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Two-Time WSOP Bracelet PLO8 Winner Nathan Gamble: “Poker Is About Being Social”

by Steve Schult |  Published: Sep 09, 2020

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As a relative unknown to the poker world in 2017, Texas native Nathan Gamble thrust himself into the spotlight by winning his first World Series of Poker bracelet. Gamble bested a field of 830 entries to earn $223,339 in the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better event.

Three years later, in the midst of a pandemic, the WSOP was moved online and final tables were live streamed on Twitch. For the $600 pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better event, WSOP’s lead commentator David Tuchman asked Gamble to be his co-host on the stream.

Gamble accepted the invitation, but ultimately couldn’t fulfill his duties. He had made the final table himself, and ended up winning his second bracelet in the same game he conquered a few years prior. Gamble defeated 883 entries and earned another $89,424 to go along with another piece of WSOP gold.

Gamble sat down with Card Player to discuss beating games online at 11 years old, his time in the military, how to build a network in poker, and his plans to give back to the mixed-game poker community.

Steve Schult: Let’s just start with a little bit of your poker backstory. How did you find the game? When did you start playing?

Nathan Gamble: I started playing when I was about 12 years old. It was just me watching my Dad and his friends sitting around the kitchen table. That was about a year before Moneymaker, I think. They were playing “baseball” and “chase the spade” and whatever. Then Moneymaker happened and they all started playing no-limit [hold’em].

And somehow, as a 12-year-old kid, just sitting around and watching them, I convinced them to let me play. I started playing free money online and then my Dad gave me like $11 on UltimateBet to play some tournament. For some reason they canceled the tournament and as a kid you’re like, ‘Oh man, Dad. Do you need this money back? It’s $11.’ And he said, ‘Keep it Son. You’re good.’

So my first bankroll online was literally $11. I ran it down to $1.57 and I told myself, ‘I need to take this seriously.’ I started searching around for other games and I played “Royal Hold’em” on UltimateBet. It was basically the ultimate short-deck poker. It was just tens through aces. It was limit, but I just found that people sucked at it.

They just didn’t know anything about it and somehow at 11 years old, I figured out how to beat them. In about two months, I turned that $1.57 into about $1,600 or $1,700. So I started playing with my Dad and his friends for like $20 cash game buy-ins.

This will tell you how old this is. But I took a USB drive into my high school because I was in theatre. I would go into a back room when I wasn’t needed and I would plug it into their computers, download the UB client onto the computer off of the thumb drive, play on UltimateBet for like an hour and a half, delete it, because you know that you can’t get caught. And then end up doing the same thing the next day.

SS: That’s a crazy amount of money for an 11-year-old kid to have. I couldn’t imagine having $1,600 at that age. Did either of your parents worry about you having a gambling problem?

Gamble at the 2017 WSOPNG: Like I said, I would play with my dad and his friends, but then we also found these underground card rooms around us. Whether it was at people’s houses or an apartment that they would rent out so that they could run solely a poker game around there.

I was going with him at like 13, 14, 15 years old. I think it was my sophomore year and I had finals the next morning. We were out together until like 5 a.m. and we get home at like 6 a.m. He says, ‘Oh, you have finals in an hour, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah’ and he said, ‘Good luck with that. I’m going to bed.’

He was always supportive and enjoyed it.

My Mom… it took a long, long time to convince her. And I didn’t realize until I talked to her about it as an adult. And the reason was because I had money, you know. I didn’t have responsibility and she was more worried about me getting into drugs or doing nefarious acts with it. Not so much about the gambling, the poker, but having money as a kid.

SS: How did you end up playing pot-limit Omaha hi-lo? When did you start playing it and what made you so good at it?

NG: I played no-limit as a kid. Just going up to WinStar in Oklahoma and playing $1-$2 no-limit. But I had that background online of limit Omaha eight-or-better and PLO8 and all the other limit games of just being a kid and being curious.

