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Jose ‘Nacho’ Barbero: “ICM Is For Poor People”

Argentina’s All-Time Money Leader Talks Million Dollar Swings

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: May 17, 2023


What a difference a year can make, especially in the poker world.

Jose Ignacio Barbero, known to his friends and opponents as ‘Nacho,’ found himself in a rough spot entering the 2022 World Series of Poker. Except poker wasn’t the problem.

Barbero was already a highly-successful poker pro, racking up millions in tournament earnings during his career while also taking on some of the game’s best in high-stakes cash games, but it was a terrible run with cryptocurrency investments that put his back against the wall.

“I was trying to make $100 million,” Barbero reasoned. Instead, millions of his own dollars, approximately 95% of his net worth, was gone in the span of a few days.

A little over two months later, the comeback began. The former Magic: The Gathering pro started at the summer series where he had 11 cashes overall, most notably taking down the $10,000 buy-in turbo bounty event for $587,510 plus $48,000 in bounties, along with his first career bracelet.

He continued to chase bankroll boosters throughout Europe, cashing in Barcelona, Cyprus, and Rozvadov, before going to the Bahamas for the PokerStars Players Championship $25,000 event. After five days of play, Barbero headed to the payout desk with a slip for fourth place worth a career-best $1,551,300.

A hectic, last-minute trip, to Vietnam of all places, proved to be especially profitable. Barbero first won the $15,000 Triton event for a big payday of $600,000. Just a few days later, he took second in the $25,000 Triton event, adding another $460,000 to his totals.

In March, Barbero returned to Las Vegas, where he lives part time, and rattled off five final tables in PokerGO high roller events, including a win in the $10,000 PLO Series for $234,000.

At one point he was feeling so confident, he told his opponents that “ICM is for poor people,” as he made three final tables in a three-day span during the U.S. Poker Open.

Barbero has cashed for a mammoth $4.2 million in the last 12 months, and as a result, he has moved into the top spot on Argentina’s all-time money list with more than $8.3 million in live tournament recorded earnings. He also currently sits in first place in Card Player’s Player of the Year race, sponsored by Global Poker.

Card Player caught up with the Americas Cardroom pro for an in-depth interview on the Poker Stories Podcast. Each episode profiles a well-known member of the poker world and dives deep into their favorite tales, both on and off the felt. Highlights from the interview appear below, and you can listen to the full episode on, Spotify, YouTube, or any podcast app.

Julio Rodriguez: It seems like every time we look up, you’re at another final table. How are you feeling these days?

Nacho Barbero: I’m feeling great, honestly. My mind is on poker. Playing. Studying. Everything to do with poker. When I set myself into that, I can find the zone.

JR: You were already traveling the world to compete in tournaments long before poker as a professional Magic: The Gathering player. Not only were you highly ranked worldwide, but you got to represent Argentina on their national team. How did you get into that game?

NB: I was 16 or 17 and living in Campana, (just outside of Buenos Aires), and one of my friends bought some decks. I loved the game as soon as I saw it. That was the beginning for me. Every day I would play, and then I started traveling for tournaments.

I went to the nationals, and on my first trip I got second, which qualified me for the team to represent Argentina at the World Cup in Belgium. After that, I met the guys on the pro tour, and started playing all the events.

JR: You were a Magic pro from age 17 to 23?

NB: Yes, I traveled the whole world. There were a lot of tournaments in the United States, or Canada. Trips to Australia. I went to Japan like five times. All over Europe. We would spend eight hours playing each other every day. It got to the point where I could hold a deck, 60 cards for Magic: The Gathering, and I could tell instantly if it was one card [short]. If there were 59 cards in my hand, I could feel it without counting it down.

In 2002, Argentina was hit with a huge crisis, economic collapse. There were riots everywhere, just a mess. I had just played a match in Australia at the World Championships against a French guy whose father was an Argentinian film producer who was working on The Motorcycle Diaries, [the movie] about Che Guevarra.

This guy, who became one of my best friends ever, said, ‘What are you doing here? Why don’t you come to France and stay at my house?’ I snap called. I was watching my country burn, so I told my mom that I was sorry, but that I was done with school and was going to France.

JR: When did poker come into the picture?

NB: It was from one of the greatest Magic players of all time, Gabriel Nassif, who was later a Team PokerStars pro with me. He went to America and met with other top Magic players Eric Froehlich [and David Williams] and they showed him online poker. He came back to France, and I was staying at his place testing decks, and I saw him playing $2-$5 on party poker.

I asked him if I could play his account, and he said sure. The first night I played, I saw someone make a straight with 2-3 offsuit in limit hold’em, which made me believe that was a good hand. So you can imagine how I finished that session. I got shredded. I somehow lost $800 in limit hold’em, and couldn’t sleep that night because I was shaking so hard.

But this was [the early online days], and I saw there was a lot of free money to be made. We all started playing poker after that.

JR: In 2010 you broke out with two wins on the Latin American Poker Tour for a combined $524,330, as well as a big victory at the EPT London high roller for $880,331. Then you began to focus more on high-stakes cash games. Have you always had a high tolerance for risk?

NB: My tolerance for risk is very high. I was actually doing a lot of crypto [investing], but last year I unfortunately had all my money in Luna, and I ended up losing 95% of my [net worth] in three days.

