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Jason Wheeler Wins 2011 Card Player Online Player of the Year Race

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Feb 08, 2012


Jason WheelerThe 2011 Card Player Online Player of the Year race experienced its fair share of drama, but none of that drama really played out on the virtual felt. The biggest story of the year wasn’t about the players themselves. Instead it was about the adjustments that needed to be made following Black Friday.

On April 15, the Department of Justice indicted the owners and operators of Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker, almost immediately shutting Americans out of game. Some made an international move in order to keep grinding, but the vast majority of the players simply stopped playing altogether.

The disparity is evident when you look at the 2011 OPOY leaderboard. Americans make up only two of the top 10 participants. Ironically, it was former San Diego resident Jason “jdpc27” Wheeler who ran away with the title, beating Canadian pro Mike “CuteIsWhatIAim4” Telker by 1,254 points, the second largest margin of victory in the race’s five-year history.

Wheeler now joins Taylor “ambiguosity” Paur (2010), Steve “gboro780” Gross (2009), Alex “AJKHoosier1” Kamberis (2008) and Isaac “westmenloAA” Baron (2007) as an OPOY champion. Card Player caught up with Wheeler to discuss his 2011 campaign and to see what adjustments he was forced to make in order to continue playing online poker following Black Friday.

Julio Rodriguez: Now that you are officially the 2011 Card Player Online Player of the Year, how do you feel?

Jason Wheeler: I’m pretty excited that I won, especially because of the great company I’m now a part of that includes such amazing players. When I first looked at the OPOY race back in April, I was happy to have the lead, but I wasn’t really expecting to hold onto it. Then I increased my volume and hit a few big scores, which meant that I had a great shot to win it.

JR: You mentioned that you were leading in April, but then Black Friday hit and you were forced to move from your home in San Diego, California.

JW: Black Friday was definitely a game changer. My first reaction was just complete shock. I had put together a really solid year up to that point and so had one of my good friends whom I stake, so my first concern was about all of the money we had tied up online. Then it hit me that not only was this a big financial hit in the present, but also the future, because now my livelihood was in jeopardy. I was able to get my PokerStars money back, but of course, I’m still waiting for Full Tilt to reimburse me. It took me a few months before I could get back to where I was before Black Friday.

I already had a vacation home near Rosarito, Mexico before everything went down on Black Friday, but obviously having another residence wound up being huge for me after it became impossible to play online in the United States. I ended up making the full-time move to play online and started the process of getting my accounts back and transitioning all of my finances into the Mexican banking system.

JR: Did you encounter any problems moving your life and career to Mexico?

JW: Because the currency has to be converted, moving money offline has become a little more expensive with all of the different fees, but I’ve accepted it as the cost of doing business. Of course, I’d rather see that money go towards our government, rather than have it go towards all of these payment processors and third parties, but at this point, that’s out of our control.

JR: What do your new neighbors think about your career?

JW: I try to stay pretty low key, because I think that’s the best way to go about it, but there are definitely some people who know what I do for a living. Generally, people outside of the U.S. are much more understanding about my profession. When I was living in San Diego, I’d get awkward questions and weird reactions when people found out what my job was, but in Europe and even in Mexico, people are much more accepting and even a little interested in how it’s done. It’s definitely an easier sell down here.

JR: How did online poker change for you following Black Friday?

JW: The interesting thing about my listed results this year is that they only include Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars. After Black Friday, I had to add a lot more sites into the rotation to fill out my schedule, which of course has given me back some of the anonymity that I had lost and supplemented my income. There used to be a good five or six days of action per week online, but now that I’m limited to PokerStars and a few of the smaller online networks, I really only have to play about three days a week. The biggest adjustment I’ve made is that now, I don’t take for granted the tournaments that I do play and tend to get more value for my buy-ins as a result.

JR: Did you ever consider staying in the United States and taking a shot at playing live poker for a living, perhaps traveling the tournament circuit?

JW: When you are 23-years-old and you don’t have a lot of responsibilities, then it makes sense to live your life out on the tournament trail. But I’m 34 and I can’t do that anymore. Now I pick and choose which events I go to. I spent a few months in Europe for a couple of stops including some EPT tournaments and the WSOP Europe series and I traveled to a couple tournaments in L.A. and Las Vegas, but other than that, I’ve tried to focus on my online play here at home. There’s something about waking up on a Sunday morning and firing up a couple of tournaments. If you run bad during your first few tries, you don’t have to worry because there are 20 more still to come. That’s the kind of experience that you just can’t replicate with live poker.

JR: Nevada made history in December by adopting regulations for intrastate online poker. If and when online poker is back up and running in the United States, will you be on the first plane back?

JW: I don’t think that I’d necessarily be on the first plane back, but I’m definitely interested. I guess you could say that I’m going to wait and see. I really feel that online poker is going to return the U.S., but that it won’t come back in the same way that we all remember it. I think a lot of different companies are going to come out and fragment the market a bit and I don’t neccesarily believe that they’ll understand their customers right away. I think there will be a sharp learning curve and that until all of those casino operators figure it out, the professional players might stay away from the serious action.

JR: Finally, how would you sum up your 2011 performance?

JW: I’ve just been doing what all of the other Americans whose jobs were taken away have been doing. I’ve been finding a way to keep my livelihood intact. I’m really proud of how I rolled with the punches this year and worked hard to improve my game. I hope that my results speak for themselves and that people realize that poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance. Winning can be consistent and it can be repeatable and that’s something that they should take into consideration on the legislative front in 2012.

A Look at the Final Standings

Rank Player Name OPOY Points 2011 Winnings
1st Jason ‘jdpc27’ Wheeler 8,076 $768,877
2nd Mike ‘CuteIsWhatIAim4’ Telker 6,822 $1,075,643
3rd schappuscha 5,900 $595,641
4th Griffin ‘Flush_Entity’ Benger 5,742 $569,734
5th Michael ‘Pipedream17’ Dietrich 5,696 $487,606
6th Russell ‘rdcrsn’ Carson 5,566 $613,718
7th Chris ‘Moorman1’ Moorman 5,438 $655,004
8th Aleh ‘cooltwister’ Plauski 5,050 $470,199
9th Benjamin ‘delaney_kid’ Delaney 4,670 $387,465
10th Jeff ‘YoungSupremacy’ Hakim 4,632 $361,019