Somewhere around five or six years ago, Danny Sepiol was on his way out of poker. The ups and downs of the game were starting to wear on him a little bit. There was talk of a real job. Instead, a coaching and staking group brought him under their tutelage.
“I give a lot of credit to the Brown brothers (Jeremy and Justin), who brought him in, who said that ‘this guy’s got it’,” said WPT Champions Club member Taylor Black, who was one of the founders of the group. “For me, it was like Danny always really had the hard part, which is he has the balls and the willingness to make plays in big moments, which you can’t really teach somebody.”
On Thursday night, the now 29-year-old Sepiol looked the biggest moment of his poker career in the face and didn’t blink. Eight hours later, after a table full of players with more impressive resumes were eliminated one-by-one, he was WPT World Champion, and pocketed a little more than $5.2 million after defeating Georgios Sotiropoulos heads-up.
Sepiol concedes that as the tournament continued into Day 4, 5, and 6, he was having trouble sleeping. When the final six players bagged their chips on Wednesday, he was exhausted and ready to go home and put his head on a pillow. It wasn’t even 8 p.m. He did a few interviews and then went and got some much-needed sleep and returned for the final table feeling a little bit more energized.
“I slept all right last night. I feel mentally exhausted, but my adrenaline’s pumping right now, so it’s a weird feeling,” Sepiol said. That extra rest allowed him to focus on Thursday night on a mindset meant to help him maximize his opportunities as they came up.
“Just play my game, pick my spots, be aggressive when I feel like the time is right and get lucky when the time is right as well. That helps,” Sepiol said.
Black and the Brown Brothers were on Sepiol’s rail, along with some others, including Matthew Wantman and Ian Steinman. Sitting amongst all of them, on what became a boisterous rail as the night wore on, was Danny’s father, Dan Sr. – a last minute addition to the group.
“I saw on YouTube that he had made the table, the final table, so I called immediately and made last minute reservations and I had an Uber pick me up at 4:30,” Dan Sr. said. “I got to Tampa at five and it took seven and a half hours to get here – and it’s all worth it. I’ve been up for 24 hours, easy, but I’m just running on the adrenaline.”
Like father, like son.
There was a moment during heads-up play where Sepiol thought the tournament was his. On a board of , Sotiropoulos moved all in and Sepiol called, and after Sotiropoulos tabled his hand, Sepiol tabled and rushed to his rail to celebrate. Unfortunately, Sepiol had misread Sotiropoulos’ hand. The Greek pro had rivered a straight to double up.
Over the next 20 minutes, a 6-to-1 chip lead disappeared and Sotiropoulos found himself with the big stack. Looking back at that hand after his victory, Sepiol admits the error – which he laughed about at the time – may have cost him more than the chips in that particular pot.
“Definitely a possibility. I don’t know for sure, but it definitely, what’s the word? The momentum definitely changed after that,” admitted Sepiol, who first played poker while in Middle School. He stemmed the tide, though, and five hands later retook the chip lead for the final time in the heads-up match.
That wasn’t something that surprised his friends on the rail, because they know he’s been through some things in his poker career.
“He’s had money and been broke a couple of times and we figured it out and his work with his current backer now, who’s a friend of his and he’s dealt with basically, he’s had a very normal poker existence,” Black said. “So I’d say he’s earned it. He’s worked hard. He’s also earned it not just in the hard work, but also in the swings. So yeah, I honestly couldn’t be more happy for him.”