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How Part-Time Poker Pro Aaron Van Blarcum Went From $21K To $4.1 Million In Nine Months

44-Year-Old Business Owner Discusses His Rapid Rise To The Highest Stakes Tournaments In The World

by Erik Fast |  Published: May 06, 2020


Aaron Van Blarcum had just six recorded live tournament cashes to his name leading into the 2019 World Series of Poker main event, totaling $21,406 in earnings. Since that tournament kicked off last July, Van Blarcum has cashed for more than $4.1 million dollars, making 13 final tables and winning two titles along the way.

The 44-year-old CBD business owner and former nightclub investor from Dallas, Texas started his incredible run with a strong showing in the previously mentioned WSOP main event. Van Blarcum finished in 212th place out of a field of 8,569 entries to earn $50,855.

Just seven weeks later he won the World Poker Tour Legends of Poker $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event at The Bicycle Hotel & Casino, topping a field of 520 entries to secure his first major title and the top prize of $474,390. A few months after that, he made a trip to the Bahamas for the 2019 Caribbean Poker Party, where he finished as the runner-up from a field of 948 entries in the $10,000,000 guaranteed $10,300 buy-in main event for $970,000.

With multiple six-figure scores under his belt after just a few months of playing an increased tournament schedule, Van Blarcum decided to try his hand at the super high roller scene in the final weeks of 2019. In the five months that have followed, he secured 10 final-table finishes playing at the highest stakes in the world, including the $250,000 buy-in Super High Roller Bowl events held in Australia and Russia.

Card Player recently caught up with Van Blarcum to discuss his meteoric rise up the tournament ranks, how he first got into the game, why he prefers high roller events and more.

Card Player: You went from hardly having any tournament results on your resume to playing in the highest stakes events in the world in less than a year, with millions in cashes along the way. Can you tell me about how you burst onto the scene and made your way to the top of the game so quickly?

Aaron Van Blarcum: Well, I had a couple of buddies that were playing some tournaments, and they were trying to get me to play for a long time. And I’d always just been playing cash games. So I decided to jump into the WSOP main event last year, just for fun, just to see what happened. And I did pretty well, and it was fun. I had a good time with it.

Aaron Van BlarcumAfter that, I decided to play all the World Poker Tour events and then I just happened to smash the first one and win that one, and it kind of just went from there. I started having more fun playing in tournaments than I did at cash games, so I just decided to do that and try to spin it up and roll it towards where it’s at now.

CP: What’s your background in poker? When did you first start playing the game, and can you tell me a little bit about how you got into cash games?

AVB: Yeah, so I used to have games out in Dallas, private games. We used to play those, since I was probably about 18 years old, back there. Every once in awhile I’d play out in Vegas, but for the most, part it was just only games in Dallas, Texas that we used to play.

CP: Was that something that you picked up when you were involved in nightclub businesses?

AVB: No, it was before that. I used to actually skateboard for a living, and I had some buddies from that used to play. I went and played with them one day, and then it just became a thing. My friend was playing in some of the private games, and he was like, ‘Hey, let’s go play in this little small $1-$2 game.’ So we started playing that back then, and then it kind of just grew from there. The games got pretty big back about 10 years ago, the games were pretty big back then.

CP: How big? Can you tell me what kind of stakes you were playing?

AVB: At that time in the Dallas area, there was a lot of $25-$50, $50-$100, and a lot of $100-$200 pot-limit Omaha.

CP: So your rise up the stakes in tournaments over the past year may have been quick, but you’re not a stranger to playing big. It had just been in cash games prior to 2019.

AVB: Right, yeah. It was just cash games. I never really played the tournaments just because of… well, because of how much time gets wrapped up into each event. Each game takes you, if you make a deep run, it takes you three, four or five days to play out. I just never really wanted to spend that much time sitting at a table just playing one tournament. But now that they’ve kind of shortened up, is why I like the high rollers. So you don’t have to sit there for four days. You can play those in a day, day and a half usually, sometimes two at the most. So that’s why I enjoy those a little bit more.

CP: So speaking of the high rollers, I wondered if you could walk through your mindset after going on a run in a few larger field tournaments. So, you placed 212th in the WSOP main event, then won a WPT title just a few months later. Then just another couple months after that you had a runner-up finish in another large field main event. After having multiple big results, did you just feel comfortable taking a shot at an even bigger buy-in?

AVB: So yeah, it was after my Bahamas trip to the Caribbean Poker Party. When I was out there they had all the high roller events going on, and I was watching all the action in those. And then after I got second in the $10,300 buy-in there for $970,000, that’s when I decided I wanted to try to go and see what I could do in the bigger buy-ins. I think I first jumped into them at the Bellagio’s Five Diamond series in December. And then the first few I played, I got first and second place in $25,000 and $50,000 buy-in events. So then after that, I started just looking up where the high roller series were at, and just started trying to follow the circuit around, playing all of them from there on, basically. I think the next month was Australia, I think we went to.

CP: Was that first shot you took in a $25,000 buy-in at all stressful or did you feel confident and comfortable right away?

