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Poker Vlog Star Johnnie Vibes: "The Poker Dream Comes In All Shapes and Sizes"

Cash Game Professional Discusses How He's Won Over $1 Million Grinding Mid-Stakes and How He Got Into Video Blogging

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Photo credit: Patrick Curran / Live At The Bike.

Johnnie Moreno, better known to many as “JohnnieVibes,” has been a full-time cash game poker pro for more than a decade.

The 37-year-old moved around a lot as a child due to his father being in the military. In his 20’s he made his way to Las Vegas, where he spent a few years working down the corporate career path before being introduced to poker by his younger brother Andrew Moreno and his then-future wife, Kristy Arnett.

“I lived with Andrew and Kristy, who both had such a passion for the game. It was basically impossible for me not to fall in love with poker in some way,” said Moreno.

Johnnie’s first instinct was to try to steer Andrew away from the game and towards a more traditional career path, but Andrew eventually changed his mind about poker with his success as a full-time player.

“He basically convinced me with his results,” said Johnnie.

Johnnie went on to become a successful cash game grinder, first in Las Vegas and then in the San Diego area. In 12 years he has won more than seven figures as a professional player, with over 11,000 hours of cash game action logged.

Just less than a year and a half ago, he began to post video blogs, or vlogs, about his travels and experiences as a pro. His YouTube channel has surged in popularity in the intervening months, with each video getting tens of thousands of views.

Recently ‘JohnnieVibes’ embarked on a 30-day challenge, during which he would play every day, with a goal of totaling at least 150 hours played. Throughout the 30-days the plan was to release periodic video updates on his progress, as he hoped to demonstrate that his success as a mid-stakes player is attainable for others if they are willing to embrace the grind.

Card Player caught up with Moreno shortly after he completed the 30-day challenge to discuss how he came to be a poker vlogger, the results of the challenge, how being a YouTube star has affected the metagame, and much more.

Johnnie VibesCard Player: So in just under 15 months you’ve made 53 vlogs, and as you’ve said in a few of your more recent vlogs, they each take somewhere around 15 hours to make. What led you to invest so much of your time and energy into making these videos?

Johnnie Vibes: I’ve always had creative outlets in addition to poker. I remember going to EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival) and just being really captivated by the producers and how they were presenting music that everyone knew, but doing it in ways that people had never heard before. I thought it was really cool and I really wanted to learn how to do that.

I went home and tried to learn myself. I’m pretty good with software, so I figured it out quickly and I started making 30-minute long mixes, each of which took me 30-40 hours to make. When I would finish each mix, I was always so proud and would post them on SoundCloud and send it to my friends. It was just an outlet that I had that was fun to create. I did nine mixes in total, all just to satisfy this creative urge I had inside of me.

When I started to learn about video editing a bit, it felt like the next logical step for me. I already had a knack for programs, so the video part wasn’t that hard for me to learn. I started making videos with my wife Olga and our family and friends, just documenting our travels.

I was never in front of the camera early on, but one day I picked up the phone and did an Instagram story about poker. I got a lot of positive messages about it, with people saying they feel like they learned something from it. It gave me the confidence I needed to try producing a full video with me in front of the camera. I also took into account all of the ways doing videos could benefit my life; it would improve my public speaking, improve my video editing skills and it help me make better content for the brand I started, Vibes Clothing.

I didn’t expect anybody to watch my videos, I just thought it would be fun to do. Pretty quickly it blew up, mostly based on one episode I made where I talked about losing a lot of money. The pain of losing all that money was really evident. I showed a lot of vulnerability and it kind of went viral.

That kind of put me on the map and people sort of came to expect high production value from me. I took that as a challenge, and really wanted to up my game. It never crossed my mind that I could make money off of doing the videos, it was just that I wanted to get better at something that was fun for me.

CP: It seems like being honest and transparent about life as a poker pro is a cornerstone of your approach. Has the process of recording and reporting on those times been helpful for you as a player?

Johnnie Vibes on Live At The BikeJV: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that I’m a vlogger first and a poker pro second, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I record my results in vlog format probably one out of six sessions that I play. So, I’m still primarily a grinder, the vlogging thing is more my fun, creative outlet. I predetermine which days I’m going to vlog.

