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Top 10 facts from a 92-year-old WSOP player's life story

13 June 2016

A conversation with Norman Spivock is equal parts adventurous, inspiring and comedic. The 92-year-old Santa Rosa, California native – who doesn't sound or look nearly his age – is chock full of evocative stories, colorful anecdotes and profound life lessons — and he's not afraid to share them with you in great detail.

In fact, 20 minutes into our interview that was supposed to be about his participation in this year's World Series of Poker at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, we hadn't even scratched the surface of his poker "career." When told how amazing his life has been, Spivock scoffed.

"Listen, when you're 92 years old you can have a lot of dry spells," he said. "Then, when you bunch together all the good stuff you've done, it sounds really spectacular."

Norman Spivock was the oldest player in the Colossus II field.

Norman Spivock was the oldest player in the Colossus II field.

Spivock is being modest. He has lived a captivating life with many notable accomplishments, including competing in the WSOP against opponents less than a quarter his age. Earlier this month, he earned his first-career WSOP cash in Colossus II, taking home $1,584 after placing 1,118th out of 21,613 players. Spivock, who also played in last year's Colossus, but did not cash, bought into this year's event a second time after getting bounced on his first entry within an hour. Spivock was, of course, the oldest player in the Colossus field, as he was over the weekend when he sat down in the $1,500 Millionaire Maker event, where he failed to cash.

Spivock told us he's in Vegas through mid-July and plans to play in the $1,000 Seniors No Limit Championship, for players 50 and older, and the $1,000 Super Seniors No Limit Champions event, for players 65 and older, this weekend. In addition, he sits down regularly in the daily $235 event at the Rio and feels this year he's finally ready to foray into the WSOP Main Event.

"I think I'm really improving and just starting to get my game to the next level," he said. "As I get more confident, I'm having more fun, so I think I'll be playing more and more. But I usually make a decision on what events I'll play in on a day-to-day basis."

If Spivock does indeed pony up the $10,000 for poker's most prestigious event, he won't be the oldest to do so. That honor belongs to Jack Ury, who played in the 2010 Main Event at the age of 97, and last year 94-year-old William Wachter was a participant. But with apologies to those two gentlemen, Spivock may very well become oldest and most fascinating player the Main Event has ever seen.

Below, we present the 10 most interesting facts about a man who, in addition to his poker prowess, is also a World II vet, real estate mogul, published author, former polo player and rock climber, and avid skier to this day.

10. He was part of the U.S. invasion of Germany

Spivock was part of the 89th Infantry Division in World War II when General Patton's army invaded Germany, but managed to avoid much of the heavy action.

"I was lucky," he said. "I felt like I was in the center of a donut. All of the fighting was around me. It was an experience you tend to never forget."

9. Despite no college degree, he enjoyed great success in real estate

After serving 39 months in the service, Spivock attended both University of California, Berkley and UCLA, but fell three credits short of graduating.

"Just like the Facebook guy," he said.

In 1948, he decided to go into business with his father, who owned a business building houses. Four months later, his father passed away and Spivock was forced to take over. In the late 1950s, Spivock and his partners, including brothers Hal and Monroe, provided financing to built the first homes on a farm 40 miles north of San Francisco that had three people living on it. In 1960, the land was transformed into an incorporated city, known today as Rohnert Park, a city with a population of nearly 44,000.

While he hasn't done much with real estate in recent years, he doesn't consider himself retired.

"I'm redirected, not retired," he deadpanned.

8. He met his second wife while dating her sister

Spivock has been married twice and has no kids. "None that I know of," he cracked.

His first wife, Valerie, was from Paris and they were together for more than 20 years. The marriage ended amicably and they remained friends until she passed away 10 years ago.

He met his second wife, Laurie, while living in what he called a "hippie commune" in San Francisco, and he used to date her sister. Laurie is a non-practicing Zen Buddhist monk and is 20 years younger than Spivock.

"We have a great relationship," he said. "We don't agree on everything. But if two people agree on everything, one of them isn't necessary."

7. Key to longevity is "all mental"

There is good reason why Spivock is a spry, 5-foot-9, 170-pound, 92-year-old. He's never been a big drinker or smoker and, for the most part, he's always had a healthy diet, except for his daily sugar binge.