AVB: I felt comfortable right away. I may have played a little bit differently, a little tighter than I would normally. And obviously, that helped and I had a good result, but I did tighten up a bit just because of the level of play, the competition… I just hadn’t ever played with a lot of those guys before, though I knew who all of them were, obviously. It was fun for me to be able to play with all those guys, and I wouldn’t say that I was intimidated at all.

CP: What’s your experience been like as a newcomer? As a fresh face on the scene, what has been your overall experience interacting and playing with all of the high-roller regulars?

AVB: I wasn’t sure how everybody was going to be, but after traveling around with everybody, they’ve all been pretty cool. There are only about 50 to 80 people that play in these things around the world on a consistent basis, and everybody’s pretty friendly with each other. I’m not going to say like a home game, but whenever you’re sitting down with everybody, everybody has played with each other for so long, they kind of all know how each other plays. Everybody’s talking, nobody’s just sitting there for the most part. I like being able to be a part of all that too. It’s cool. It’s like its own little community, basically.

CP: In a way, do you think that being a new player that this well known high-stakes regulars haven’t really faced before played to your advantage, at least early on?

Aaron Van Blarcum at bestbet JacksonvilleAVB: I think it probably did early on, but I think then after the first few times they probably picked up on everything. Obviously all those guys are the best in the world, right? So it doesn’t take them long to pick up on how somebody’s playing.

CP: So you mentioned earlier that you enjoy that these high rollers are designed to be fewer days to take to play down to a winner. And you also said that you appreciate the challenge of going up against the toughest competition. Are there any other reasons why you just decided to quickly move up and just target playing these super high rollers?

AVB: Not really. That’s pretty much it. Just that, and then the high stakes. If I’m going to be playing it, obviously you want to win as much as possible, right? So the only way to win the most money is to play the higher stakes. I’d rather play five tournaments in a week where you have a chance to at least cash or win. And you can still win something like $1.2 million instead of being in one tournament where you got to get first place to win $350 grand, like a WPT. I would just rather do those tournaments.

CP: So, you took a shot at high roller events and had success right away in $25k and $50k buy-ins. Just a month after making that leap up in stakes, you went down to Australia and played the $250,000 buy-in Super High Roller Bowl down there. Can you tell me about that experience?

AVB: It was fun. It’s something that I just wanted to do, just to take a shot at it because I was doing well when I was down in Australia, so I figured while I was down in Australia, since I’d done well in the two $100,000 buy-in that I played in and a couple of the other events down there, I figured I would try to roll it up at that point and just see what I could do for the trip since I was up.

It was a good time. It’s something that I’m going to do as much as I can. I won’t play all the $250,000 buy-in events, but going up to $100,000 is a comfortable level for me. The $250,000 level is a little bit in the un-comfort zone, for me, but if I’m at that series and I’m up, then I don’t mind putting the $250,000 up. So, that’s kind of where I’m sitting with that.

CP: Since you’ve been on the scene, has there been any particular player that you’ve come up against who’s been the hardest for you to deal with?

AVB: Probably going to be … I mean, obviously all of them, right? But if I had to pick the main one, it’d probably be Alex Foxen. Him and Kahle Burns. I’ve played with those guys at a lot of final tables. If I get deep, it seems like one of those two guys is there with me just about every time.

CP: With two titles and five final table finishes in really just the second half of the year, you fell just shy of finishing inside the top 20 and Card Player’s Player of the Year race in 2019. Now this year you have already made eight final tables and are currently inside the top ten. Is an award like the POY, which looks to measure consistency on the tournament circuit over an entire year, is that the kind of thing that you might chase if you continue to be among the top contenders towards the end of 2020?

AVB: Oh, of course, 100 percent that is something that I do want to chase. I’m very competitive and always want to be the best at anything I do, no matter what. I definitely want to try to see what I can do in that arena for sure. It’s a big deal to me.

CP: You mention you competitiveness. Would you say that is the trait that has most helped you find success so quickly on the live tournament scene?

AVB: The competitive nature helps you study, right? It helps you keep up on people, how they play, study the game a lot more than what maybe a normal person would, because you don’t want to lose it. And whenever you do make mistakes, I’m always going back and checking and seeing what I did and playing over the hands. Maybe the hand I got knocked out on wasn’t the hand that I played bad, but I didn’t have enough chips to withstand whatever it is that made me lose right there. So I go back and try to see where it is that I lost chips, to see what I can do differently in the next tournament so that I can get a little bit further. So being competitive just helps me probably just work on it a lot harder than a lot of other people, I think.

CP: Do you plan on continuing to play a lot of live tournaments once the action picks back up after the coronavirus outbreak is under control? Will how much you play be limited at all by your responsibilities to your CBD business?

AVB: That is my plan, yeah. Fitting poker in with the business obviously slows things down. We’re trying to get a whole bunch of more locations opened up out here in Florida, so it slows it down a little bit. But I’ve got people that help me to run things, so I plan on traveling around and playing high rollers for at least the next probably two years, and doing all the tournaments at the WSOP whenever it does go. But at least the next 24 months, that’s the plan.

It’s not just the poker, it has to do with traveling, being able to go to the different spots and see different places and all that stuff. It’s something I’ve wanted to do, anyway, and this approach accomplishes both goals. I love doing both travel and poker.Spade Suit

Photo credits: Main image via Bicycle Casino Blog. Additional images via World poker Tour / Joe Giron.