WSOP Main Event: 'Yukon' Brad Booth
Poker Pro Returns to World Series After Three-Year Absence
The game of poker has shown its darkest side to former nosebleed cash game regular “Yukon” Brad Booth — but he still loves playing cards. The 34-year-old Canadian came to play day 1D of the main on a last minute decision, and after five levels of action, he sat with 109,300 – good for more than three times the starting stack to begin day 2B.
Prior to Sunday’s day of play, Booth had not competed in a World Series of Poker event since 2008. Crippling bankroll problems, as well as losing approximately $2.5 million in the horrific Ultimate Bet cheating scandal, have thrown the cash game grinder into the abyss of the poker world – and he’s still trying to emerge from its depths.
“Coming up to the Rio was strange because it has been so long, and this is my life," said Booth, who sold about two-thirds of his action for the event. “I walked in and got recognized right away by some people, and that was a nice feeling. At that point I was about to step inside the arena again. It was like a fighter stepping back into the ring after a few years of retirement. That was a kick-ass feeling.”
Despite the rustiness, Booth gradually chipped up throughout the day, avoiding showdown in most of his pots. He napped on the dinner break, after finding someone to lend out their room key. When the chips were being bagged and tagged, Booth, who said “my line of the last four months is that I am too broke to bluff,” found himself off to a good start in what may be the most important tournament of his life.
Here is a brief look at the story of one of poker’s fallen stars.
A Poker Life
The story of his nickname “Yukon Brad” began after his adopted mother passed away when he was 19 years old. He was devastated and quickly moved to the remote part of Canada, for what turned out to be eight years of his life. He only kept in contact with three people during this period, which consisted of traveling and playing poker. It was then that he found a regular game of $10-$20 pot-limit Omaha. “It was the biggest game in Canada at the time,” Booth said. “People kept asking where I was from, and I had this brand new identity that I wanted to become, so I just told people I was from the Yukon.” He eventually made the trek to Las Vegas when he was 27 to play in the World Series, and after running into a fellow Canadian grinder, “Yukon Brad” had spread to the Sin City — and he has been known by it ever since.
Booth didn’t take Monday off, as the other half of the field competed on day 2A. The cash game pro said that over the past 15 years of his poker career he has taken just seven days off. The determination and skill set developed over millions upon millions of hands once led the Canadian to be called “the best player no one has ever heard of.” Booth said he will likely find a way to get into the $10-$20-$40 game at the Bellagio this week.
“Poker has been my entire life, whether it was some days where I only played three hours, or days when it was the full 24, there has always been a deck of cards or an online game going on,” said Booth, who used to play on Planet Poker, the first ever online card room to run real money games. “It’s sick, but it’s who I am, and I’m OK with that. Poker is my life.”
Climbing out of Debt
Booth is looking for a deep run in poker’s richest tournament in order to make payments “to some people who have been very patiently waiting. That would be a really good feeling,” Booth said. “Some people have been really cool to me over the years. Aside from that, a deep run or a final table – this event isn’t about fame or celebrity status; it’s about having my financial life regained. This trip is really about the money for me, so a deep run would be huge.”
Despite the main event being poker’s most prestigious tournament, resulting in a 20-foot high banner of each winner hanging up in the Amazon Room, Booth said he doesn’t need it to validate him in any way. “Live poker is the one thing in my life that I shoot birdie and eagle on, everything else in my life I am par, and bogey, and sometimes even double bogey. When it comes to live poker, this is what I do. If you look at the approximately $4.2 million I lost over the past three and a half years – it’s kind of a blur and I don’t remember the exact dates — 98 percent of that total came online. I am here right now to let myself know that I’ve had enough time in the Canada, and it’s time to get my financial life back. It took me this long to get over the UB [cheating scandal] and all the losses on Full Tilt, letting people down, and things like that. It took me awhile to get my mental health back.”
In the past few years of being missing in action, Booth said he has managed to pay back about $860,000 of money he had owed from gambling debts. He has been grinding out the cash games up north, piecing himself out to get into bigger and better games. He has gradually been grinding out of a hole that many would find insurmountable – all on a self-taught poker game. “I have always been that loner poker guy my entire life, and I’ve never really discussed poker hands with people. I’ve never read a poker book. My poker education has been on my own.”
