HomeLanghorne-Levittown TimesConwell-Egan alum heads to Vegas for World Series of Poker

Conwell-Egan alum heads to Vegas for World Series of Poker

High school physics teacher John Coyle dreamed of qualifying for the tournament since his teenage years

Major achievement: Philadelphia physics teacher John Coyle, a Conwell-Egan alum, recently participated in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, which has been a longtime dream. Source: John Coyle

If there’s one lesson high school physics teacher John Coyle wants his students to take away from his class, it’s to never give up on a dream.

Coyle, an instructor at Mastery Charter School Lenfest Campus in Philadelphia, recently achieved something at the age of 36 that he’s been working toward since his teenage years at Conwell-Egan – competing in the World Series of Poker main event in Las Vegas, which he described as the “Super Bowl of poker.”

“It was the experience of a lifetime. I saw that event on TV when I was a senior in high school at 18. I was like, ‘I know I want to do that one day,’ ” Coyle told The Times. “I’ve been playing poker for the better part of 18 years. If you pursue your passion and never give up on it, you’ll be surprised where life takes you.”

In order to participate in the World Series of Poker, most players fork over a whopping $10,000 for the buy-in fee. But on Sunday, Sept. 12, in the wee hours of the morning, Coyle qualified for much less.

“Every Sunday, they have a $100 tournament with a $75,000 guaranteed prize pool and first place is usually around $14,000. If you played and won, along with first place prize money, you’d win a seat to the World Series of Poker main event in Las Vegas,” said Coyle.

For those who don’t want to wager $100, Coyle explained that there’s cheaper satellite tournaments. After spending only $20, Coyle advanced out of six people to the $100 competition.

“I played until 2 a.m. and won the whole thing,” he said. “It ended and I was just in my apartment by myself like, ‘Oh my God, I won.’ ”

Following a sleepless night due to the excitement of qualifying for the World Series of Poker, Coyle began preparing for the unprecedented trip. He requested time off from work, booked his flights and informed his family, friends and students of his achievement.

“They [my students] were like, ‘You’re not going to be here for a week because you’re going to Vegas to gamble?’ They probably thought I was such a degenerate,” said Coyle with a laugh. “But then when they saw it online, they were super excited. One of my co-workers recorded my seniors in class wishing me luck.”

Coyle flew to Vegas on Friday, Nov. 5, and was knocked out of the series on Tuesday. Despite not advancing further, his presence garnered much attention from poker news outlets.

“The majority of people who play that tournament are legitimately showing up and handing over $10,000 in cash to enter. And here’s this teacher in Philly who qualified for $20 online. Nobody gets in this tournament for $20,” he said.

He was also able to meet in-person for the first time a slew of players from Pennsylvania, with whom he’s chatted virtually on Discord for two years.

Good company: While in Vegas for the World Series of Poker, John Coyle was able to meet in-person for the first time many poker players from Pennsylvania, with whom he’s chatted virtually for the last two years. Source: John Coyle

At the end of the week, Coyle headed back to the east coast feeling nothing but pride. Since 2003, his senior year at Conwell-Egan, Coyle has held a deep passion for poker. Though he admitted the game sounded “stupid” when a friend first started talking about it, that opinion quickly changed.

“My friend put live poker on one day. I remember watching someone make a bluff and I was like, ‘That’s wild.’ The idea of trying to figure out when to fold, when to bet, it just interested me,” Coyle said. “And I also learned it’s something where players could make life-changing money. I played soccer in high school, ran track. I was getting a degree in math education. I was never going to make life-changing money in any of those ventures, but this, you could be a regular person and overnight become a millionaire.”

In the years that followed, Coyle and his friends played poker for fun. When they turned 21, the group took day trips to Atlantic City, with the winners treating the losers to dinner. As Coyle saw several of his buddies go on to find major success in the world of poker, he continued to improve his own game, something that wasn’t too difficult given his educational background.

“It comes down to a lot of math skills, and as a math major, I was very interested in the application of math in a game where there’s a lot of incomplete information,” said Coyle, who served as a math teacher for 12 years at Roman Catholic. “It just fascinated me.”

On the heels of a year chock full of quarantine and major life changes, Coyle said the timing of his recent accomplishment couldn’t have come at a better time.

“In 2020, I left the job I was at for a decade to go to a new school, teach new content with new kids and new co-workers,” he said. “To come out of that and have 2021 end on a note of, you’re actually going to get to do this thing you dreamed about for half your life, to me, that was a win.”

Coyle hopes that his experience in Vegas serves as a lesson for his high schoolers.

“Pursue your dreams relentlessly,” he said. “That’s what I try to get across to my kids. I’m not saying you’ve got to play poker. I’m just saying never give up. If you don’t achieve success at 21, 24, 25, don‘t give up on it. If you stick with your passions, sometimes the payoff can be delayed, but it’s totally worth it.”

Going forward, Coyle has confidence that he can return to the World Series of Poker. He was up against players from around the world, from some of the top names in the game to everyday plumbers and farmers with a shared passion. But he held his own.

“I learned that I can sit down at a $10,000 buy-in event and not feel intimidated, not feel nervous. At no point was I second guessing myself. I just stuck with what got me there,” said Coyle. “I felt like I was where I was supposed to be in that moment.”

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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