"I can't resist a bakery shop," he said.

But, above all, he says the key to staying fit is "all mental."

"I think the human body was built to last a lot longer than 90 years," he said. "When people start talking about growing old, I don’t listen. I don’t feel old. I walk around the casino with my head high, shoulders up. I've always had good posture. I should give a course in it. It took me a long time to figure it out, but it's all about your mindset."

Spivock enjoys skiing in addition to poker.

Spivock enjoys skiing in addition to poker.

6. Staying active is also key

Spivock is a man of many hobbies. He likes to write and back in 2006, at the age of 82, he published a book called, Thorns of Cactus: 58 Tales Based on the Life Experiences of an Eccentric Wandering Millionaire, that was followed by another book in 2009 titled, Short Stories by Norm: Stories That Will Make You Laugh, Cry, Warm Your Heart, Stir Your Mind, Maybe Change Your Life, a collection of 55 sometimes racy tales, some fiction, some nonfiction.

Although he was never into traditional sports like baseball or basketball, he did start playing polo when he was 62, before giving it up after 10 years.

"I broke a lot of bones and finally realized only an idiot would play this game," he said. "Plus, my wife was better than me at it, so that was even more reason to quit."

One activity he doubts he'll ever stop is skiing. He got hooked while on leave from the Army in Switzerland and regularly makes the 3.5-hour drive from Santa Rosa to Squaw Valley Ski Resort.

5. He's keeping up with technology, but social media and online poker aren't for him

Unlike his many of his contemporaries, Spivock has an iPhone and iPad and communicates regularly with e-mail. But you won’t catch him on Twitter or at PokerStars.com.

"I don't do Twitter or Facebook because I don't see any reason to tell people every time I brush my teeth," he said. "And online poker doesn't suit me. I like to see the people I'm playing with. My favorite part of the game is trying to pick up tells and read people."

4. He didn't start playing poker seriously until five years ago

Spivock's first introduction to poker came when he was 10 years old, but the table ran out of the toothpicks that it was using as chips, so they decided to switch to pinochle. He played again while attending UC-Berkeley, but never lasted long because everyone at the table smoked and he couldn’t take it.

In the winter, Spivock makes frequent ski trips to Reno, and he started to dabble in cash games there. But his first tournament appearance wasn't until 2011, when he entered a $250 event at Wynn Las Vegas and was eliminated when his trips got crushed by a flush.

"Tough beat, but I enjoyed it and that kind of got me hooked," he said.

Last summer, playing mostly No Limit tournaments at Aria Resort & Casino, Spivock said he made four or five final tables and earned close to $5,000.

3. He's not a gambler

Spivock will spend more than a month in Vegas this summer, driving the Strip in his shiny blue Tesla, but he won't do any gambling other than when sitting at the poker table.

"When I was a kid my father bought me a penny slot and I could never beat it," he explains. "I learned at an early age that you can't beat the odds, so I've never tried to. Never had the urge."

But poker is different, he says. Not only are you competing against other players, but it's also a form of entertainment.

"You can go spend $150 on a show and dedicate a night to it, or you can enter a poker tournament and see if you can come out ahead at the end of the night," he said. "Either way, it's entertainment."

2. He's "one of the guys" at the poker table

Spivock said he gets an occasional dubious glance from fellow players when he sits down to play poker, and most people don't believe him when he tells them how old he is.

But overall he said he, "feels like I'm just one of the guys when I'm playing poker."

"Sometimes I have trouble seeing the cards on the board so I have to switch glasses," he said. "But I feel normal and nobody treats me different than anyone else. And that's the way I like it."

1. He'll play poker until he "can't get any better"

Spivock said the thing that drew him to poker was that it is the polar opposite of what he tried to do while in real estate.

"During my entire business career I was always trying to play a win-win game where in the end everyone was happy. Poker is completely different. I'm playing a win-lose game now.

"It's been a learning process. I work at it. I take lessons. I read books. I'm going to keep playing until I can't get any better. Then I'll move on to something else. I don't like to stick with things too long. I like to move around."
Top 10 facts from a 92-year-old WSOP player's life story is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT