Around the WSOP: Meet the Uber driver John Hesp hired as his new agent
21 Jul 2017
By Gary Trask
By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS – Over the last year, David Perry has amassed more than 2,500 rides in his black Kia Sorento as a driver for Uber and Lyft. Thousands of people have gone in and out of his car as he has driven them all over Las Vegas Valley. But last week, a certain Englishman wearing a multicolored, floral suit jacket and Panama-style hat jumped into his back seat with a friend at The Stratosphere, asking to be driven to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.
Little did Perry realize that this was about to be a fare that would change his life, and that he would suddenly become the manager and new best friend of the hottest poker player on the planet.
"I saw him coming with that hat and jacket and I said to myself, 'Woah, what's this guy up to?'" remembers Perry. "I knew the WSOP was going into Day 2 so I said, 'Sir, please tell me you are going to the Rio because you are playing in the World Series.' And in that classic English accent he said, 'Why yes, I am.'"
Perry, 57, says he is a retired criminal defense attorney who has lived in Las Vegas since 1984. He knows and loves the city and he's a regular at the poker table, playing in 50 to 60 tournaments a year, all in the $100-$125 buy-in range.
He asked the men how they were doing in the Main Event. The first man, James Barron, said he was short-stacked. The gentleman in the vibrant jacket, a semi-retired owner of a caravan vacation rental company named John Hesp, said he was doing better than expected.
"My first goal was to win a hand, and I did that," he told Perry. "My second goal was to get through Day 1, and here I am. Anything else from here is a bonus."
Perry talked some strategy with Hesp and asked a lot of good questions. The Englishman was impressed and asked Perry if he could plan to give them a ride home that night. When he arrived to pick Hesp up, Perry was told that Barron had busted and was on his way home back to England. Hesp, however, was still alive.
"He asked me to pick him up the next morning, and when I did, he said he missed his wife," said Perry. "I felt really bad for the guy. His friend left. He was all alone and he was torn between wanting to keep playing poker and busting so he could go home and see his wife.
"I told him that he wasn't going to be alone anymore. I told him I would show him around and keep him company until he busted.”
As the rest of the poker world is well aware by now, Hesp still has not busted. By the time the Main Event final table began on Thursday afternoon, with just nine players remaining out of a monstrous field of 7,221, the 64-year-old grandfather of seven had enthralled the entire poker community with his affable, civil demeanor at the table. As he surged to the second-best stack in the tournament and the final table bubble burst early Tuesday morning, Hesp was a media darling. The ESPN cameras loved him. Fans were swarming him, asking for him to pose for cell phone pictures. The biggest stars in the game — Hellmuth, Negreanu, Esfandiari — were publicly proclaiming their love for “Gentleman John,” unabashed in saying his place at the final table was great for the game.
And there was David Perry, the Uber driver, at Hesp’s side the entire time. During the two-day break before the final table action began, Perry says he and Hesp, who was already guaranteed a payday of at least $1 million, worked out an agreement.
“I’m now his managing agent,” Perry said with wide smile on Thursday. “What can I say? He gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“We call it serendipity,” continued Perry, who helped his new client ink deals with 888 Poker and bestbet Casino in Jacksonville for the final table. “This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I'm just along for the ride, but I’m so happy for John and his family. He’s a great, great guy, and I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
Hesp’s wife, Mandy, and his four kids began flying into town on Thursday from England to see their man compete for the $8.15 million first-place prize and gold bracelet. They were also getting their first chance to meet this guy “Dave” that John had been telling them so much about.
“I was concerned that the family would think I had an ulterior motive,” admitted Perry, a graduate of UNLV. “John kept teasing me, ‘My family’s asking about you, Dave. They want to know what your deal is.’ But John told them that he going with his gut. That’s what he’s done his whole life and he knew deep down inside that I wasn’t looking to cash in on this. I’ve been here since Day 2.”
Hesp’s oldest son, James, was blown away by the story.
“I mean, what can you say about the way they met; it’s incredible,” James said as he patted Perry on the back. “It’s almost like the big guy upstairs put them together because it would be a lot of fun to see what happens. But that’s the way my father is. He’s always had a good read on people. Maybe that’s why he’s such a great poker player.”
No matter what happens at the final table, Hesp’s run has already been etched in poker history. Not only that, he’s most surely gained a new friend for life, even if it doesn’t include a Main Event championship.
“The thing about me and Dave is that we’re both social animals, and by that I mean we like to interact with people, even people we don’t know,” Hesp said. “I’m just glad I met him because he’s so knowledgeable about Vegas and about poker. He was a criminal attorney and he’s got a very good mathematical brain. He took good care of me, and if I can do it, I want to return the favor.”
