Elaine Luo Turned $15 Home Games into WSOP Main Event Experience

Luo, a 30-year-old professor, is living the poker dream and battling in her first-ever World Series of Poker Main Event and is bringing her home game rail with her.

lance bradley
3 de jul, 2023
Elaine Luo won her WSOP Main Event seat through a private home game league online. Thirteen other players from that home game are in Las Vegas to cheer her on. (Drew Amato photo)

For the first 20 minutes of Day 1A of the 2023 World Series of Poker Main Event, elaine luo was pretty nervous. The 30-year-old Professor of microbial ecology and oceanography at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte doesn’t really find herself in $10,000 buy-in tournaments all that often. Okay, ever. Her normal buy-in level – if she’s buying herself in – is usually in the “three figures” category.

And that buy-in level is pretty steep compared to her regular game, a weekly $15 buy-in tournament played online with each player also on Zoom. It was her dominance in that game over the first six months of the year, however, that landed her a five-figure entry into the WSOP Main Event this year.

“It was through a private satellite, so we just put the funds together and competed for a spot,” Luo said during the first break of the day.

But there’s a little bit more to it than that. She has a rail that is 13-deep full of her former competitors who have traveled to Las Vegas to play a little bit – second and third-place finishers earned buy-ins to smaller events – but also to cheer on Luo. 

That group traces its origins all the way back to 2008 when a desire for more competition pushed a few folks from a volleyball team to play home game tournaments.

“We used to play a home game, very social, guys and girls, three tables in New York back in 2008,” said Stefan Mrozewski, one of the charter members of the group. “We’re playing and the group kind of split up, people got older, got kids, and moved all over.”

The game basically went away for a bit, but then the pandemic hit in 2020, and Mrozewski figured out a way to put the band back together. 

“We had nothing to do because we’re all stuck at home so we reached out and started playing, 10 of us online,” Mrozewski said. “Then people got into it, they wanted to play more and more … so we had more people and our group has grown to 52 people, and it’s great.”

Every Saturday, the group gathers online to play two tournaments that feed into their leaderboard. Time zones be damned, the group includes players from New York City, Washington D.C., Tennessee, North Carolina, Thailand, Australia, Germany, and Canada – all playing for a chance to get to Las Vegas and play the Main Event.

Luo was one of the players who joined the group shortly after the pandemic. Applying her analytical skills and academic background to poker has given her the ability to turn those weekly games into a learning opportunity that she says has helped her prepare for this event.

“I think the biggest lesson is probably that folks tend to be a little more value-oriented, particularly at the recreational level, and so floating to river bets or big turn check-raises and river bets is probably leaning toward [a] fold is better there,” Luo said. “I think maybe at the higher levels folks tend to be more balanced with bluffs and value, so it really just depends on who you’re playing against.”

“We have very few women in the group, unfortunately, because there’s just not a lot of women who play poker. So Elaine Luo is our champion this year, she crushed us in the competition, so we’re here to support her,” Mrozewski said.

The enthusiastic support of her comrades is a drastic change from how the Zoom calls usually go. Good-natured trash talk and ribbing rule the day each time they fire it up. Knowing she’s got the support system behind her – they’re hard to miss in their neon green shirt adorned with a picture of Luo as the queen of spades – certainly adds to the overall experience for her.

“(Having them here) is so fun. I can’t wait to share with them the hands that I played,” Luo said.