Over the course of this year’s World Series of Poker, the tantalising chance of the reigning Player of the Year retaining their title was a distinct possibility. Sadly for Josh Arieh and his supporters, the 2021 winner couldn’t make it back-to-back titles in 2022, but after two third-place finishes, banked even more than he did in his winning year. So why did it feel like he could have done more?
A Series of Two Halves
Having attended “20 different World Series of Poker”, the player known affectionally as ‘Golfer Josh’ lost out on the POY title as Dan Zack swept to victory. Arieh enjoyed the opening few weeks of the series a lot more than the closing ones.
“I’m what you would consider a WSOP vet,” Arieh says. “You’d think I have it all figured out. Think again! This year I was fortunate enough to make two deep runs early and won more money the first week than I did my entire 2021 series, where I won Player of the Year. This momentum would be enough for the normal person to coast their way through six weeks and play their A game, knowing that no matter what they are going to be nearly seven figures in the black.”
Although Arieh got off to a great start, a bracelet eluded him and after winning two in 2021 but cashing for less, the psychology of the battle for bracelets this year took its toll.
“I felt like I was playing my A-game and was enjoying my time at the table. Then weeks three and four came and I began to fade. When I fade, it’s uglier than most. I’m unable to beat the most recreational of ‘rec’ players! That’s the question I ask myself when I’m laying in bed at night; why do I fade?”
The Life of a Grinder
“In my late teens and early twenties, I would basically be in a pool hall for 16 hours a day, seven days a week.”
If Arieh felt himself under pressure, then his thoughts would return him to an earlier point in his life. Over two decades ago, Arieh was living quite a different life, albeit with similarities to his later blooming as a professional poker player.
“In my late teens and early twenties, I would basically be in a pool hall for 16 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to make money,” he tells us. “I loved the grind of battling and competing on the pool table. I was always able to find edges eventually. The WSOP reminds me a lot of my old pool hall days, [it’s] a war of attrition. If I’m able to play my best throughout the entire month, I know it’s good enough to stumble across an opportunity or two at some big bucks.”
That’s the dream for many aspiring WSOP bracelet winners, but for a man who has won four of them already, how can he continue to improve and fight for more?
“One of my best traits as a poker player is that I’m completely honest with myself,” he says. “I do everything I possibly can to try to find my responsibility in every hand I lose. Even in the worst of beats, I can usually find something that I did prior to it which caused my opponent to react in the way they did. Sometimes it’s the action that I wanted to provoke, and other times I find that my high VPIP (voluntarily put in pot) caused it. Either way, I try to take full responsibility for bad beats and it’s freeing. I’m very rarely a victim.”
Finding the Answers
Arieh has been wrestling with tough questions since the end of this year’s World Series, such as why his game faded and what might have fogged his decision-making process.
“I think that what I’ve figured out through the years is that the pain of giving up and not fighting is a lot less painful than continuing to fight hard and losing after a tough fought battle. Accepting a big risk, big reward situation is much easier than grinding or battling through the situation.”
Arieh has tried to invent ‘little games’ with himself to try to find that extra little motivation to convince him that each shot at glory might be the last chance he has. “I’ve done all that I can think of to try to find that extra internal motivation to continue to fight, but unfortunately after twenty years of doing so, I still struggle,” he admits “I feel like I’m in a very small percentile when it comes to mental strength. I’ve put a huge emphasis on staying mentally healthy in my career. For some strange reason, it still isn’t enough.”
Arieh played around 30 of the 88 WSOP events in the summer 2022 series in Vegas, cashing in 10 events, and making three final tables. Despite profits of somewhere between $900,000 and $1 million for him and his investors, Arieh wasn’t happy with his final fortnight.
“It looks like a great summer, right? Financially, yes, but I’d give my mental grade a C-, possibly a D. I was miserable at the table the final two to three weeks and my play definitely declined greatly as the summer went on. Why I can’t stay motivated and engaged is a complete tragedy. I had an opportunity to defend as POY, which has never been done.”
Fame and Fighting for Glory
“I will never get inducted into the WSOP Hall of Fame if I don’t get a fifth bracelet.”
Arieh has a huge list of motivations for success. After being nominated for the 2022 Poker Hall of Fame, Arieh missed that boat as the late, great Layne Flack got the nod. He knows what he has to do in order to improve his chances of that changing next year.
“I will never get inducted into the WSOP Hall of Fame if I don’t get a fifth bracelet,” he concedes. “I have two teen daughters that think money grows on trees, so I have a lot of reasons why I should want to fight! I hope I have more opportunities to compete in more World Series of Poker, but my time is ticking.”
As he gets older, Arieh knows that Father Time is his biggest opponent at the felt. The 14-hour days are “harder and harder” and if poker is a young player’s game, then how long can such an experienced pro keep threatening the biggest prizes in the game?
“Very soon, if not already, I have to accept that I’m at a disadvantage from the start,” he says. “My goal is to not take the easy way out but continue to fight every second at the table. I know that my A-game is good enough; I need to make sure I win the inner battle with myself and show up every day with a desire to fight.”
If there’s one inner belief that is underlined by Josh Arieh’s every reply, it’s his determination to do better, try harder and improve. That ability to work from negatives is the most positive reason to believe that he can make it five bracelet wins and be in the battle for the 2023 WSOP Player of the Year crown.