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Joe Kuether Is A Poker Tournament Cashing Machine

Kuether Once Again In The Hunt For Player Of The Year Title

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: May 19, 2015


Joe Kuether, simply put, is a machine. The 27-year-old poker pro has been a dominant force on the tournament circuit since 2012, having accumulated nearly $4 million in live tournament earnings. He spends the majority of his year on the road, traveling from one gaming destination to another, hunting for his next score, seemingly never getting tired of living out of a suitcase.

The Elm Grove, Wisconsin native started playing poker in high school with friends after the Chris Moneymaker boom and began to take it more seriously after discovering online poker. He continued to play throughout his college years at the University of Wisconsin and eventually graduated with a degree in accounting.

After Black Friday, he focused on live play and moved to Las Vegas to pursue his chosen profession. He flourished as a mid-stakes tournament grinder and eventually put together one of the more impressive resumes in the game today.

But what makes Kuether so extraordinary is his consistency. Since 2012, Kuether has cashed 89 times on the tournament circuit, making 35 final tables and winning 15 titles. He’s averaging a win every two and a half months and about six figures in earnings every month.

Finding a lull in Kuether’s last four years is next to impossible. In 2012, he finished 14th in the Card Player Player of the Year race, banking $677,853. In 2013, he placed 32nd, taking home another $810,966. In 2014, he ranked 37th, making another $870,322. Now, only four months into his 2015 campaign, Kuether has already locked up his best year to date, sitting in third place overall, having earned $1,340,678.

Card Player caught up with Kuether during some rare time away from the felt to discuss his life as a poker pro and the hot start to his young career.

Card Player: Can you talk about the ins and outs of what it’s like to play poker professionally?

Joe Kuether: I haven’t really had a home base for the last two years, so I’ve kind of used that as an excuse to continue traveling. I’m still not really feeling the burn out. I’ve gotten to experience so many things and meet some great people, and obviously my good results have helped. The best part is that now I don’t necessarily have to hunt for the best value tournaments, and instead I can pick and choose based on places I want to see, people that are going to go, or even something like how the weather is in that location. I still love poker and I’m not looking to stop anytime soon. You can’t beat the freedom you get with playing poker for a living.

CP: There must be a lot of behind-the-scenes logistics involved with traveling the tournament circuit that isn’t so glamorous and takes a lot of planning.

JK: Honestly I’m not the best when it comes to planning out my tournament schedule. I’ve been trying to get better about it, but I’m usually the guy who hops on a last-minute flight and is searching for a place to sleep the night before a tournament starts. I’m sure I could have saved a ton of money if I just planned ahead and kept to a set schedule, but I don’t really know where I’m going to be in the next month other than the big tournament stops on the circuit. A lot of it also depends on how deep I run in a tournament. It’s hard to plan ahead when you don’t know if you need to be somewhere for just one day or a week. You hear from other people about tournaments that are going on that you didn’t know about and all of a sudden, you’re on your way to that location. Or maybe you just don’t want to commit ahead of time to something that you might not feel like playing. I guess there’s a value to being flexible.

CP: What’s one of the biggest challenges to life on the circuit?

JK: There are a lot of distractions when it comes to living this lifestyle and, if you’re not careful, poker could become secondary and your results will suffer. There are poker players who are more concerned with going out or gambling in the pit and they do this stuff while they are still in a tournament. I’m not saying I’m perfect, because I’ve definitely had my share of long nights, but the poker has to come first in this business. If not, you might find yourself off the circuit in a couple of years. Besides, there are going to be plenty of tournaments when you don’t run deep and you have the extra time to do those things.

CP: Do you find yourself discussing strategy after a day at the tables or is poker the last thing you want to talk about?

JK: A long day of poker can be mentally draining, so I’m pretty content to just relax. I’ll still talk some poker with friends and go over hands, but I’m not crazy about in-depth poker discussions after playing poker all day. And I definitely don’t want to tell or hear bad beat stories.

CP: When you enter a tournament, do you have an idea of how many chips you want to accumulate each level?

JK: I’m not that kind of player. I know some people like to either get a big stack early or go home, and there are plenty of players who can make that work for them. But personally, I don’t think about tournament poker in that way. My main goal is to take each hand and play it to the best of my ability. If I do that, then chipping up will often take care of itself. I’m not going to force the issue.

That’s not to say that my playing style is the best playing style. I found a style that works for me through a lot of trial and error. But depending on what kind of player you are, you may be better suited or just more comfortable with a different approach. There are a lot of playing styles that can work.