But I actually dealt an underground game that was limit Omaha eight-or-better for probably a year and a half. From 18 or 19 [years old] until about 20 or 21 [years old], I guess. I dealt limit, and then in college, I was still playing online, but I found sit-n-go’s. I played PLO8 sit-n-go’s. I don’t know why that attracted me. I still don’t know what it was. But I just played those sit-n-go’s. I’d probably get in 50 or 100 reps a day of like a $10 sit-n-go.

For a year or two straight, I would literally just play 50 sit-n-go’s a day of PLO8. And I think that’s how I transitioned to having the skills I do. Because PLO8 is gone. There is no online site that is reputable in the U.S. that offers PLO8 sit-n-go’s or tournaments on a daily basis. It’s really difficult for someone else to come along and learn how to be good at those games.

I was just fortunate enough that I just kind of stumbled into something that I enjoy and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from.

SS: You mentioned after your first bracelet win in 2017 that you were in a last longer with Calen McNeil, Leif Force, and a few other pros. Given your background in the military, I didn’t think you had the stereotypical upbringing online. How did you build a poker network with guys like that while you were serving?

NG: I definitely don’t have a traditional background, that’s for damn sure. So, let’s see. The first time I ever played at the World Series of Poker was in 2011. I played three tournaments and I took 12th in the very first one I ever played. A $1,500 PLO event. I had only played a couple events and I had met Calen in one of those events.

He was just a regular guy. He won his bracelet maybe a year or two after that. And he took third after that. He was just someone I met at the first table I played at the WSOP. Just a phenomenal guy. Real easy-going personality. But I didn’t know most people in that last longer. It was just their reputation and another person vouching.

SS: Did you even have a poker network back then? Did you have people to talk with about the game? Do you have one now? Is it even important to have?

Gamble at the 2018 WSOPNG: When I won bracelet no. 1, 100% no. I didn’t know anyone in the poker world. That was my coming out to the world of poker. It was kind of like, ‘Hey, this guy kind of knows what’s going on.’

Since then, I started playing more professionally. I got out of the military in 2016. I started playing PLO at the Aria for about two years and then the biggest progression in my career, has been since last year. Especially in building a network.

In March or April of last year, 2019, I started playing mixed games at Aria. $4-$8 limit mixed games. Just bullshitting and getting around and trying something new, because PLO wasn’t going the best and I want to try something else. From there, I worked my way up to $80-$160 during the summer. So $4-$8 in March to $80-$160 during the WSOP.

We moved the game from Bellagio over to the Wynn in September of last year. But through the game I’ve gotten to know Brandon Shack-Harris, Ali Nejad, Max Pescatori, Joe Tehan and just a slew of people who have extensive results in the game and it’s been fantastic to meet those people and be able to bounce ideas off them.

I took eighth last year in the mixed Omaha event and I met Carol Fuchs, who has a bracelet. She’s the nicest lady in the entire world. I love her to death. And she’s connected me just by being herself. That’s how I got the commentating opportunity. Now I know Norman Chad and David Tuchman. So from April last year until now, it took about three or four months of growth to go from about $4-$8 limit to about $80-$160 and it expanded my entire network to something I’m still just shocked at.

SS: There are so many players at the table that just sit silently with headphones on. How important is it to engage with other people at the table? It seems like being an outgoing, friendly person has thoroughly helped your career.

NG: I think at the end of the day, poker is about being social. It’s about being around people and interacting. People are trying to win money and then they will also get pissed off at people who have private games. Those people that are in private games, have other skills. They have the ability to interact with people and network.

They have the ability to get the fish into the game and make them have fun. [Jean-Robert Bellande] is a prime example. The people he attracts to that game, he’s not attracting them because they are going to win money. It’s a skill that’s overlooked in poker.

You can be a crusher in no-limit. You can wear your hoodie and have your sunglasses on and run your solvers, but it’s not going to get you the best games. It’s not going to get you human interaction or interaction that actually matters. It’s just another skill in the toolbox. And yeah, I think for me, it’s because I’m genuine. I have a passion for this. That’s why I’m good at it.

I’m not going to try and bullshit anyone. I’m not going to try and go out of my way to get in contact with someone. It’s because people see that I care about this and I’m going to do right by them.

SS: How did your experiences in the military shape you as both a person and a poker player?

