica, to a tank commander in military uniform, and also a NASCAR driver — a moment slightly undermined when he pranged the racecar into a lamp-post base in the Rio parking lot. We salute Hellmuth, however, for his willingness to play at least a couple of levels dressed in full regalia. There’s nothing quite so amusing as seeing someone dressed as Thor bluff off a stack with a missed draw and having to shimmy out of the Amazon Room, tail between his legs, and thunderhammer (or whatever) notably lowered.
Old man take a look at my life, I’m a lot like Phil
Most poker-table costumes, whether for Halloween, a prop bet, or anything else, are usually a quick bit of disposable fun, with a legacy that lasts no longer than it takes for a “temporary” tattoo to be scrubbed away. However, the fallout of Phil Laak’s appearance at the 2008 World Series ended up lasting significantly longer. Though Laak spent much of his early career styled as the “Unabomber” in dark shades and a hood drawn tightly over his head and face, it wasn’t until he employed the services of a Hollywood make-up artist that he grabbed the rule-maker’s attention. And that was mainly because it took so long for him to get anyone’s attention: he was concealed behind a near-perfect prosthetic rendering of an old man’s face. If you looked close enough, perhaps you could have made out Laak. But to all casual observers, this player was just one of the thousands of poker enthusiasts, all but unknown outside their homegame, who take a $10K stab at the Main Event each year. The effectiveness of Laak’s disguise prompted the WSOP rule-makers to introduce a law prohibiting masks at the tables, which still goes by the colloquial name of the Phil Law rule.