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Longtime Grinder Andrew Kelsall: “I’m A Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None”

WSOP Global Casino Championship Winner Discusses Winning His First Bracelet

by Steve Schult |  Published: Dec 02, 2020

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Andrew KelsallAndrew Kelsall has been playing poker since before the boom and has quietly made himself a comfortable living from the felt. Over the course of his career, which has tournament cashes dating all the way back to limit hold’em events in 2001, he has earned $2.048 million, while grinding mid- and high-stakes cash games as well.

Before September, Kelsall’s largest career tournament cash was $124,731. He more than doubled that score with a World Series of Poker bracelet win in the 2020 Global Casino Championship, which was played online on WSOP.com.

The Pennsylvania-native splits his time between Las Vegas and Tampa, and earned a spot in the $10,000 buy-in as an at-large qualifier thanks to a solid season on the WSOP Circuit, where he won his second and third Circuit rings. He ultimately defeated a 130-entry field, and Michael Trivett heads-up, to turn a free entry into his first WSOP title and $275,632.

Kelsall has also proven himself to be proficient in any poker game. During the 2018 WSOP, Kelsall cashed 12 times in eight different poker variants at stake levels ranging from $365 to $10,000. Card Player sat down with Kelsall to discuss the culmination of his poker career, his love for mixed games, and his desire to win a “real bracelet.”

Steve Schult: You’ve been successful at this game for quite some time with cashes dating back to 2001. You were clearly around before the Moneymaker boom, so how did you find poker?

Andrew Kelsall: In 2000, when I was about 30 years old, I went out on a gambling cruise out of Clearwater, Florida with some friends just to play blackjack and have some drinks. We stumbled into a $2-$10 stud high poker game. I had never played. I literally didn’t know that a flush beat a straight.

I didn’t play quarter games in college and stuff like that. That was honestly the first time I played. I bought a few books and we went back out on the cruise maybe a week later. That happened about four or five times and I bought another book or two. That’s really how I learned.

But by the fourth time I went out, there was no stud game and the guy running the boat said, “We’re playing $6-$12 hold’em.” Now I’m out on the boat and I’m stuck. I didn’t even know what hold’em was. I had only played stud to that point. He kind of helped me learn how to play limit hold’em that night and I got invited to some private games a couple times after that. It just kind of steamrolled from there.

SS: What books did you read?

AK: The first couple I got were Super System and the [David] Sklansky and [Mason] Malmuth books. Maybe a few years later I picked up Harrington on Hold’em. I know the stuff is kind of outdated now, but that’s all people read.

I had a friend that used to go out on that cruise with me. Every week, he would bring me a different book and I would return it to him the next week. He was a little bit of a poker mentor for me. It was really nice of him to do that and it really helped me learn a little bit.

SS: You started out playing limit games, but you’ve proven yourself very proficient in no-limit hold’em. What was that transition like for you and when did it happen?

AK: I don’t even remember exactly when that occurred. I guess it was right around when Moneymaker won the WSOP main event. Everything kind of transitioned to no-limit so you really didn’t have much choice but to learn it.

I was in Florida at that point and we had the $100 max buy-in games. That’s really where I started playing it. Then I started to travel a little bit more and started playing some $2-$5 and $5-$10 no-limit games while I was playing some mid-stakes tournaments.

I really didn’t play a lot of tournaments until about 2016 or so. I would play some here or there, maybe take two or three one-week trips a year and play three or four tournaments at each place. Maybe [I would] play a couple tournaments in Florida. But I really never played a full WSOP schedule until a few years ago.

SS: I remember during one of your deep runs in a World Poker Tour Borgata main event, you said that as soon as you busted, you were heading to Arizona to play a $30-$60 mixed game. How do cash games fit into your life? Are they your main source of income?

AK: I’ve gone back and forth on that. I would say about 10 years ago if you were to ask me that question, I probably played 80-90 percent of my poker hours in cash games and only 10-20 percent in tournaments. Now, it’s probably much closer to 50-50 and maybe even more trending towards tournaments.

It’s not like I’m a rich guy or anything, but I’ve gotten comfortable now to where I don’t have to play on a daily basis and treat it like a 50 hour-per-week job like I had to do when I first started. I’m a lazy personality at heart, so when I don’t have to be somewhere or have to play, I tend to make excuses not to go.

Obviously with cash games, you can go whenever you want. And when I used to really need the money, I used to play 40-50 hours per week for sure. And now, [before COVID-19], I would usually play only about 20 hours each week of live poker. When I’m traveling somewhere, then obviously I’m going to put a lot of hours into tournaments.

SS: Do you think all professional poker players should be playing cash games? Does it help offset the variance of tournaments?

AK: I don’t know if offset is the right word. It really depends on your situation. For me, I’m a single guy with no family and no kids. I’ve kind of designed my life in a way to not have any bosses. It could be wives or kids or real bosses, but I can essentially do what I want.

