World Series of Poker-playing, American Ninja Warrior-competing orthopedic surgeon in Quincy awaits next big challenge

Bryan Pimlott

Bryan Pimlott, an orthopedic surgeon at Blessing Hospital, plays a hand during the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in November. | Photo courtesy of Alec Rome for the World Series of Poker

QUINCY — For most of the year, Bryan Pimlott is a pretty regular guy. He’s an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Blessing Hospital with a perpetual grin on his face.

But for three weeks, he’s a calculating, cut-throat, diabolical poker player wanting to steal every dime you have.

“I call myself a pretend poker professional,” Pimlott said. “And for about two weeks a year, maybe three weeks sometimes, I immerse myself in the poker world and just have fun. There’s no blood. Nobody dies. It’s just pure fun.

“Yeah, I have files in my head. I build them on the people who I’m playing against. I use my medical knowledge. That’s the thing about medicine. You bring together a lot of incomplete information to make good judgment decisions. I’ve been doing that for years. I get to do it and not worry. It’s just for fun in poker.”

If you’re counting chips, Pimlott typically has plenty of fun when he plays poker.

He didn’t even know the rules of the game until January 2009, but the first time he played in the World Series of Poker that year, he finished in 475th place and won $25,027. Pimlott also qualified for the main event in 2012, winning $24,808 as he finished in 476th place. He also played in smaller events at the World Series of Poker and won money in 2011, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Two months ago at the 52nd annual World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas, Pimlott was in 56th place with more than 3 million chips after five days of competition. He was eliminated on the sixth day in 73rd place, his best finish ever, and earned $81,000. Germany’s Koray Aldemir, 31, topped a 6,550-player field to win $8 million and the coveted gold bracelet.

“I see gambling as, I’m going to put $5 on the number four horse, and that’s still fun. But poker is a skilled game. If taken to infinity, where all the cards average out, the best player is going to have all the money. It’s using your intellect. It’s very competitive. It’s intellectual. It’s challenging. It’s competitive. I love it.”

— Bryan Pimlott

Learned how to play poker from reading books

Pimlott said he had no idea how to play the game when he went with a friend to the Talking Stick Resort and Casino in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2009.

“I was waiting for a friend to do some sort of raffle thing, and I sat down at a poker table to wait,” he said. “I was just bored out of my mind walking around. There was a guy with a big hairy chest and an open-button Hawaiian T-shirt drinking a lot, and he was betting all the time. And I was like, ‘What the heck’s wrong with him?’ Then there was a little old lady who never played anything. She was just like me. 

“And I was like, there are some psychological things happening here. I thought it was really cool. I remember thinking, ‘I’m gonna figure this thing out.’”

He read 20 books about poker and eventually qualified for the World Series of Poker a year later. The psychological conquest helped hook Pimlott on the game. He says he’s not a gambler. Instead, he’s just a poker player.

“There’s a big difference,” he said. “I see gambling as, I’m going to put $5 on the number four horse, and that’s still fun. But poker is a skilled game. If taken to infinity, where all the cards average out, the best player is going to have all the money. It’s using your intellect. It’s very competitive. It’s intellectual. It’s challenging. It’s competitive. I love it.”

Injuries suffered in baseball steered to medical career

Pimlott was born in Toronto, lived briefly in Calgary and grew up in Victoria, British Columbia. He attended Green River Community College in Auburn, Wash., and played baseball there.

“An international scout saw me in Canada and said, ‘Son, I’m gonna find you a college,’ because I could run a 6.58 60(-yard dash), which was second fastest across Canada,” he said. “That’s why he sent me to (Southern) Arkansas.”

However, Pimlott’s baseball career ended after suffering a broken neck, a torn labrum and a broken thumb.

“I got the message,” he said. “I wanted to be the guy awake during these surgeries.”

After completing his medical studies, Pimlott worked for Valleywise Health in Phoenix while raising his three kids. He used his medical knowledge to help sharpen his poker game.

“All those years of trying to think about multiple variables as a surgeon makes a difference,” he said. “The guy across the table … is he blinking a lot? Does he look comfortable? What’s he doing with his hands? When I am playing poker, I’m building up information on people and then trying to make better decisions.”

Be sure to watch how Bryan Pimlott puts his shoes.

Tear of Achilles’ tendon didn’t keep him off American Ninja Warrior

In 2015, Pimlott submitted a video to the NBC television show “American Ninja Warrior,” hoping to compete on the ninth season.

“We went to a park area and did some fun stuff,” he said. “I just played like I always did when I  played with my kids. We played baseball and threw the football around and went golfing and just recorded little bits of it. The casting producer called and said, ‘You should feel really honored. More than 34,500 people applied, and we picked you.’”

However, just before filming began in Los Angeles, Pimlott tore his Achilles tendon while trying to scale the show’s famous warped wall. Rather than bow out, he created a boot with the help of a prosthetic specialist and hopped on one leg during the competition.

“(The injury) severely limited what I could do,” he said. “But there’s a photo of me doing the cannonball drop, and I’m holding on to the ball over the water, and I’m wearing this big boot. That was pretty cool.”

Pimlott said producers of the show wanted him to return after rehabbing his injury. 

“It took a year just for the injury to heal,” he said. “Then I tore it again. Finally, after two years, I thought, ‘I can do this.’ I got into pretty good shape and submitted another video. I was going to go to Universal Studios when everybody got a call. They said they were postponing the show because of COVID, so I missed my opportunity.

“And in the interim, I came to Quincy in September (2020). I’ve got a new job, a new community I’m working in. I didn’t have to (be on the show). I would need to like change my life to get back into that shape again, because it really is a dedication.”

Bryan Pimlott talks about why he came to Quincy.

Pimlott makes move from Phoenix to Quincy

With all three of his kids grown up and on their own, Pimlott decided he wanted to live in a smaller community.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I would be walking through the grocery store and see Mary and say, ‘Mary, how are you doing?’” he said with a laugh. “So I got online and I just looked at all the jobs across the United States. Blessing seemed to have all the resources that I’d want, they seemed very competitive and they wanted to capture the community. 

“So when I interviewed here, I felt like everyone cared about patients, and they had the resources to take care of them. This was the way I could be really a part of a community as opposed to just some doctor who only gets to meet somebody when they get in a car accident.”

And for now, he’ll continue his side hustle of being a poker professional.

“Medicine is all about cooperation and being helpful. Poker’s about competition and destroying the other people,” Pimlott said. “There are two parts to poker that I just love. One’s the math. I call that the breathing part. You need to know the math to be able to breathe. 

“The second part is the psychology. Does he feel comfortable? What hand does he most likely have? Can I take advantage of that? If I know he has a good hand, which is better than me, but he can’t call an outrageous bet, then I will do the outrageous bet. If I think I have a better hand than his and he’ll call a smaller bet, then I’ll do that. Whatever’s going to get me the win in the end.”

Pimlott doesn’t want to quit his job. Asked if every item on his bucket list has been checked off, he smiles broadly.

“Yeah, I’ve got a couple other things I’d like to try,” he said. “I see myself doing some mission work and traveling across the world … helping people and just in a different way. I think God wants me to do this right now … maybe playing poker, maybe just seeing the world, and I’ll probably make Quincy my home base.”

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