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Online Player of the Year Spotlight -- Casey 'bigdogpckts5s' Jarzabek

Jarzabek Explains How a Sports Injury Started His Poker Career

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Casey JarzabekThe Card Player Online Player of the Year award honors the best tournament player across the major online sites in a given calendar year. Previous winners have included greats such as Isaac “westmenloAA” Baron, Alexander “AJKHoosier1” Kamberis and Steve “gboro780” Gross. Here, we take a look at one of the current top contenders.

Casey “bigdogpckt5s” Jarzabek had a breakout year in 2009, winning $665,453 and finishing in ninth place in the OPOY race. Despite that success, his 2010 campaign is now on pace to shatter his previous marks as he sits in third place. The man from St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada has flat-out dominated Sundays. Jarzabek has already picked up six wins including notable tournaments such as the Sunday Mulligan, Sunday Second Chance and the $200 rebuy. Just eight months into the competition, Jarzabek has managed to earn $562,256 in online tournament play alone, bringing his lifetime earnings to just over $2 million.

Even though he’s well within striking distance, Jarzabek insists that he’s not the odds-on favorite to win it all. His modesty aside, there’s no question that Jarzabek has been this year’s most consistent performer to date, with 34 in-the-money finishes, including 21 final table appearances. In this interview, Jarzabek explains how a sports injury brought him to the game and how he became one of the best players in the online community.

Julio Rodriguez: You’ve been playing poker for six years now. How did it all start?

Casey Jarzabek: Poker has always been a passion of mine. I started around the kitchen table with my parents and grandparents playing games like follow the queen and kings and little ones. As I got older, I played in various home games, but I had never treated it as anything more than a hobby. Then I had my accident. I was working at a job I really hated. It was data entry and inventory control for a hot tub factory. My entire life, I’ve never enjoyed hearing an alarm clock go off, so I was looking for a change. One day, I was playing in a charity baseball game. While sliding into second base, I managed to break my foot in six places. After that, I had to have a couple operations and that left me laid up in bed for quite awhile. With nothing to do, I decided to deposit some money online and try my hand at poker.

JR: How did that initial deposit go?

CJ: I won immediately. I started off with some cash games and did well, but then I won the Treasure Chest tournament on Paradise Poker for about $25,000. After bricking a couple of tournaments, I decided to make the transition to Absolute Poker to play sit-n-gos exclusively. I quit my job and made my living for two years just grinding those out before I switched to multi-table tournaments.

JR: What was your assessment of your skill level back then?

CJ: I think that I sucked, to be honest. But then again, everybody sucked back then. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been one of the most dominant players of that period. There were a few great players back then, but nowhere near the number that is playing today. The learning curve has become so accelerated that it’s getting tougher and tougher to make a living.

Casey JarzabekJR: When did everything click for you? When did you realize that you were one of the best players out there?

CJ: It might surprise you, but it wasn’t until about a year and half ago that I felt that way. When I first made the transition to PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, I was having trouble beating the better players. In my mind, I thought I was really good, but looking back, I realize that I wasn’t even close to where I needed to be. I learned a lot from guys like Mark “dipthrong” Herm and Daniel “djk123” Kelly and I was able to plug some of my leaks, which allowed me to take my game to the next level.

JR: Do you think your level of success is sustainable?

CJ: The game is changing all the time. I’ve seen so many great players come and go, so I’m not so naive too say that I’ll be on top forever. But I am confident that I can stay ahead of the curve and keep adapting my game to remain profitable.

JR: At 37 years old, you are older than the average online tournament professional. What’s it like being the elder statesman of online poker?

CJ: It’s a little weird. Because I’m older, I’m not into the early twenties scene like those guys are. But then again, I’m not really trying to fit into that scene either. That age group makes up a majority of my peers, but that doesn’t mean that I have to act a certain way. I can’t change the fact that I’m 37 and I still need to make a living, so it is what it is.

JR: Tell me a little bit about your new poker training site, tournamentpokeredge.com?

CJ: I never really thought about doing training videos. I was approached by a couple sites awhile back, but they weren’t the right fit for me. Then the guys at Tournament Poker Edge approached me and they were made up of a bunch of players I really respected like Jon “Wein” Wein, Charles “Hagbard Celine” Sizemore, Ryan “HITTHEPANDA” Franklin and Derek “Killingbird” Tenbusch. I think what separates us from all of the other training sites out there is that all of the pros, myself included, have a vested interest in the company. We’re not just paid to make videos, we are all owners. That gives us the incentive to get out there on the forums and really become more community oriented. We spend hours and hours in the chat, working with our players to get better. That personalized attention is what stands out from some other sites that just give you access to videos and not much else.

JR: Let’s hear some free poker advice.

CJ: The number one problem I see in beginners is that they don’t understand proper bet sizing. It’s just a huge leak. When people make bet sizing errors early on, they need to realize that those mistakes are compounded with each decision made for the rest of the tournament. The amount of equity they are giving away gets multiplied over and over again by the time the tournament ends. It all starts with the opening raise. If the blinds are 500-1,000, I see way too many people raising to 3,000 instead of something more reasonable like 2,000 to 2,500. I know it doesn’t sound like a big difference, but over the course of the tournament, those extra chips you are putting in add up to a big number. Also, if you are opening smaller and are forced to continuation bet with air, then you get to make that continuation bet much smaller as well.

JR: That sounds a lot like a small-ball approach. Do you see poker moving more into that direction in the future?

CJ: Absolutely. The min-raise is way more profitable than the three-times raise. Think of it this way. If a player is facing a raise, the options he has don’t change whether you min-raise or make it three times the big blind. If that’s the case, then why would you want to needlessly inflate the pot? Another related problem that I see is that beginners have trouble knowing when they should be betting for value or checking for value. Knowing when to extract value and knowing when to check for showdown value is a very thin line. Little things like this can only be corrected with time and experience.

JR: You currently sit in third place in the Online Player of the Year race. What would it mean for you to win?

CJ: It would be absolutely fantastic. I got off to a great start this year and have managed to stay in front or near it through nearly eight months of play. That being said, I don’t think I’m going to win it. My volume is starting decrease on a weekly basis. The grind is honestly too tough. If I was to bink a big tournament and give myself some breathing room from the rest of the pack, then maybe that would inspire me to jump right back on the horse. Otherwise, I’m not too interested in playing 60 to 70 hours a week for the rest of the year.

JR: Well if you don’t win it, who will?

CJ: I think Steve “gboro780” Gross is the best online tournament player in the world. I think he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the field. The others who are high in the rankings are obviously great players, but its Steve’s to lose if he wants it.