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When I Was A Donk: With Justin Young

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Oct 15, 2014


Justin YoungIn this series, Card Player asks top pros to rewind back to their humble beginnings and provide insights regarding the mistakes, leaks, and deficiencies that they had to overcome in order to improve their games.

Justin Young picked up the game of poker while studying mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University. After graduating, he took a job as a mechanical engineer before deciding to take a chance on poker. He moved across the country to Las Vegas, where he began grinding mid-stakes cash games.

After winning a few preliminary events at the Bellagio and at the Venetian, Young banked the biggest payday of his career in 2008, pocketing $936,760 for a runner-up finish in the $15,000 WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic main event.

Young still spends most of his time playing cash games, but he’s still managed to rack up more than $3.4 million in live tournament earnings. Here, he explains the initial trouble he had making the switch from cash games to tournaments:

“I really struggled early on with my transition from cash games to tournament play. In fact, I was probably playing tournaments incorrectly for about three years before I made any corrections.”

“The biggest problem was that I was playing my stack size more than playing my cards, which means I was calling too often instead of folding or three-betting. I was taking flops out of position with speculative hands like J-10 suited or pocket fours, hands that play better deeper stacked. Or I was peeling three-bets with almost my entire range.”

“Coming from a cash game background, plays like that are justifiable, but in a tournament, that’s how you’ll bleed away your stack. Sometimes I’d be a short stack, but I’d still be taking flops with marginal hands because that’s what I was used to doing.”

“After talking to friends like Eric Baldwin, Adam Geyer, Shannon Shorr, and some others, I realized that I was making these mistakes over and over again. We would talk through hands and they would look at me funny. At the time, I was still putting up good results in tournaments, but that had more to do with variance than anything else.”

“Now when I play tournaments, I’m much more likely to three-bet or fold when I’m in those marginal spots. It’s tough to go back and forth between tournaments and cash games. It will often take a week or so before I’m back in the right mindset, but once you get into a rhythm, it’s like riding a bike.” ♠