COVID shut down much of the live poker scene in 2020, but Stefan Mrozewski was determined to keep his love of poker with friends alive. He formed the Responsible Socially Distanced Poker (now simply RSPD) for weekly online games among friends and the group now includes 52 players spread out from New York City to Tennessee to Thailand to Australia and everywhere in between.

Mrozewski himself lives in Hawaii and is a bit awed at how big the club has grown. The RSPD breaks the year into two seasons with the first half awarding a World Series of Poker Main Event seat and the second half more of a relaxed fun game.

“We colloquially call ourselves the ‘Degenerates’ because apart from the two weekly tournaments, we also have nightly 5-cent/10-cent cash games,” Mrozewski says, “in which over three years $26,000 has changed hands – in a 10-cent game!”

The group’s origins date back to 2008 when a group of them played regular live games in New York City. The game has gotten bigger and their skills have gotten sharper.

“We had three tables, guys and girls, a lot of booze,” Mrozewski says. “We were terrible back then. I mean junk. And then when COVID started, we decided, ‘Hey, we have nothing better to do. Let's go on Zoom.’ We started with about 10 people. It’s super low stakes, but it culminated in awarding a Main Event seat, Mini Main Event seat, and others.”

Elaine Luo is this year’s winner of the WSOP Main Event seat and is among the players on Day 1 in the Horseshoe. As the Degenerates’ horse in the race, Luo may be a tough customer for players at her table. A professor of microbial oceanography at the University of North Carolina, she brings a sharp mind to the poker felt.

While her normal day might include researching how microbes impact marine ecology, viruses, metagenomics, and bioinformatics, at the Horseshoe she’ll be studying her opponents and looking to school them with her cards and strategy. She comes to the game not just from playing with the RSPD/Degenerates, but also playing free poker for fun.

“I started playing those free games on Facebook,” she says. “In high school I was bored and got into that.”

Those Facebook tables apparently proved to be a nice training ground. She obviously does well in the poker club and has also played occasionally at casinos as well. Crush Live Poker videos have become a favorite training tool and Luo was feeling confident after the first break in the day. She sat on about 50,000 chips and said there had been “a few nice hands and a few coolers, but generally good.”

Mrozewski knows how tough the Degenerates’ qualifier can be. While both were studying at the University of Hawaii, he and Luo were in a tournament among staff and students and ended up heads-up for the title. Luo came out on top.

“But her first tournament in a casino was only last year,” Mrozewski says. “Then she crushed the group of us to earn the seat, so her development has been meteoric.”

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WSOP, WSOP Main Event, 2023 WSOP, WSOP 2023, Elaine Luo