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Pro-File: James Carroll Discusses His $1.3 Million March

by Erik Fast |  Published: May 28, 2014

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James Carroll after winning WPT Bay 101 Shooting StarJames Carroll has been a fixture on the live tournament scene for years, with a background in online MTT’s, cashing for seven figures under the screen name of “croll103” before Black Friday shut down the international online poker sites in America. He has found some success in the live arena as well, but he truly announced himself as a major factor in March of 2014 when he put together an incredible two-week run.

In a month known for underdogs putting together captivating tournament runs Carroll was poker’s Cinderella story: the journeyman pro proving his mettle on the biggest stage with incredible back-to-back results. On Mar. 9th he won the $250,000 guaranteed $550 no-limit hold’em event at the Wynn Classic, topping a field of 613. The next day he made the quick trip up to San Jose to play the World Poker Tour Bay 101 Shooting Star $7,500 main event. A total of 718 players posted the $7,500 buy-in in that event, but by the end of Mar. 14th only one Carroll remained. For the win he earned the largest score of his career, $1,256,550. Carroll was not yet satisfied, though, Just six days later he finished sixth in the Wynn Classic $5,200 main event. In the span of two weeks he had cashed for $1,324,754 and climbed into sixth place in the Card Player Player of the Year race.

Card Player spoke to Carroll a few days after his wild run to learn more about his mad March.

Erik Fast: Obviously this has been a crazy month with three back-to-back scores in a matter of two weeks. Can you talk a little bit about what this means to you? What has this been like?

James Carroll: It’s been pretty crazy actually. I just started to settle in and right now is the only free time I’ve really had since the first Wynn tournament. For the most part, it’s just been a really nice uptick for me.

EF: The poker media and poker pros have known you as a great player and have watched you have success online for years now, but now it seems like all of a sudden you just burst on the live scene and you’re in the top ten of the 2014 Card Player Player of the Year race. Can you attribute this to anything or is this just variance swinging your way?

JC: Well, I have been playing a little over the last nine or 10 months than I have. There was like a two-year stretch where I don’t think I played very good, at least in terms of live poker. But over the last nine months or so, I’ve been trying to bring my A-game every time I play and now things are finally starting to work out.

EF: Like I said, your background is online and you’ve had a lot of success there. Can you talk about what happened after Black Friday and how your career path changed after all of that went down in the U.S.?

James CarrollJC: When Black Friday happened, I didn’t think it was really that big of a deal. I was making the transition to live poker by then and I was actually looking forward to playing bigger live tournaments when it happened. But then about a year or two into Black Friday, I realized how much I missed online poker and how important it is to have that steady income coming in and to play as many tournaments as possible to lower your variance.

EF: Did you ever contemplate moving outside of the U.S. to continue playing online? Or have you just stuck to playing live poker since then?

JC: I’ve moved to Mexico a couple times and I’ve to Canada. I’ve lived in Calgary, I’ve lived in Cabo, and I’ve lived in Rosarito for different periods of time and I went to Prague and Amsterdam for about a month or two to keep playing as well. I did that at the start of the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) in 2012 I believe. That was when I made my move down to Cabo and I’ve been there twice since. I’ve been to Rosarito a bunch and I’ve been up north to Calgary a bunch as well.

EF: How did you get into poker? What was your starting point, and how did you transition from that to being a professional?

JC: I started my senior year of high school. I would play $5 home games with friends. A big game for us would be a $20 home game with like 15 people. We did that for like six months to a year and then I would start putting money on PokerStars. I would put between $50 and $100 on at a time, run it up, cash out, and deposit again. I’d run that up, cash out, and the process would start again. Then I had some decent tournament results and I ended up being backed by Ryan Welch when I was 21 years old. He backed me starting up playing smaller tournaments and he put me in bigger live events and then I kind of outgrew him and his backing operation. I started playing bigger stuff and started playing $5,000 and $10,000 tournaments.

EF: So what has this month of March meant for you financially? A big score like that has to have some sort of affect on your day-to-day life and how this could affect the next couple months or the next year of your career?