When the cards finally went into the air for the final table on Thursday, Hesp came out swinging, playing loose, and it was working as he won the first three hands of the night.
“He’s giving me a heart attack,” Perry said out loud as he paced around the rail, using a towel to wipe the constant sweat pouring off his forehead. “I told him, ‘No pushing around your chips early,’ He didn’t listen.”
During a break in the action, Perry, looking like a trainer talking to his boxer in between rounds, playfully admonished his friend.
“Relax, relax,” Hesp said as he laughed off Perry. “I’m having fun. I’m being a showman.”
Hesp worked his way to the chip lead, but got "coolered" hours later on the biggest hand of the night when Scott Blumstein’s set of aces cracked Hesp’s all-in call with two pair. The momentum that seemed like it couldn’t be stopped for the flashy feel-good story of the Main Event was halted abruptly.
Nonetheless, Hesp is still alive and will enter Friday night’s action in fourth place out of the seven remaining players — but a whopping 155 million behind Blumstein, who thanks to that hand with Hesp is the commanding chip leader.
“If he can win this thing, he’ll be the biggest thing in poker since Moneymaker,” Perry told us earlier in the week. “He doesn’t want me to talk about him winning it because there’s a long, long way to go, but I can dream. I’m allowed to dream.”
If you ask us, Perry and Hesp are already living a dream. It will be interesting to see if somebody finally wakes them up this weekend.
Poker dealers are a lot like officials or referees for major sporting events in that if nobody notices them or is talking about them, they’re most likely doing an excellent job.
With that said, you have to think that the dealers for the Main Event final table must feel some pressure when sitting on that ESPN stage, with all of that money at stake, as a worldwide audience tunes in.
But when we ran into Ahmed Khater minutes before the final table began on Thursday, the 28-year-old dealer was so calm you would have thought he was about to go in for a massage at the Rio spa down the hall, rather than sit in the most important seat in his profession.
“When I'm dealing, I just kind of go blank and do what I do, even on this stage,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter to me as long as I stay calm and do my job. It's pretty normal for me. It’s like second nature.”
Khater will be one of just five dealers who will be used during the final table. They are hand-picked by tournament officials for their attention to detail, ability to work under pressure and passion for the job.
“Yes, it’s an honor to be here,” said Khater, who had dealt many final tables during his five years with the WSOP, but never the Main Event finale before Thursday. “This is like our Super Bowl. So, yes, I’m excited.”
The biggest difference for dealers on the TV stage compared to other tables is that they have to clearly announce all action, and when a player calls all-in, they can’t just rip off the next card.
“You’ve got to listen to your earpiece and wait for the green light to go,” he said. “That can be a little unnerving, because you can’t go at your own pace, but other than that, this will be just another night of work for me.”
With the Main Event final table being moved from the 1,500-seat Penn & Teller Theater inside the Rio to the much smaller Brasilia Room, public access to the action was at a premium, with just a couple hundred seats available.
That’s why Las Vegas resident and poker superfan Bill Horn showed up at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, some four hours before play began, to be first in line.
“This is my fifth straight final table, and I was not going to miss it,” said Horn, who is originally from Michigan. “I love it. It’s something I look forward to all year.”
Horn brought with him a booklet that held 88 autographed photos of him with poker players and poker celebrities. He flipped through the book and showed us pictures from as far back as 1988, when he got shoulder-to-shoulder with Main Event champ Johnny Chan. He also had many other big names such as Negreanu, Ryan Riess, Erik Siedel and Hellmuth.
When asked who he was hoping to get on Thursday night, Horn quickly said, “Lon McEachern.”
Here’s hoping the popular ESPN play-by-play man found the time to make Horn’s wish come true.
2016 Main Event winner Qui Nguyen was on hand to handle the “Shuffle up and deal” honors on Thursday. The flashy Nguyen was wearing a silver-encrusted sports jacket with black pants, white high top sneakers and sunglasses. But he disappointed us by leaving his raccoon hat at home. . . . There were not many notable poker pros in the audience on Thursday night. Our guess is that they'd just as soon sit home and watch the 30-minute delayed coverage so they can see the hole cards, listen to the analysis, and criticize or comment on the players’ moves on Twitter. The pros that were in attendance included Liv Boeree with her boyfriend and fellow pro Igor Kurganov, as well as Jeff Madsen and Jessica Dawley, who not only picked Blumstein to win the Main Event in our final table predictions column, but was also on the chip leader’s raucous rail.