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A Poker Life: Joe Kuether

Kuether Stands As Model Of Consistency On Today's Live Tournament Circuit

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Joe Kuether represents the last of a generation. The Wisconsin native was among the final players to emerge from the pre-Black Friday online poker era and, as a result, at 25-years-old, he is one of the younger American pros on the tournament circuit today.

Despite cutting his teeth online, Kuether has one of the most impressive live poker tournament resumes among his peers, with 86 total cashes in just under five years. In total, the workman-like poker pro has notched 14 victories and amassed just under $2.6 million.

Poker Beginnings

Kuether was competitive as a child, playing numerous sports in his home town of Elm Grove, Wisconsin. By the time he entered high school, a new passion developed.

“I started playing poker in high school with friends after the Moneymaker boom,” he recalled. “I did okay in home games and was having a lot of fun with it, so I found online poker and began to take it more seriously.”

What started out as a hobby quickly became a very profitable profession for Kuether. After enrolling at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, his hours spent at the virtual poker tables only increased.

“My parents didn’t mind it when I was playing poker in high school because, I guess they just chalked it up to kids having fun. But once I started playing online, they got concerned. Like any parents, they were worried that I would gamble away all of my money. To them, I might as well have been playing blackjack. Once I put together some results, it was much easier to convince them that I knew what I was doing.”

Kuether developed his skills the old-fashioned way, choosing to learn from his own mistakes rather than memorize any particular playing style.

“I learned poker through trial and error,” he said. “When I was first starting, I really didn’t read poker books or go on the forums. Now I’ll definitely talk about strategy with other players, but for the longest time, I was just figuring it out on my own.”

Despite a steadily growing bankroll, Kuether wasn’t about to quit school. Instead, he stayed all four years and graduated in 2009 with a degree in accounting.

“I played online poker throughout college and never really considered dropping out. The timing was pretty fortunate because Black Friday didn’t happen until after I graduated, otherwise I might have had a much more difficult decision on what to do. I had the backup plan with my degree, but I also knew that I didn’t want to work a traditional job. Poker was the obvious choice.”

Finding Success Early

After graduating, Kuether spent two more years living in Wisconsin, making trips to Las Vegas for poker while continuing to grind online. In 2010 alone, he won two Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza events and a preliminary event at the North American Poker Tour Mohegan Sun series.

Then, in April of 2011, Black Friday hit the poker world hard. Kuether was forced to choose between moving abroad to continue playing online or becoming a live tournament grinder.

“I always played a fair amount at a casino in Wisconsin, as well as the World Series of Poker every summer, so it wasn’t like I was just jumping into live poker with no experience,” he explained. “I was able to move out to Las Vegas and began playing a lot of cash games while traveling for live tournaments. Fortunately, I had some decent success right away, which always makes it easier and justified my decision.”

A Cashing Machine

Since focusing more on live tournaments, Kuether has gone on a tear. It would be easier to list the places where he hasn’t recorded a cash than the casinos where he’s visited the cage. In 2011, he won yet another Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza event. In 2012, he won two events at the Wynn Classic, another VDSE event, and his first ring at the WSOP Circuit main event at Harrah’s Rincon for $111,104. He also finished third in a $1,000 event at the WSOP for $218,983.

His 2013 campaign was more of the same, winning another WSOP Circuit ring at Caesars Palace, his fourth VDSE event, an event at the European Poker Tour Berlin stop and another at the EPT Grand Final in Monaco, along with taking down the Arizona State Poker Championship for $246,161. It was enough to put him in 32nd place for the year in the Card Player Player of the Year standings.

After dominating the circuit for two years, Kuether continued to improve. In 2014, he won an event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for $136,250 and then made final tables at the Bay 101 Shooting Star, WSOP Circuit in Philadelphia and WSOP Circuit National Championship. Then, in September, he finished fifth in the massive Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open main event for the largest score of his career, $424,044. He now sits in 16th place overall in the Card Player Player of the Year standings.

“I’ve always had a pretty addictive personality and poker is no different. Whether it was in college, or even today, I’m always looking to play as much as I can. My lease in Las Vegas ended in September of 2013 and I didn’t bother to find a new one until the WSOP started. I was on the road, staying with friends and playing the tournament circuit the entire time. I’ve become very used to living out of a suitcase.”

Kuether has 14 wins in just five years, but is still searching for that major victory after numerous close calls.

“I’m very happy with the various situations I’ve put myself in, but obviously it’s a little unfortunate that none of the bigger tournaments that I went deep in resulted in wins,” he admitted. “If instead, I could be the guy who won the WSOP main event and never cashed another tournament again, then yeah, I’d take that, but I’m happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish so far in my career.”

Despite having nearly $2.6 million in career tournament earnings, he’s never cashed for more than $424,044, making him one of the more consistent players on the circuit.

“It hurts every time I bust from a tournament, even after a big score. You are always going to be a little down on yourself for not winning, but that feeling passes pretty quickly. Afterwards, the disappointment goes away and you can appreciate how well you did. I’m not going to beat myself up over something like that.”

Moving Forward

Kuether hasn’t taken his foot off the gas since turning pro, and he’s still not feeling the burnout that affects many other players who travel the circuit.

“Every year I tell myself that I’m going to focus on cash games simply because it’s easier money and less stress, but every year I wind up playing more and more tournaments. When I play cash games, it feels more like work, like a grind. But when I play tournaments, it’s always exciting. Maybe I’m still searching for that big win.”

Although the big win still eludes him, Kuether has plenty of time to get it done, since he’s not planning on quitting poker anytime soon.

“My plan is to keep playing until I don’t enjoy it. I currently enjoy the freedom to travel and play pretty much whatever I want, so until that gets old, I’m going to keep going. I have to make as much money as possible now, because who knows what the poker world will look like in four or five years?” ♠