A 36-year-old woman from the Cleveland area who usually deals the cards at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas is sitting down on the other side of the table this week to vie for a piece of the $10,000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em Main Event’s millions.
Katie Kopp has reasons to feel confident: She won the first WSOP bracelet of the 2022 series and $65,168 in the $500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold ‘Em tournament on May 31. Two days later, she won another $17,000 by placing third in a $200 No-Limit Hold ‘Em tournament at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and also cashed for $1,752 at the WSOP’s $1,000 MINI Main Event No-Limit Hold ‘Em last week.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous because it’s the biggest tournament I’ve ever been in, but I just think I gotta play my game and have fun and take in the experience,” Kopp says of the Main Event, which she expects to start playing Wednesday on the fourth and final day to enter.
More than 6,500 entrants typically compete for a top prize that usually tops $8 million.
Poker runs in the Kopp family
Kopp, a mother of two, has already made her avid poker-involved family proud. She and her mother, Patty Kopp, have spent years bouncing around the nation dealing poker at various casinos and in various tournaments.
And then there are her younger, twin 32-year-old siblings, Billy Kopp and Sara Kopp Hall, who have been making their living as poker pros for years. Billy Kopp has won more than $750,000 lifetime in live tournament winnings, and Sarah Kopp Hall has won more than $100,000, according to the Hendon Mob, a site that tracks tournament earnings. Both are primarily cash-game players, though, and winnings from that cannot be publicly tracked.
Both have won WSOP Circuit rings — a prize for winning some smaller WSOP-branded tournaments outside of the traditional three-month WSOP season of tournaments in Las Vegas.
Now, though, only their big sister has a WSOP bracelet, considered the most coveted jewelry in the game.
Poker started at the kitchen table
As kids growing up in the Cleveland suburb of Valley View, the Kopps were avid card players. They played “whatever my grandpa picked” until 2003, when an online amateur named Chris Moneymaker from Tennessee stunned the poker world by winning the WSOP Main Event. That kicked off an international poker boom and transformed the Kopps’ home games.
“The neighborhood kids would come over and we’d play a bunch of $5 tournaments, and every holiday, the whole family did $5 poker tournaments,” Kopp says. “Poker was always really big, big in my family.”
How did she fare back then? “Well, when we were younger, my brother and sister used to win mostly. I used to work at Wendy’s and they would take my paychecks from me.”
In her late 20s, Kopp started her career at Horseshoe Cleveland, the Ohio casino now known as JACK Cleveland, as a table games dealer, mostly dealing high-limit blackjack and baccarat. As her siblings ground away in their poker careers, Kopp became a traveling dealer so she could both deal and play.
A few years later, her mother joined her and they began picking up gigs at casinos in Florida, Nevada, Michigan and other places. Nowadays, Kopp deals about a third of the year; her longtime partner, Jimmy, watches their kids when she is traveling if they don’t go with her.
Kopp says dealing has served as a form of poker training for her.
“Dealing makes me a better player because when somebody’s in the hand, I’m really paying attention and trying to guess what cards they have, and then when they do have a showdown, I can see if I was right,” she says. “I’m sitting there getting paid to deal but I’m also studying.”
Her mother, Patty, says all that study paid off in her WSOP triumph.
“Why did she win the tournament? Well, she knew where she was regarding blinds and she knew how to play a short stack and use that to her advantage,” her mother says. “She knows how you win because she sees it when she deals. You see how players play and it gives you an advantage.”
Kopp prefers live poker to online as a woman
Kopp does sometimes play online, but she likes playing in person because she believes her gender provides an edge. Male players, she says, often underestimate the bluffing skills or misread cues from women.
“I liked the atmosphere of playing live poker and I like being a girl in poker,” she says. “I think it gives me an advantage.”
Kopp has seen how women play — and how men play against them — from both sides. She’s seeing more women in the game now. They’re usually friendlier, more congenial.
“Being a woman, people come up to me all the time and say hi, how are you and stuff like that because there’s not many of us. A lot of times, people say I don’t know who you are but you look familiar, but they remember us way more. It’s because there’s so few girls that play poker.”
She uses online poker, though, to teach her 10-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter how to play. “My son’s pretty good. My daughter takes too long to make a decision!”
Wild road to her first WSOP bracelet
Before Kopp became the last player standing out of more than 800 entrants for her WSOP bracelet in May, she was also the very first player to bust out, on two pair beaten by a straight. She bought her way back in and then ripped through the field in the two-day event.
“When we were four-handed, I only had four big blinds. Then I ran up to be the chip leader. And then I went back down to four or five big blinds. Then when I was heads-up, I had a 5-to-1 chip lead. And then I doubled the guy up. But then I ended up getting it all in with Ace-Queen versus Ace-9. I still really thought I was dreaming.”
Her mother watched from the rail, occasionally chanting, “Can’t stop Kopp.” Her brother and sister were not in Vegas for her victory, but Patty Kopp was.
“I stood there the whole time from when the tournament started until she got the bracelet. It was so exciting.”
Not ready to stop dealing
Even with her impressive run, Kopp isn’t thinking about giving up life on the other side of the felt. She says it’s “actually fun” and gives her an appreciation for the game and the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
Also, she loves the travel and perks.
“We’re dealing in California in September, and just to be able to go to a new place, have a discounted hotel room and pay for it by working a little bit is exciting. I mean, this will never feel like a full-time job again where I work five days a week.”
And how will it feel to go back to dealing now that she’s won the most coveted jewelry in poker?
“People are telling me they’re like, ‘You need to go do poker while you wearing your bracelet,’ ” she laughs. “I don’t know if I could do that.”
WSOP Main Event continues
Kopp plans to enter the $10,000 WSOP Main Event on Wednesday, July 6 during the tournament’s final flight. Several full days of poker action will follow in order to whittle down the field to a champion.
There are over 30 more WSOP events scheduled through July 18, including online events ranging from $500 to $7,777 buy-ins. Players must be physically located in Nevada to enter online WSOP events.