NG: It’s funny. I’m actually writing a book right now because my grandfather was in World War II. I’m trying to figure out what he taught me, what the military taught me, and what it has given me. I know as far as poker, there are so many people that are angry out there.

You’re playing $1-$2 no-limit or even $5-$10. They lose a bet, they lose their stack, they lose everything. It doesn’t matter. They are angry at the world. If they win a pot, they are angry they didn’t get more.

My time in the military was in South Korea. They are under threat of war from North Korea on a daily basis. There are rockets fired over the lines. There were soldiers that got their legs blown off when I was over there in 2015. And you see what that has done to a country. You travel extensively and you see that where we live right now has it better off than most places.

What it has taught me is that you’re in a multi-billion-dollar casino, with money that you should be able to lose, and you have a beautiful cocktail server, a competent dealer, and friendly people around you. And then you look at what other countries are doing and where they are at in life. And how they are barely surviving. How are you pissed off? How are you angry at the table?

You’ll never find me angry at the table. It doesn’t matter. You are in the best position you could possibly be in. It’s just given me a larger perspective.

SS: You are clearly at the forefront of PLO8 strategy and made a rapid ascent up the mixed-games ladder. Do you think it is beneficial for poker players to learn non-hold’em games? If so, why? And where do you see the poker landscape going in regards to game popularity?

Gamble during the final table of his bracelet win in 2017NG: I think there is a 100 percent correlation between games. Learning the base of one game helps you in all the others. Even if you are a no-limit player, learning other games will help you in no-limit.

Learning mixed games, you may suck at one or two or even 20 of them. Just by playing other games, you’ll always be better.

As far of the future of mixed games versus no-limit hold’em, the most difficult thing that we are encountering right now, and Melissa Burr touched on it in one of her columns for you guys, is that I went from playing $4-$8 to playing $20-$40. There is no bridge between $4-$8 and $20-$40. There is no $10-$20 game in any part of [Las Vegas]. And then that $20-$40 transitions into a $40-$80. So now there is no gap between that $4-$8 and the $40-$80. So trying to get people involved in mixed games is so, so, so difficult right now.

Because you say, ‘Hey, come hang with the guys, have a couple beers, and win or lose a couple hundred bucks. Oh. You enjoyed it? Come play $40-$80 and win or lose thousands.’ There is ‘no bridge,’ is what she called it. And that is something that I’ve been actively working to fix.

Me and Ali [Nejad] are the statesmen for the $80-$160 game. We did all the work. We call the casinos. We want to make sure that we had a home. But I was also the one that if anyone came up to me and said, ‘Hey, that game is too big. $80-$160 is too big.’ I would say. ‘Let me help you. Let me help you build a $10-$20 or a $20-$40 or whatever it is.’

I’ve reached out to several people and worked on having correct blind structures, getting players together, building player bases. And it hasn’t taken off yet, but I’m still trying. I want to build that bridge. Because otherwise it is terribly doomed. How do you put people in an $80-$160 game if they don’t know what they are doing?

That’s what I want to do right now in poker. Is give back. I’ve been a part of this for 18 years. I want to be a spokesperson to help grow poker. Back in January of this year, I started working at the Wynn poker room. I’m one of their floor people transitioning to the operations side. It’s not because I need the money. It’s because I want to learn the industry from a different perspective and find a way to help promote it. And find a way to give back and make it better.

SS: Why do you have this desire to give back to the game like this? You mentioned how you meet a lot of angry people in a poker room. What drives you to help poker grow?

NG: I’ve always been someone that’s a doer. If I see something wrong or a person that needs help, I step in. This industry has given me so much personally and there have been people along the way that have owed nothing to me but given me everything to succeed and thrive. The only way to keep advancing as a society and as a community is to give back in whatever capacity you can. When I was young, I emailed people like Alec Torelli, Michael Mizrachi, and Justin Bonomo.

A few of them responded and gave me thoughtful, well-executed responses. That gave me insight and a boost of confidence to continue on this journey. If I have even a small amount of notoriety right now, I want to use it to help promote the game, to help bring people into the mix game community, and to continue improving.