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21-Year-Old Poker Pro Makes String Of Deep Runs In Huge World Series Of Poker Fields

Ian O'Hara Searching For First Bracelet In WSOP Debut


Through about the mid-point of his first ever World Series of Poker, Florida-based poker pro Ian O’Hara had already outlasted more than 36,000 entrants between his three deep runs in massive no-limit hold’em events.

The 21-year-old O’Hara finished 598th in the 22,374-entrant Colossus, 14th in the 7,275-entrant Millionaire Maker and most recently 146th in the Monster Stack, which drew 7,192 players. Wading through three mind-boggling fields in near succession might seem like a crazy feat for a WSOP rookie, but O’Hara has actually been playing poker professionally since he was 18, which is especially impressive in the post-Black Friday era. To date, O’Hara has already amassed $543,465 in live tournament scores.

Card Player caught up with the poker pro, who plays cash games full-time, to talk about his WSOP debut.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about the grind of outlasting thousands upon thousands of players in the Colossus, Millionaire Maker and now the Monster Stack?

Ian O’Hara: It’s definitely not an easy task. It takes a lot of patience and discipline. You have to be able to make a lot of big folds. You often are playing people who play recreationally, so it’s a different mindset as compared to the big buy-ins. You have to look at hands in a different way versus a lot of players. It’s also mentally tiring playing 12-14 hours a day, day after day.

BP: Yeah, definitely. Have you seen players sort of blow up in the late stages of these tournaments, perhaps due to exhaustion?

IO: Yeah, late on day three of the Millionaire Maker it seemed people wanted to “chip up” or just be done. They took chances I know they would not have done with a clear head. It’s tough for people not used to playing daily; mental fatigue sets in and it’s downhill from there.

BP: Was it challenging to play another tournament the day after busting deep?

IO: No, not at all. I love playing poker and was eager to get in and try and make another deep run. Fifteen minutes after busting the Millionaire Maker I played the $1,000 no-limit event. It stung a little bit going from my ante being bigger than the starting stack, though.

BP: Can you talk about the mindset that, in a sense, involves not thinking too much about how huge the field is and just trying to focus on your table and what you can control there? I have heard some players—perhaps this is just a thing some recreational players tell themselves—talk about how they try to forget about how many players they have to outlast to make the money or the final table. That it is somehow discouraging or makes them play fast if they think about it.

IO: Yeah, thinking about how many players left could be bad. When you enter a tournament you should expect to win, but not be disappointed if you don’t. Looking at 20,000 entries can be scary, but just take it one hand at a time and make every decision based on information you have available. Just play like it’s any other tournament and make the correct choices. The money bubble is important for pros and recs alike. While pros want to win, cashing is still very key. No one ever wants to bubble, so it’s good to not worry about the number remaining but it could be useful.

BP: Can you talk about the anticipation leading up to your first WSOP? Were you pretty eager to turn 21 and be able to play?

IO: Yeah, I was definitely looking forward to it. I’ve been playing professionally live since I turned 18 in Florida. When I first started playing [in casinos] I was so excited to be able to play. I wouldn’t say the lust wore off, but since I have played many WPTs and big tournaments around the US I wasn’t as excited. I was still looking forward to the WSOP over any other series. I learned being excited and having super high hopes are very key to winning, as long as the disappointment doesn’t hurt you mentally. The World Series will always be prestigious, as it’s once a year, and I will always look forward to battling it out.

BP: Do you feel like you have something to prove at your first WSOP since you’ve actually been around the poker scene for awhile now?

IO: I always used to feel I did as I only played in Florida, but looking at it now, I feel my circle of friends and peers all respect my game regardless of my WSOP results. I would like to win and have good results to further prove my spot in the poker world. It would be nice to be 21 and win a bracelet to join a very few select group of players.

BP: Even though you have been playing professionally for just a few years, have you thought about whether poker could be your lifelong career?

IO: I feel with the correct discipline, mindset and will to win poker could be a lifelong career. Poker has been popular and growing for years, and I don’t see it stopping. As long as you stay current with the game and enjoy playing you can make it a career. I’ve always been into the mental competitions growing up—chess, math and so on—so poker is a great game for me.

BP: Have you had any other jobs besides playing poker? If so, how is poker better?

IO: I worked at Publix during high school before I was legal age to play poker. I enjoy poker 100 times more as it was always my hobby and a great game. High school jobs just aren’t mentally stimulating for me, where as poker is always changing and a mental game. Also, I love having my own schedule.

BP: When you are back in Florida and you are not playing tournaments, do you grind cash games?

IO: Yeah, I actually have transitioned to more of a cash game player over the past 12-16 months. I play $10-$25 no-limit hold’em and really enjoy it. Tournaments are very fun, but financially straining at times with expenses and variance in the top heavy prizes. I also really enjoy getting to know and play the same group of guys as they all have very interesting life stories.

BP: Did you start out playing $1-$2 or $2-$5?

IO: Yeah, growing up I played home sit-and-gos with my buddies. We all decided to play $1-$2 one night and just kind of took off. I played $1-$2 for about four months, moved up to $2-$5 for about six to eight months and then played $5-$10 and $10-$25 for about the past six months. Tournament success early helped propel my career to what it is now. I really enjoy playing deep-stacked, high-level thinking cash games.

BP: You mentioned the discipline needed to survive in poker in the long run. Have you read/learned in-depth about some people who have left poker because of leaks they had off the felt in an effort to try to avoid some of the pitfalls that can happen in poker?

IO: Yeah, I have known some players who had a lot of potential but just couldn’t handle the mental aspect of losing sometimes. Poker isn’t always good; you will have downswings. Some people also gamble on sports or in the pits far too often, and it’s just unsustainable. I have been lucky to have met a player named Josh Kay early in my poker career who helped not only make me a better player but to understand poker isn’t always winning. He taught me how to mentally handle the game and instilled a great outlook on the game.

For more coverage from the summer series, visit the 2015 WSOP landing page, complete with a full schedule, news, player interviews and event recaps.