One side effect or positive thing that has arisen from doing the vlogs is that I’m way more accountable now at the tables. I’m known for having a positive and welcoming table presence, and now I can’t really be off my game. There have been times when I’ve been running bad or playing bad, and somebody will inevitably tap me on the shoulder and tell me about how my videos have inspired them to be a better person at the table, or that they helped them through a difficult time in their life. Those interactions snap me out of it, like, ‘What the hell am I doing here sulking? This person just reminded me exactly who I am and who I want to be.’

CP: Speaking of fans of the vlog, is there any particular positive interaction with or comment from a viewer that has stuck out or hit home for you?

JV: Yeah, once I was playing poker and someone tapped me on my shoulder and asked if he could talk to me for a moment when I had a chance about one of my videos. When I got up to talk to him, he said, ‘The video that you put up of you and your wife making your entrance together at your wedding, I’ve probably watched it a hundred times, first thing in the morning. It really helps me start my day feeling inspired.’ For me to see that video, it makes me incredibly happy, but to think that some person that had never really met me can use the video as a source of inspiration and that it had nothing to do with poker, it was such an ‘Aha!’ moment for me. These videos I make can motivate people in a way that transcends poker, and that is probably the biggest gift for me.

CP: Do you think this openness and transparency about what being a poker pro can be like has led people to connect with your videos?

JV: I’d say that, beyond transparency, another reason people have taken to my videos is that they feel like what I’m doing is something that they can also achieve if they work hard. I’m not playing in $300,000 buy-in high rollers and $100,000 buy-in cash games; I’m doing what every average Joe could do, which is go down to their local casino and play mid-stakes poker. What is separating me from 99.9 percent of the population is that I’ve been able to do it for a living. I’m sharing with people the process of how I’ve gone about doing that, but I’m also showing the human element. So, I think that one of the main reasons that my YouTube channel has become so popular is that people watch my videos and say, ‘I can do this, too. This is well within my reach if I work hard and embrace the grind.’

CP: How about dealing with the negative side effects of putting yourself out there? As you know, people aren’t always nice to strangers on the Internet.

JV: I’ve done a lot of personal development work, and I’ve gotten to the point where I really don’t care that much about what a stranger thinks about me on the internet. That was a process. I remember reading the first few comments and feeling like I needed to defend myself. But, I’ve realized that the person commenting knows nothing about me and that they’re watching my videos through a lens that I know nothing about. Every time someone makes a comment that is negative, it is 100 percent based on something that is going in their life and it has nothing to do with me. Intellectually I got that early on, but in practice it has taken a while to get to that point. If my wife said to me, ‘I think that in your last video you seemed inauthentic.’ That’s feedback that I would wholeheartedly take in. But trolls on the Internet? They don’t bother me.

CP: You mentioned in one vlog that a guy folded to your bluff, saying he didn’t want to lose to you specifically. Has your notoriety affected any other spots in interesting ways?

Johnnie Vibes playing alongside Daniel NegreanuJV: It is really hard to say because a lot of times I underestimate how many people know who I am at the poker table. There have been numerous times now where I’ve played a whole session and somebody doesn’t say anything throughout that whole time, but then when they get up, they will say, “I’m a big fan, it was a pleasure to play with you.” So in those cases, I went the whole session without knowing there was a dynamic there.

I will say that I’ve developed a reputation for hero folding. That is something that has been in the back of my mind when there is that big spot. I feel like it is possible that I might need to call a little bit more often because of my reputation on the Internet.

CP: Yeah, your very first vlog was about correctly folding pocket kings to aces preflop on Live At The Bike, right? Maybe that contributed to the reputation?

JV: Exactly. It is really tough to get into that metagame because I’m not even sure who has been watching the videos. I do see a lot of people that do know me falling into two categories: people who are afraid of me, and people that want to take a shot at me.

CP: So you just wrapped up a mini-series of videos about a 30-day challenge you undertook. You committed to playing 150 hours of mid-stakes cash games in that span. You kicked off the first video in the series by discussing how, playing primarily mid-stakes cash games, you’ve managed to earn more than a million dollars in 12 years of playing. You then say you want to show people that it is still possible, even if cash games have gotten tougher in recent years. Can you tell me more about how this series came to be?

