This month I had the opportunity to meet and interview Zach Gensler, who is trying to break the world record for the longest poker session ever played. It does not hurt that he’s a nice guy from my old home state of Minnesota and a big fan of iNinja Poker, but even if those things are not right, his story is interesting.
Zach was in Vegas this month for an 80-hour session to prepare for his record attempt at the end of June. Yes, you read that right, 80 hours was just a warm-up! The record is currently at 115 hours, a mark that Phil Laak set up in June 2010 at the Bellagio here in Vegas. Zach seems confident that he will break this record this summer, and after talking to him during his training session, I think he’s a favorite to set the record. Before we look at Zach, let’s take a look at the mechanisms used to set a Guinness World Record.
The first thing you have to do is pay about $ 12,000 for a judge from Europe to come to you and decide on the record. If everything you did complied with the rules and you break the record, the judge will immediately declare you a record holder. It seems to be a big number, but what is immortality worth? Can you say that you hold an official world record? I’ve found that many people online take longer sessions, but nobody knows if they’re true. We know that Laak’s record is legitimate because a Guinness judge was present and listed on their website.
Then you have to play poker for over 115 hours without interruption. Personally, I could not get close to this brand. When I was younger, there were definitely 30-hour sessions, but nowadays, after more than 12 hours, I’m not keen and being awake that long sounds awful. Zach is given a five-minute break every hour, and he can save some of those breaks if he does not always use them. This could allow him a 15-minute nap at some point, which could be enough to get REM sleep so he can really plow through to the end.
In addition, to record, you must play with new players every four hours. It can no longer be the same opponent. I’m not sure why this rule applies, but that’s what Guinness says, and he has to do that. Laak had quite a few friends who appeared and changed during the match, but Zach wants to do it against random opponents who may not even know about the record attempt. I was at his table at Aria last week at 9:00 pm and nobody at the table seemed to know that he’d played that long.
Zach hopes to find a poker room to help him with his record attempt, but although Aria has expressed interest, they say they are too busy during the WSOP if Zach hopes to break the record. If you know a poker room that wants to be part of this record attempt, let me know and I’ll contact Zach. Somewhere in Vegas would be preferable.
How Does One Survive Without Sleep?!
I researched sleep deprivation and performance before meeting with Zach and learning some interesting things. Zach has done this before, including some very long poker sessions and other long periods without sleep, so he’s probably less likely to feel these effects than you or me. There are probably some natural abilities that Zach believes to possess. This is undoubtedly proof that some people need drastically less sleep than others.
What I learned was that after 72 hours, most people simply can not stay awake. They begin to sleep for 30 seconds, become very irritable, make many mistakes and often begin to hallucinate. The desire for sleep becomes very strong on the three-day mark. But at 80 hours, Zach says he’s in pretty good shape. When I interviewed him after 33 hours, he seemed to be no different than after a six-hour session.
I think this feat is synonymous with freedivers who can hold their breath for a long time. If I do not breathe for 10 minutes, I almost certainly die. However, freedivers have successfully held their breath for more than 22 (!) Minutes without any long-term damage being noticeable. Training and natural abilities have a big impact on what the body can do. Although Zach did not do any formal training for this effort, he certainly did a lot of training and seems to have natural abilities.
I assume that Zach will complete the 120-hour session and set the new world record – and I’m neither a scientist nor a doctor. It seems very important to him to be a part of poker history, and he really loves the game. I think he will be seriously affected after 100 hours, probably not playing very well, possibly having trouble reading his opponent’s facial expressions, and that his error rate will increase. But if he plays tight and solid, what his personality seems to be, I think he will be fine. His 80-hour training ended in more than $ 1,500 in winnings, so he could assert himself technically for the next 40 hours and still be up to date if he could achieve that in June.
Even if he gets sick, Zach will probably say it was worth it. He has no bracelet, no WPT title or no TV time. He has no great results with Hendon Mob or his face on the cover of a magazine. But if he succeeds, he will be part of the poker story.