When people ask me questions on how to become a poker player, I always tell them that it’s really hard to be a tournament poker player and have a family. Not only do you travel so much, but you never know when you’re going to be home. You leave at noon and you can’t even tell your wife and kids if you’ll be home for dinner or not every night. That’s a really difficult lifestyle.

Obviously in cash games, you can kind of make your own schedule. You can treat it like an 8 to 5 job or a 4 to 12 job or whatever you want to do. It’s not that poker players have to balance things out [to lower variance], it’s just a little bit easier to be a cash game player.

I think the difference between cash games and tournaments has been really overstated. Obviously, some of the theories are different, but really, in a cash game or tournament, you are starting with a pile of chips and your goal is to get more chips. People make it too complicated. I’m not saying they are exactly the same, but when someone says to me, “I’m amazing at tournaments, but I stink at cash,” I just think that’s ridiculous. How can you be that great at one and that awful at the other?

SS: What about all the other games you play? You started out playing limit hold’em and seven card stud, then you transitioned into no-limit hold’em. But just a few years ago, you were playing all the games, at all of the stakes. How did you get introduced to them and how did you stay ahead of the curve?

AK: It basically came from just playing so many hours of no-limit hold’em over the years. I just got bored with it. I was looking for something to get the juices flowing again and enjoy going to play. I still don’t really enjoy going to play no-limit hold’em, but I love these other games.

It’s a little bit of a challenge. I’m a math guy and a lot of those limit mixed games are math-based, so I picked them up pretty easily. I always say that I don’t really consider myself great at any of the games, but I think I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.

Obviously, every game is a little bit different, but I feel that I’m like a B or B+ player in every game. Perhaps I’m a C in some games, or an A in others, depending on who you talk to, but as a general rule, I’m a B player in everything. And that makes it fun… just to be able to play all the games and be able to go into any room at any time. I can pretty much play everything. [Playing hold’em everyday] is like playing the same golf course every day. It gets boring.

To take that one little step further, at this point in my poker career I’ll definitely give up equity in some situations to do things in poker that I think are more fun. Let’s say there is a good $500 no-limit tournament that I should probably play and have a good expectation in, but there is also a good $30-$60 2-7 triple draw game in the same room. I’m going to go play the triple draw because that is more fun. I might not do as well, but it’s more fun and I’m still going to do okay.

SS: In one summer, you cashed in events with buy-ins as low as $365 and as high as $10,000. Do the stakes affect your mindset at all?

AK: I’d say the rest of the year, that dramatic change in stakes definitely affects me. You wouldn’t really see that kind of a jump if you were to look at my record from, let’s say, January-May. But part of the reason I was so excited to finally win this bracelet was because I had made it a goal to win a bracelet since I started playing a full schedule of events over the last four or five years.

To me, it didn’t matter if it was a $100 tournament or a $10,000 tournament. I was just going to play and try to win a bracelet. Each summer, I sell about half of my action and keep about half for myself, so that made it easier to play some of the $10K’s.

It’s sort of like what I said about the other example about prioritizing fun over profit. In the $10,000 seven card stud tournament, for example, I might not have any equity. I might even be 50-50 against the field, not plus or minus EV. But even if there was something up the road that I could be playing where I could have a little bit more of an edge, money-wise, I would play the WSOP event. I just made it kind of a personal goal to win a bracelet. That’s why this is so exciting for me.

I still want to win a live bracelet though. A few of my friends have said, “Now that you’ve won a fake bracelet, are you going to go win a real one next summer?”

SS: Can you elaborate on that a little bit? Everyone imagines what it’s like to win a bracelet, but you won one during one of weirdest years in poker history. What was it like to ship the gold online?

AK: It’s definitely not as cool, but it’s still a pretty good feeling. The Global [Casino Championship] is still a pretty prestigious tournament with lots of good players. From that point of view, it’s cool to win something that Daniel Negreanu and Mike Matusow finished ninth and tenth in.

But on the other hand, it would be one notch cooler to win it in person. I was just sitting on my recliner really. I’m not really an online player. I’m not a guy that’s grinding six or eight tables on a Sunday. I actually sat at the Westgate sportsbook for the first four hours of the tournament watching football while I played the tournament on my iPad in my lap.

SS: You said you hadn’t played live poker since February. How did the pandemic affect your outlook on poker and where you thought you would be playing?

AK: I have a site where I played $30-$60 mixed games online. I play maybe 10-20 hours a week on there. I haven’t played any tournaments except for the WSOP Circuit or the WSOP bracelet events online. Other than that, I really haven’t played any poker.

I’m really lucky that the pandemic didn’t happen 10 years ago. That would’ve really hurt me because I “needed to be playing.” I will need to be playing at some point, but I can go a year or two without playing a hand of poker and I will be fine financially. I feel pretty lucky about that. I couldn’t have said that 10 years ago, and that was even before this win.

SS: Where do you see your career going in the future? Do you think you’ll play professionally for the rest of your life?

AK: I don’t see myself doing anything else. I’ve done nothing but this for 20 years. I joke with people that my résumé would look pretty poor right now if I tried to put it together. ♠