Being Cheated and Moving Forward
Booth said about $2.5 million of his losses over the past few years have been a result of the UB cheating scandal. According to Booth, on April 15, the day the United States Department of Justice indicted the major online poker sites, he was scheduled to have a talk with the company about restitution. Booth said that he had previously received a “very small payment” from UB, and that he was close to receiving another sum to recover part of what was stolen from him – until Black Friday happened.
“This was just another one-outer for me,” Booth said. “I can’t tell you how many times I have been one-outered over the past three years. It has been very trying, and a lot of people wonder how am I still around poker after all of this bullshit that I’ve had to go through. At the end of the day this poker life is not easy, and I knew that from the beginning getting into it. Sure, I might have some problems and stuff, but I still love the game and there are a lot of people out there who have it way worse than I do.”
Booth credits his optimism to still being a profitable live cash game player – the arena that has been his foundation throughout his poker career. Despite the stress of being broke, Booth said that his concentration in live cash games is still top notch. “I have the ability to put everything on the side. I am in my element when I am on the felt.”
Booth said that he could never walk away from poker and he has confidence that within the next few years he will be back as a force in the poker world. He has grown as a person during the tough financial times, and said that he won’t lend out money like he did when he had it.
Chasing a Family Draw
In these dark days of his poker career, there has been one moment of pure joy that has come out from the scrap heap of a bankroll in ruins. “I was crying in front of my computer one night, and I just wanted my mom,” Booth said. “I just had gotten myself into some bad debt, and I had just lost all my money. I went back to Canada, ashamed and embarrassed, and wishing I had my mom who raised me. I knew I couldn’t bring her back, but I knew that my biological mom was probably out there somewhere.”
“So I decided to write something on the internet on this website, and sure enough four months later, we ended up meeting, and it was the best day of my life. We are best friends to this day. She is 49 years old; I’m 34, so she had put me up for adoption when she was 14. Had I not been in this really dark place from poker, and say I had all my money, I may never have tried to actively pursue her, because life would have been good.”
“Meeting my biological mom and dad, my half brothers and sisters, has really equalized the bad stuff that has happened to me. This reconnection made me whole, and I don’t have this empty feeling in my heart anymore. It’s time to get my career back and perform. I don’t have anything holding me back. Fine, I am going to have to work for somebody to play poker, and every $10,000 I make I will have to pay out $5,000 or more. It is what it is. I have been blessed with an ability to make money playing poker, so I feel very fortunate and happy. Life is good.”
Retrieving a Bankroll from the Muck
Whenever Booth gains the financial freedom that he so desperately desires, he said he won’t be playing poker everyday like he has for more than a decade. He always wants to put in serious hours on the felt, but he also has aspirations to take time off to enjoy other aspects of life. “My goal is to get myself out of this mess, but I have to have balance as well going forward,” said Booth, who has hosted a poker “Booth Camp” in the past in order to pay his rent. He also wants to figure out ways to have an income that isn’t solely from playing poker.
For the remainder of the 2011 main event, for however long it lasts for Booth, he will carry with him a sense of humbleness that has developed through the hardship of the past couple of years. However, the former nosebleed cash game player knows that one day when his financial woes are behind him, he will once again be one of the most feared live players in the world.
“Sometimes when I’m sitting in the $10-$20 game at the Bellagio, grinding it out with a short stack, some of the pros sitting in bigger games throwing around green, black, purple, and yellow chips, most of whom I confidently feel like I am better than, will look over at me. I can’t tell totally if they are feeling sorry for me, or thinking, ‘oh, shit, it’s not going to take Yukon long to be back in these games.’ I know I am starting to send a little bit of fear into some of the players around. They better watch out and proceed with caution.”
While day 2B on Tuesday will be a long grind for Booth and the hundreds returning to action, he will be having a blast competing at the Series after the long absence from the pinnacle of the game he loves. If a deep run or November Nine appearance appears in the door card, Booth surely won’t forget the tough times he has been through and the people who have been at his side.
“I’ve had a few days and few nights, when I’ve felt, not suicidal, but that I was at the end of the rope here,” he said. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who have been patient with me, and all the friends and family who have supported me along the way. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. It has a lot to do with me being able to carry on.”
Update: Booth was eliminated during the middle of day 2B.
Anyone wishing to follow his poker quest can do so via his personal Twitter account.
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