CP: You started off 2015 with the biggest cash of your career, earning $1,050,000 for finishing second in the $25,000 High Roller at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. What was it like to earn your first seven-figure score?

JK: I’m pretty sure that was the first $25,000 buy-in tournament I’ve played in. I did play in the $111,111 buy-in One Drop event at the World Series of Poker a couple years ago, but I believe this was my first official $25,000 event. In my opinion, it’s not a true high roller tournament. The field is much larger and much softer than a traditional high roller, which is filled with the same 25 to 30 people each time. When we got heads-up, I got a pretty favorable deal and we agreed to chop it. After that, we were pretty shallow and it didn’t go my way, but it was definitely a great way to start the year. The best part about it is that it’s kind of like I’m freerolling the rest of 2015. There are so many buy-ins at the PCA that if you brick your first five or six tournaments, you are kind of starting off in a big hole and that can negatively affect how you plan the rest of your year.

CP: You’ve been one of the most consistent players on the circuit since 2012 and are always in the running for Card Player’s Player of the Year honors. Do you think you can sustain this sort of success for the duration of your career?

JK: Nobody really understands the variance in tournament poker. As poker players, we think we know that the success comes and goes, but for some people it never actually goes away. For the last few years, I’ve been telling myself that I need to focus more on cash games because inevitably the variance will catch up to me… and then it doesn’t happen, at least not in a drastic way. A lot of it also has to do with the fact that a player in the middle of a downswing often starts to play worse because they are pressing. That will only prolong the downswing and that kind of throws the variance argument out the window.

So maybe there are some players out there who can consistently expect a high return on investment in tournaments each year because they don’t deviate away from a winning strategy. Maybe it’s because I put in enough volume at the lower buy-in tournaments to overcome the variance. I don’t know for sure. But right now I’m more than happy to keep riding it out.

Kuether’s Advice For Satellite Winners Playing Their First Big Tournament

Joe Kuether has cashed in more than 100 poker tournaments in his career and shares tips on how your should approach your first bigger buy-in event.

“The first thing you need to realize in some of these bigger buy-in tournaments with good structures is that people will knock themselves out by trying to do too much. Especially in the early levels, you can get away with playing straightforward poker and the bad players who don’t like to fold will find a way to give you their chips. Against these players, just don’t force it and don’t play scared.”

“If you do happen to find yourself up against a really good professional, you need to realize that as long as you aren’t visibly nervous or uncomfortable, the pro won’t have any idea, at least at first, that this is your first big buy-in tournament. You can fake it until you settle in.”

“When a poker pro does notice that he might have a big edge over a beginning player, that’s when the beginner might want to take a more high variance approach. Playing big pots is not something most pros want to do, because it negates their edge. Early on, you can accumulate a stack by taking advantage of the fact that a lot of pros aren’t looking to gamble in marginal spots.”

Kuether’s Biggest Tournament Scores

March 2012
WSOP Circuit Harrah’s Rincon Main Event
1st Place • $111,104

July 2012
WSOP $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em
3rd Place • $218,983

March 2013
WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star
6th Place • $162,240

August 2013
Arizona State Poker Championship
1st Place • $246,161

January 2014
PCA $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em
1st Place • $136,250

September 2014
Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open
5th Place • $424,044

January 2015
PCA $25,000 No-Limit Hold’em
2nd Place • $1,050,000

February 2015
Venetian Deepstack Extravaganza I
2nd Place • $109,877

Kuether’s Player Of The Year Finishes
Year – Rank — Total Points – Titles – Final Tables – Earnings
2012 – 14 – 2,779 – 4 – 12 — $677,853
2013 – 32 – 2,375 – 4 – 8 — $810,966
2014 – 37 – 2,636 – 1 – 6 — $870,853
2015* — 3 – 2,575 – 0 – 6 — $1,287,580

*Year Still In Progress

Kuether’s Player Of The Year Finishes

Rank: 14
Total Points: 2,779
Titles: 4 • Final Tables: 12
Earnings: $677,853

Rank: 32
Total Points: 2,375
Titles: 4 • Final Tables: 8
Earnings: $810,966

Rank: 37
Total Points: 2,636
Titles: 1 • Final Tables: 6
Earnings: $870,853

Rank: 3
Total Points: 2,791
Titles: 1 • Final Tables: 7
Earnings: $1,340,678

*Year Still In Progress