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A Poker Life: Dylan Wilkerson

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Oct 15, 2014

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Dylan Wilkerson has had an impressive year on the live tournament circuit. In February, he finished second at the Fallsview Poker Classic main event for $205,925. A couple weeks later, he took second once again at the World Poker Tour (WPT) Bay 101 Shooting Star main event for $728,650. He followed up those performances with two final tables at this summer’s World Series of Poker.

By all accounts, it may appear that the 29-year-old San Francisco resident is the breakout star of 2014, but Wilkerson has actually been a successful grinder since 2007, albeit as an online sit-and-go specialist.

Once relegated to anonymity in his poker career, Wilkerson now finds himself squarely in the spotlight with more than $1.4 million in career live tournament earnings and a top 10 spot in this year’s Card Player Player of the Year race.

Poker Beginnings

Wilkerson was born and raised in Seattle, but decided to leave Washington when he was accepted into the University of California, Berkeley near San Francisco, one of the most selective and prestigious institutions in the world.

Although he was focused on furthering his education, it wasn’t long before Wilkerson was bit by the poker bug.

“The poker boom happened during my freshman year of college,” he explained. “I grew up playing poker with my family for pennies at the dining room table, so I was already pretty familiar with cards. Because it had become so popular, I started out playing casually and gradually got more and more into it. I wasn’t very good at first, but I was having fun.”

What started out as a way to pass the time slowly became a source of income for Wilkerson, who would play online poker in between classes.

“I started out playing the 45-man sit-and-gos on PokerStars. I built up a small bankroll playing those games. It was really trial and error. I didn’t read any books or know of any poker forums or magazines. I would deposit $100, lose it, and try again. Eventually something clicked, and I stopped losing.”

His bankroll was getting bigger, but Wilkerson was still a bit naive when it came to the realities of the poker world. In 2007, without any prior experience, he took his meager winnings to Las Vegas to play in his very first WSOP event.

“It sounds insane now, but I really didn’t know any better,” he admitted. “I flew to the WSOP for a $1,500 event, which represented about half of my money at the time. I somehow managed to finish in 25th place.”

Turning Pro

The $18,644 that Wilkerson pocketed from his very first tournament cash wasn’t quite life-changing money, but it did help him kick-start his poker development. After graduating with degrees in economics and political science, Wilkerson tried to make it work at a traditional job, but after four months, he quit to give poker a full-time chance.

Dylan WilkersonDespite finding his own way, Wilkerson didn’t really struggle out of the gate.

“My first few years as a pro were pretty smooth sailing,” he said. “You have to remember, this was back when most players were still terrible at all forms of poker. I was almost exclusively playing sit-and-gos, sitting on my couch playing 20 to 30 tables at a time. In hindsight, it wasn’t really poker. I had a consistent ROI (return on investment) in these games, so every day I would just clock in and collect my usual hourly rate.”

Wilkerson was making good money from his couch and almost nobody in the poker world knew who he was. His roommate, fellow Berkeley alum and PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event winner Galen Hall obviously knew who he was, but outside of a few poker trips here and there, Wilkerson kept on doing his thing online.

After Black Friday, Wilkerson began to travel and play the live tournament circuit a little bit more, but still spent most of his time grinding online in Toronto. It wasn’t until he was forced to play more live poker that people began to take notice.
“I like Canada, but Canada doesn’t really like me. They gave me some grief over staying there full time to play online, so I decided to travel a little more, which has obviously worked out well.”

Finding Live Tournament Success

Between 2011 and the start of 2014, Wilkerson cashed in live tournaments 27 times. Other than a WSOP Circuit final table appearance and a small side event win on the European Poker Tour (EPT) in Monte Carlo, the majority of his cashes were of the minimum variety. In fact, up until this year, Wilkerson’s biggest payday was a $67,006 for finishing third in a preliminary event at the 2011 EPT San Remo stop.

Then in February of 2014, he finished runner-up at the CAD $5,000 buy-in WPT Fallsview Poker Classic main event for $205,925. In March, he took second at the $7,500 buy-in WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star main event for another $728,650. This summer, Wilkerson made both pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better final tables at the WSOP, with his third-place finish in the $3,000 event earning him $122,427.

In just nine months, Wilkerson has cashed seven times for about $1.1 million and now sits in sixth place in the Card Player Player of the Year race. Although he is proud of his most recent accomplishments, Wilkerson was quick to point out that he may have found success sooner if he had simply gotten off his couch to play more live events.
“Variance is a common excuse that poker players give for pretty much every bad run they go on, but it’s true,” he admitted. “Obviously, I’m a much better player now than I’ve ever been. I’m guessing that’s true of most professional poker players. I also haven’t really played that many live tournaments before. The Marvin Rettenmaiers of the poker world can play 250 tournaments a year, but I never played more than 30 to 40, so the sample size was much smaller in my case. That’s basically one day of online poker spread out over an entire year on the live circuit.”

Wilkerson doesn’t believe the money will change him or his approach to poker, but the self-proclaimed bankroll nit did admit that it was nice to have something put away just in case.

“I had just been cruising along with the status quo,” he said. “I was making enough money to pay my bills and keep playing, but those scores really give me the freedom to do whatever I want to do. So, whether I want to take a break or play more tournaments or even have more of my own action, now I have the financial freedom to do that.”

Moving Forward

Though he has won a lot of money playing poker, especially over the last year, Wilkerson still came up short of claiming a major tournament title at three different final tables. When asked about the prestige of winning, however, he shrugged it off.

“At the end of the day, all I’m really playing for is the money. Because of deals we made, I made the most money in two of the three events, so I’m okay with those results. I guess it would be fun to have a trophy, something to show people so I can tell them I won something, but if I just keep getting second place the rest of my career, that would be okay too.”

At one point in time, the plan was for Wilkerson to take his degrees and become a financial analyst. Perhaps he would even return to school and start a business of his own.

“I still may follow that path, down the road, but so far poker has taken up most of my time,” he said. “I ask myself if I want to keep playing every day. That’s not because I don’t have confidence in myself or my abilities as a poker player, it’s just because it’s a tough lifestyle. Poker is amazing when you are winning and horrible when you are losing, and the truth is that with poker tournaments, you are going to have more losing days than winning days.” ♠