Editor’s Note: In May of 2022, the value of a Luna coin dropped from $120 to effectively zero, wiping out over $400 billion across cryptocurrency markets.

I was trying to make $100 million, which was never going to happen. I was so depressed that I didn’t have sex for two months. Just in a really bad state. But you learn the lesson. After that, I started being more careful, more diversified.

I also told myself that I was going to make the money back.

JR: You’ve had some close calls at the WSOP before. What did it feel like to finally win the bracelet?

NB: I felt relief. Honestly, it was my poker dream to win a bracelet.

After that, let me tell you it’s been a really weird like, eight months. I’ve been putting a lot of time and work into my game, studying no-limit and mixed games. The more you work, the better the results.

JR: One of those results was a career-best $1.55 million score in the Bahamas at the PokerStars Players Championship. While fourth place was a great finish, you did get some attention for a costly mistake you made earlier at the final table.

NB: It is what it is. I was in a good mindset, but I was also so drained, and couldn’t sleep for the last couple of nights. I don’t know why, but I started speaking with somebody on the rail, and when I looked back, I didn’t see that somebody had opened from under the gun.

I was in the small blind, and all I saw was the big blind. I grabbed some chips and I put him all in, and that’s when the dealer said there was action [from the under the gun player.] I had put in five million, or 20 blinds, and the guy shoved over the top with pocket jacks and I had to fold.

But you know, I took some good from it. I was able to recover and regain the chip lead, and it was only after I got coolered to a three-outer that I lost [most of my stack.] If I had just immediately busted after that misclick, it would have been the biggest tilt of my life.

JR: That’s a good attitude to have about it, and I’m sure it helped keep your momentum as you picked up more big cashes in Vietnam and Las Vegas.

NB: I have to thank Phil Nagy, the CEO of Americas Cardroom, because he was the one who convinced me to go to the Triton series [in Vietnam]. I was like, ‘Really bro? You don’t have any closer places I can go? I got to go play with the best in the world?’

But I agreed and booked my flight, which ended up being something like $9,000. I had been in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to go snowboarding, and they canceled my flight out. I had to get to San Francisco that night, but there was nothing going there for days. So, I paid for a flight to Salt Lake City instead, but that got delayed an hour. So, I now had 25 minutes to make the connection.

I arrived at the gate, and realized I didn’t have my wallet. I had to run back with my huge bag through the whole airport. I get back, now sweating, to hear them saying, ‘This is the very last call for Barbero.’ It was a miracle that I got on, and the rest of the trip went much better.

JR: That turned out to be a great flight, as you finished first and second in Triton Vietnam events for a combined $1.06 million.

NB: I loved it. The competition was very tough, the fields were tough, but the experience was amazing. Sometimes you play in a $100,000 event with a bunch of robots who are stiff. But this was very laid back, with a friendly atmosphere.

JR: You then came home to Vegas and had a stellar run at the PokerGO studio where you won a PLO Series event and made three consecutive final tables at the U.S. Poker Open. Now you’re in first place in the Card Player POY race.

*Photos courtesy of PokerGO – Antonio Abrego and Enrique Malfavon
NB: I actually didn’t play tournaments for two years, focusing on private high-stakes cash games. You know, I had a lot of money, so I didn’t really care about spending four or five days playing a tournament when I could win or lose that amount all in one session. But after the Luna crash, it was back to the grind, back to where I started.

But I’ve been loving it, and now I’m motivated. It’s way more exciting. It’s so much fun to be deep in a tournament and have chips. ♠

Nacho On The Biggest Pot He Ever Played

“I was playing in a private game in Las Vegas, and this billionaire showed up. On the first hand, he opened and I called with A-4 suited. The flop came down A-3-2 with my flush draw.

He bet, and I called. The turn was a 10, and he checked. I bet $30,000, and he check-raised to $90,000. I called, and the river was a brick.

Now he shoved for $200,000. I was sitting there on the river with one pair, four kicker, just really hating my life in that moment. I ended up calling, and the f***ing savage had 9-5 offsuit.”

Nacho On High-Stakes Magic: The Gathering

“I still play, although I’m [not as good] as I once was. We play one super complicated format, and I make so many mistakes now, but I still love it. There’s many guys here [in Las Vegas] that play, and we play for a lot of money. It’s probably the biggest game in the world. You could lose $2,000 [in a game]. I don’t think there’s people out there playing [Magic] for more money than that.”

Top Tournament Scores

Date Event Place Payout
Feb. 2023 $25,000 PokerStars Player Championship 4th $1,551,300
Oct. 2010 £25,000 EPT London High Roller 1st $880,331
March 2023 $15,000 Triton Vietnam High Roller 1st $600,000
July 2022 $10,000 WSOP Turbo Bounty 1st $587,510
March 2023 $25,000 Triton Vietnam High Roller 2nd $460,000
Feb. 2010 $3,500 LAPT Punta del Este Main Event 1st $279,330
June 2010 $2,500 LAPT Lima Main Event 1st $250,000
March 2023 $10,000 PokerGO Tour PLO Series 1st $234,000
Nov. 2011 $2,500 Conrad Poker Tour 2nd $229,000
Jan. 2017 $25,000 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure 6th $208,400