Try as you may, imagining playing poker without eyesight is tough to do. What are my opponent's stack sizes? How is their body language? We'd have no visual information, only audio cues and words. If a picture paints a thousand words, a player without eyesight is missing a lot of information.

That makes what Steven Iglesias and Hal Lubarsky do, even more extraordinary. They've found workarounds and worked quite hard to continue playing, regardless of sight.

Steven Iglesias (BlindGuy789)

Let’s talk about Steven Iglesias, or as he's known in the poker world, "BlindGuy789."

His story is pretty incredible. Steven was just like any other young poker pro from Norway, making a decent living from online cash games.

But in 2014, Steven was dealt a rough hand. He was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), which caused him to lose his sight almost completely. Can you imagine? One day you're living your life, playing the game you love, and the next, you're plunged into darkness.

By the time he was 25, he'd lost his eyesight.

Steven didn't let this setback keep him down for long. After a couple of years away from poker, he met Daniel through his ex-girlfriend's sister.

Steven and Daniel play at an event that 888poker specially invited them to

Daniel had no experience with poker, but he was eager to learn and eager to help. Steven was just as eager to teach him. Together, they formed a unique partnership that allowed Steven to get back into poker.

On live reads, Steven said, "I still have to pay attention to get reads on people, so I have to paint a picture in my head."

Daniel acts as Steven's eyes at the poker table, describing the cards and the actions of the other players, while Steven makes all the strategic decisions. It's a setup that requires a lot of trust and communication, but it's been working out pretty well for them.

According to PokerProLabs, he's up to $208,465 in winnings. His biggest live win so far was at the The 2023 Wynn Summer Classic in Vegas, where he took home $35,000 in a NLH event. Presumably, those winnings are split with Daniel, who says he loves the opportunity to travel and help his best friend.

They've even started streaming their games on Twitch as "BlindGuy789," sharing their journey with the world. The dynamic between these two is great to watch.

Despite his setback, Steven has racked up over $83,000 in live tournament winnings, including a notable finish at a WSOP bracelet event where he won $25,000. He attributes his success to a healthier lifestyle, increased focus, and a sharper memory.

"My goal is to travel around the world and just play"

Go and watch Steven stream on Twitch with David. Usually, you'll see them running some GGPoker tournaments, sweating the runouts and laughing together.

GGPoker is a Hold’em and Omaha focused site on the Good Game Network. Offering a broad range of playing formats such as Randomised Sit & Gos, All-in or Fold, and 6+ Short Deck as well as fast cash games, and a plethora of tournament series including: GGMasters, Multi Millions and Bounty Hunters.

Hal Lubarsky

Hal Lubarsky moved to Vegas when he was 29, all set on becoming a pro poker player. He actually did pretty well for himself, playing in high-stakes H.O.R.S.E. games with some of the big names in poker.

But then, in 2004, a hereditary eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa started to become an issue and Hal lost his sight. It was a rough deal, and he was pretty down about it for a while, as many of us would be.

Hal's brother worked at the Mirage Casino and mentioned Hal's situation to the poker manager there, Donna Harris. She called Hal up one day to invite him to a charity tournament for a friend with cancer. Hal wasn't keen on the idea at first, but Donna was persistent, telling him he could have someone read the cards to him. Apparently it went well, because, after that tournament, she made it clear he was always welcome to play at the Mirage.

When the 2007 World Series of Poker was coming up, Hal wanted in but needed a reader to help him. Initially, Harrah's Casino said no, citing the rules.

But Hal wasn't having it. He basically told them he could make a legal fuss and they changed their tune. So, with a dealer named Jo Adair whispering the cards to him, Hal played and actually cashed in the Main Event.

The next year, he was back at the WSOP, and ESPN loved him. When he got knocked out, the crowd even gave him a standing ovation. And after the spotlight from the World Series, Full Tilt Poker signed him up and set him up with a special program so he could play online by having the cards read out to him.

In the end, Hal didn't let losing his sight end his poker dreams. Instead, he found a new way to play and kept on winning.

Visual Impairment and the Senses

Interestingly, being blind or visually impaired can lead to compensations from other parts of the body. We include this information to give another perspective, but not to make statements about Steven Iglesias, Hal Lubarsky, or any other players in similar situations.

Potential hearing advantages: Visual impairment can enhance hearing, according to scientific studies, plus our own anecdotal evidence. The University of Washington found in a study that this adaptation is especially useful for object tracking and musical abilities. There's probably no data about whether this can be used for speech tells in poker, but perhaps Steven will let us know in a future interview. Other things, like chip shuffling, breathing, and body movements might be extra-noticeable too.

Intelligence: There's even some research from 2020 that was done in South Africa and Austria on the link between IQ and blindness. In the study, the researchers state that:

"The way individuals react to blindness by compensating for a lack of external information causes blind people to increase their internal, working memory. Working memory has been shown to be critical for intelligence."

For those without psychology degrees, working memory is the process of using information without losing our place or getting off track. In a computer, the meaning is similar. A PC's working memory helps you bring up data or programs quickly, and the more you have, the more efficiently you can perform tasks.

And then, overlapping with intelligence, is imagination. Some professionals would say that having an imagination, a creative one, could be used as an advantage at the table. Although someone without sight might not be able to visualize an object they've never seen (such as their opponent's facial expression), they may process the available information differently to sighted folk.

For example, imagine a cash game in Las Vegas, with a few players in the hand. With your eyes, you might be soaking up the visual cues; a pulsing neck here or a nervous smile over there. Someone who's visually impaired won't have those data points, but perhaps they've got other ones that you missed. A quick inhale when the flop came, a slight quiver in the voice, or a hasty shuffling of the chips.

Hopefully, players like Steven Iglesias grow in popularity and shed more light on these dynamics in the future. That would be a podcast we'd all watch.