Hal Lubarsky’s dream was coming true: at 29 years old, he was on his way to Las Vegas with aspirations of becoming a professional poker player. A regular in the $150-$300 H.O.R.S.E. games around town, Hal found himself mixing it up with some of the best in the world. “I was extremely well-known in cash games. I’ve played with all the big names except for Doyle (Brunson) and Chip (Reese),” he said during an interview with MSNBC.
But after grinding it out in Vegas for 15 years, Lubarsky began feeling the effects of a condition that would change his life. Hal learned that was born with retinus pigmentosa, a hereditary dystrophy in which abnormalities in the retina lead to visual loss. Many with the disorder don’t become legally blind until their 40s or 50s and maintain some of their sight.
In Hal Lubarsky’s case, his night and peripheral vision slowly diminished and he eventually lost all sight. Unable to see his hole cards, Hal’s poker career came to a heartbreaking end.
That all changed in 2004. After being invited to a charity poker tournament, to which Lubarsky regretfully declined, a friend suggested that Hal use a reader to help him at the table. The idea brought new life to Lubarsky’s once-prospering career, and he quickly returned to the felt with a Las Vegas poker dealer named Jo Adair, who would whisper to Lubarsky his cards and the actions of opponents at the table. He was back. And it was only the beginning.
The World Series of Poker rolled around in 2007 and Hal Lubarsky contacted Harrah’s to inquire whether he’d be able to play the Main Event with a reader. His request was denied, as the tournament rules stated that no player could have assistance at the table. Lubarsky countered by suggesting the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit and involving the media, and the decision was quickly overturned, giving Hal his shot at the biggest poker event of the year.
He made the most of it, outlasting more than 6,300 players before being eliminated in 197th place by internet star Scott Freeman. Hal earned $51,398 and loads of face time on ESPN, as well as features by a handful of media outlets. He was the first blind player ever to cash in the World Series of Poker.
A year later, Hal Lubarsky became the newest face of Full Tilt Poker. His amazing story earned him a position as a “red pro,” joining the likes of Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, Mike Matusow, Erick Lindgren, Allen Cunningham and several more of the world’s top players as Full Tilt Pros.