JC: Well, I’ve actually just been looking to buy a condo now in the Las Vegas area. That is going to be one of my first investments. I don’t plan on keeping much in my poker bankroll. I plan on trying to look around and invest in different things. I’m not sure what yet, but I definitely will be talking with some people coming up shortly to try and figure that out. I’m going to be playing poker on the live circuit and the bigger online tournaments over the next year or so until I find something else that grabs my attention and takes me elsewhere. I don’t plan on being a professional tournament poker player as a long term thing.

EF: Does that have to do with your own waning interest in it? Or the progressive change that has been going on in the tournament circuit with fewer $5,000 and $10,000 buy-ins. It’s been smaller buy-ins mixed with super high rollers. Can you talk about why you see yourself making that transition in the next year or two?

JC: I just think that playing tournament poker for a living is a very hard to do and not a lot people really grasp that. There are only a very small percentage of people that in the long term are going to be better than breakeven. But right now, I’m going to still be playing tournaments for the next year or so because I’ve been in the running for the Player of the Year race now, but for the most part after that, I’ll just focus on cash games and the bigger tournaments that I want to play. Maybe I’ll find something else that peaks my interest.

EF: You mention the POY. You said that is one of the reasons you will be staying on the tournament circuit. Why does that mean something to you and why is that something you want to go after?

James CarrollJC: It just kind of validates yourself as a poker professional with people that don’t understand poker and those that are also in the industry as well. I never had a plan to go after it. I still don’t really think I’m going to go after it too hard. If I am, I’m going to be skipping Florida and I’ll be skipping a bunch of other tournaments. I only really plan on playing one live tournament before the WSOP and that is the Borgata Main Event. But I think when you are kind of close to something, I wouldn’t want to look back at this five years from now and be pissed at myself for not going after such a prestigious title. I’m going to play more than I planned on playing, but not as much as I probably should have.

EF: Speaking of validation, it has been said in hundreds of poker interviews that people want to be able to show the non-poker people in their life that they won something. It’s easier to point to one big WPT win or a WSOP bracelet rather than saying “I final tabled the Sunday Million five times.” It’s easier to point to these big live scores and show them that you are a good professional poker player. Did that enter your mind at all or do most people in your life understand what it’s like?

JC: I feel like most of the people that are close to me that don’t play poker already kind of knew my talent level and the ups-and-downs of poker. I definitely wanted the money more than the validation.

EF: March is already a fun time to be in Vegas and the gambling world with NCAA basketball going on. It’s just sort of a fun time to be out here already. Do you think having all of these scores in one time, during this time, is kind of like a Cinderella story of its own?

JC: The score came at a great time. I had about five or six different friends in town for March Madness. I flew back to Vegas and spent the weekend there for Thursday through Monday and we had a lot of fun.

EF: Can you talk a little bit about the experience of winning the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star main event? A lot of people think they know what it’s like to play in front of the lights and stuff, but was it jarring for you at all even though you have some experience being around that stuff?

JC: I’ve played at one before, but nothing like the World Poker Tour. I won a Heartland Poker Tour event in 2012 so I kind of had some experience with that. It wasn’t as bright of lights, but to be honest, it doesn’t really affect me when I’m playing. I don’t even notice that I’m being filmed or whatever. When the cards are in the air and the first hand is dealt, my main focus is just on poker. I really didn’t even notice anything else. I was more nervous for the pre-game interview than I was for the final table.

EF: That final table had some other big names that people would recognize like Nam Le and Mukul Pahuja. What were your thoughts on the final table?

JC: I thought everyone played very well for the most part. I didn’t really see their hole cards, but I thought I could have played the best I could have played and I’m just happy that things worked out. I think everyone at the final table deserved to be there and they played well.

EF: What did you think of that tournament? Bay 101 is kind of weird with the end of day chip leader bonuses and the bounties and stuff. Did that come into play at all?

That’s been by far my favorite stop for years. I’ve been saying it for like the past three years that that is my favorite WPT to play. That’s my favorite tournament outside of the World Series of Poker main event that I get to play. It’s pretty surreal actually winning one.