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A Poker Life -- Joe Tehan

A Game Fanatic Finds His Way In Poker

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Growing up in New York, a young Joe Tehan was a game fanatic. He would come home from school, finish his homework, and then be free to play games of all sorts. His family was full of card players, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when he picked up the habit, playing with and against his family members.

Tehan grew up in a fairly strict household where his parents stressed hard work and perseverance. His sisters both received their PhDs in physics and chemistry, while his brother landed a promising executive position at a large company. Tehan, however, getting started in the game of limit poker, had other plans.

Looking back on a decent sized career, it would seem Tehan made a good decision getting involved in poker. Close to $4 million in 89 career cashes and eight titles (in live tournaments alone) are more than enough to ease any uncertainties.

Getting Started

Starting out in the world of poker, Tehan figured that his hobby was exactly that — a hobby. He enjoyed it, and began learning the ins and outs of the game, but never considered it as a career. He graduated college with a degree in economics, and enrolled in graduate school.

“It definitely started out just for fun,” Tehan recalled. “Poker was the last thing I thought I would be doing, career wise.”

After graduate school, he was at a career crossroads. Should he give poker a shot, or strive for a more conventional, corporate job? Obviously, Tehan decided on the former, and moved to Las Vegas with a bankroll of about $6,000.

“When I decided to go play poker, my dad wasn’t crazy about it,” Tehan admitted. “But he knew that I was going to be smart about it, and I knew what I was getting into.”

Early Years In Las Vegas

Many players will talk of a difficult transition period, when they went from playing for fun to playing for a living. Tehan, however, seemed to have skipped this period. He didn’t really have any serious issues with being near broke, or wondering if this career decision was the right one.

Tehan was young, he was winning, and he kept moving up stakes in limit poker. Being potentially under-bankrolled for the stakes he was playing didn’t bother him. And why would it? After moving to Las Vegas with his $6,000, he was beating each game, sequentially, and his limits kept rising — from $15-$30, to $80-$160. He was thriving in the poker world.

“I hate to say it was smooth sailing,” Tehan joked, “because that doesn’t make for a good interview. But when you’re young and you’re winning, you just keep playing bigger.”

Jumping To No-Limit Hold’em Tournaments

After securing a solid foundation in his limit game, Tehan began dabbling in live no-limit tournaments. The transition was rather seamless, and Tehan began cashing quickly and consistently. This wasn’t too much surprise, however, given his calculating style of play and proficiency with numbers.

Then came 2006, which proved to be the most profitable year of Tehan’s tournament career. The more than $1.6 million in winnings was really impressive, especially from someone who had only recently jumped into the tournament scene.

“I had a really good start to my tournament year,” Tehan said. “I think I had five no-limit scores in 18 months of $100,000 or more. You still have to run good to win tournaments, but I played well. I became more of a no-limit player at that time, but I still liked limit also. I was just kind of going with it. I’d played two or three years worth of cash games, then I won $300,000 and it was just like, ‘Wow! I seem to have a knack for this,’ so I kept going.”

Tehan’s track record of winning at every new game he tried had continued. He had two first-place finishes in WPT events and a second-place at WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic. The scores were adding up, and somewhat dwarfing the winnings of his previous cash game endeavors.

Experience Is The Best Teacher

Over the years, Tehan has used his tools to become a poised and formidable opponent at the poker table. Experience has allowed him to be aware and prepared in a variety of different situations. The sheer volume of hands he has played over the years will allow him to be comfortable in many spots.

“(The key) was experience,” Tehan said. “That was the biggest thing. I would play high-stakes limit, and then go play $2-$5 no-limit. That game wasn’t really that big to me, but I would get involved in like 70 percent of hands, and splash around. I’d get in all different types of situations and learn that way.”

Tehan believes that working through situations systematically can be an important aspect for a player’s growth. He explains that replaying hands with friends can be an integral part of solidifying a stance on a given situation. He prefers an interactive approach, rather than some of the typical, conventional poker education methods.

“I never read a poker book,” Tehan admitted. “I watched a few CardRunners videos, but I always felt like, ‘Why am I watching this? I’m better than these guys.’”

Even though he has essentially beat the game at every point in his career, Tehan’s game has evolved nicely. Now, he is in a position of elite confidence and solidity. Of course, there is always uncertainty in poker, but Tehan feels he has a pretty good grasp on what’s going on at all times.

“Right now I feel like I’m the best I ever have been,” Tehan boasted. “I’ve always been a bit spewy, and I still am, but I’m so comfortable in almost every situation. I guess that’s from putting so many hours at the table. I kind of just feel like I have it figured out. Maybe it’s because I’m having a good year, but I feel like I know how to handle and react to each situation. There’s really not much I haven’t seen at a poker table. There are still swings, though.”

Joe Tehan’s Keys To Making Money In Hold’em

It’s no secret that the culture in poker has changed in the past decade. The tournament fields are much younger, more volatile, and experienced. The cash games are more wild and bluff-heavy. For the most part, Tehan shies away from the new-age poker thinking, and takes a more logical approach.

Tehan believes that the majority of players get caught up in the excitement of bluffing and getting players to fold. He agrees, it looks cool and feeds the ego battling with good players, but he doesn’t believe it’s profitable. Tehan thinks it’s easier to make money the conventional way — the mathematical way. After that, he thinks the control is somewhat forfeited.

“One of the things that a lot of poker players don’t get,” explained Tehan, “is the concept of getting your money in ahead. I hear people say, ‘My hand will look so strong if I do this. My range looks so strong if I do that.’ If you get called, you’re going to be in a world of hurt. People don’t fold much. The best players find out how to play against bad players.”

There is definitely something to be said about his approach — after all, he has made a consistent and impressive career out of implementing such a strategy. Plus, Tehan’s entire strategy is based on the most solid of ground: math and logic.

“It’s not about bluffing and making crazy moves, says Tehan. “It’s about making the right moves and getting the most value out of your hands, and charging opponents for their draws. That’s where you’re making money in poker — charging inferior hands.”

Joe Tehan Today

Nowadays, Tehan has switched his play around even more. He plays less tournament poker, less limit cash, and has turned his attention to no-limit cash, pot-limit Omaha and pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better. His ability to change games and remain rather immediately profitable is impressive.

His flexibility and skill set has allowed him to fit poker neatly into his life however he pleases. Today, Tehan has moved to California with his family and new 10-month-old son. He plays sports, games, gambles, and poker when he wants to.

“I have a new family, I moved away from Vegas,” Tehan explain. “Things have slowed down. I’ve been golfing three days a week, playing 20 to 30 hours of poker per week. Like I said, I like all types of games, so I’m in a bowling league, I golf, and I’m putting in a game room at my house. But I still love gambling on anything and everything. I’ll bet sports, and all the stuff that degenerate gamblers should be doing (laughs). Financially speaking, I’ll take some money and invest it. All the money I’ve ever made has come from poker, though.” ♠