JV: First of all, there’s the current poker climate of San Diego, where I live. Through circumstances outside of my control, [$5 big blind] has become the biggest game available to me, or at least in close proximity. I was wondering what to do next, and the thought of grinding out so many hours at mid-stakes was not something I was excited about, because I had been there and done that, and I always am trying to think about what comes next.

I think that 30 days was a perfect amount of time for me to push myself, though. It was more than just playing consistently; it was doing so while maintaining a balanced life. Playing for 30 days while still working out, creating content and spending time with my wife. I knew it was going to be difficult, and that is part of the reason I wanted to do it. Every time I’ve undertaken something ‘difficult’ in my life, there have always been these positive benefits for me. Also, I had a feeling that making a video series about the grind would make compelling content for the viewer.

CP: You said in the first video that it was going to be borderline impossible for you to lose money over the 30-day period. What were the final results, and regarding those results, what was your take away from how it all went?

JV: In the video I did say that there was going to be a range of possible results that would go from not winning any money to all the way up to winning $150 per hour, with the most likely result being around $40-$70 per hour range. It was almost prophetic because I started out crushing and then had one of the biggest losses that I ever had in a $5 big blind game, which brought everything back down to almost nothing. Then it settled right in that sweet spot, right in the $40-$70 range, which I thought would happen. To me, it just proves how big the edges are in live no-limit cash games, and how 150 hours is enough time to get a grasp on whether or not you are better than the competition.

CP: So as you’ve said, one of the reasons people have identified with your content is that the fans see what you’ve achieved as attainable if they are reasonably skilled and put the work in. Is it feasible for that many to make a living like you have, if they commit to the grind?

Johnnie VibesJV: It really depends on how big of a life you want to live, because there is definitely a ceiling on mid-stakes grinding and that ceiling is close to $100,000 a year. For a lot of people, they don’t see that as a viable long-term option. For me, I was able to do it for around five years before wanting to move on to higher stakes and also wanting to try starting my own clothing company. There is burnout in whatever you do, and even if you love what you are doing, if you aren’t growing within that thing, then you are eventually going to not love it as much.

So, ‘how viable do I think it is?’ I think that you could make a solid living playing mid-stakes poker for the rest of your life, but I’m not sure that many people would actually want to do that because the ceiling doesn’t move.

CP: Have you found that spending the time to recap hands for viewers has helped your own game? Maybe not changed the way you played, but helped clarify to you why you play a certain way?

JV: Yeah, 100 percent. Articulating my thought process has been insanely beneficial. That is another thing that coaching has also helped with. If you can’t explain what you are doing, then do you really know what you are doing?

CP: What’s the most rewarding thing about the journey of the last 15 months doing these vlogs for you?

JV: My videos also serve as somewhat of a diary. I’m not necessarily known for rattling off hand histories, but more so for presenting the lifestyle and documenting my travels. So, I’m always going to be able to go back to episode whatever and see the time that I went to Mexico and when I traveled to Japan, captured on video forever. If I was just reciting hand histories, I’d probably never want to go back and watch my old videos. So, these episodes are also for me. I want to be able to have my future children, in 20 years, to be able to look back and see the time my wife and I went to Mexico or the video that I made from our wedding.

CP: What are your plans for the future as a vlogger? Are you going to do it as long as it’s rewarding and meaningful for you?

JV: It is something that I contend with all the time because I definitely never want for video production to feel like a chore. It’s the same way I feel about poker; I created a balanced schedule for myself early on so that I wouldn’t ever feel burned out with poker, so it would always feel fresh to me. I want to do the same thing with creating videos. If I don’t have a great story to tell, then I’m not gonna make a video just for the sake of making one. If that means I take a break for three months or a year, then so be it. I’m not going to force it.

CP: Any last words for viewers out there, or any other projects you have coming up that they should check out?

JV: I’d just like for people to know that the poker dream comes in all shapes and sizes, and by simply putting one foot in front of the other, you can achieve your version of that poker dream for your self.Spade Suit

You can check out the first video from ‘JohnnieVibes’ 30-Day Challenge series below, and head to his YouTube channel for more of his vlogs: