CC: Tell us about growing up in Atlanta.
Jeff: I was in Atlanta until my elementary school year until I moved to Flint, Michigan. I was only there for a year, and then I moved to Arizona in Scottsdale.
CC: We lived in Brighton, Michigan less than a year and lived in Gilbert in East Phoenix before that.
Jeff: Wow, how weird. I was there for about three years then moved back here and started high school and have been here ever since.
CC: How did you like Scottsdale?
Jeff: Loved it. Weather is beautiful.
CC: How did you decide on University of Georgia?
Jeff: Loved the university growing up and it seemed like the best fit for me. Close to home, here on the HOPE Scholarship, all my friends came so I had a group of friends here already, so it just seemed like the best fit. I'm majoring in political science.
CC: Do you have brothers or sisters?
Jeff: I have a sister, a junior in high school and she will probably come to Georgia as well.
CC: When did you start playing poker?
Jeff: Back when I was a junior in high school, somebody had the idea to get all the change from our cars and come to my house, we had a poker table, I don't know why, and we played with nickels and dimes. Quarters we didn't really use that much; that was still big money. We did that a couple weeks, then someone said, "Why are we still using all this change? Let's get chips." So we changed it for chips, and that was awesome. We started moving up until we had a big $20 buy-in and stuff. We played all through high school. I quit my job because I didn't need it anymore to pay for gas money.
CC: All through home games or playing online?
Jeff: I didn't start playing online until my senior year. Obviously, put $50 into PartyPoker like everybody else, lost it, got another $50, lost it, put $80 in, and lost it. I figured I'd have to get a job soon. Then I started playing with play chips on PokerStars, and before eBay outlawed selling them, I sold $25 worth of play chips. I got a little roll on PokerStars and built that up. And lost it. And sold more play chips. And lost it. That was the story of my senior year, figuring it out.
CC: No limit or limit?
Jeff: Limit at first, then I just couldn't take it anymore but then no limit.
CC: So what was your senior year in high school? Just learning the game, typical donkey learning curve?
Jeff: Experimenting with SNG's, experimenting with no limit cash, limit cash, figuring out how to play stud. I'd get my account up to $5-6k sometimes and lose it all. I had no bankroll management, no concept of money in poker.
CC: And then you came to Georgia and started playing more significantly?
Jeff: Well, when I got here, I went on my first real winning streak. I remember November of last year (2005) I had a $15k month, so I bought an external monitor for my laptop plus a mouse and keyboard and thought, you know, I can do this. I started playing $5/10 NLHE, probably a little too early, started taking it more seriously, started making pretty good money. And just took it from there. In February I won my seat into the EPT Monte Carlo.
CC: How did you win your seat?
Jeff: I was playing a $10 re-buy that paid out a $650 seat, I won that. I had the $650 seat sitting in my account until the last satellite was running on that Saturday, and I had nothing to do that day. No game, nothing going on, so I just said, "Well, whatever. I'm going to lose it if I don't play." So I sat down and played it, kept winning, nine paid, got down to the final two tables, and snuck in.
CC: So that's your all expense paid trip to Monte Carlo plus your seat. Did you get over early?
Jeff: We got there a day early, walked around the casino, met up with Dustin Dirksen, he played in the event and I recognized him from the Bahamas. I went there in January, just to go, which was cool, the PokerStars Caribbean adventure. We hung out for awhile.
CC: So take me through the Monte Carlo tournament leading up to the final table.
Jeff: I was actually late, I overslept. I got down there, my chips were in a bag, and I thought I've got to get playing. First hand I see is the Q-3 after I'd dumped my chips out of my bag, so I raise it from middle position or something. I get a caller, flop is 5-2-2, he checks, I bet, and he calls. Turn is a king, he bets into me and I raise him, and I'm thinking "I'm going to lose all my chips on the first hand! I better calm down." He folds luckily. I ended the first day with $60k off a $10k stack; I was in the top five every day. I don't know how I did it. I don't remember any big hands. I cracked aces with kings early but it was only for $8k in chips when I had $70k. I just kept winning, getting lucky in the right spots.
CC: Then the final table, I believe I read that you stayed really aggressive.
Jeff: I started third in chips and cracked Aces with 10's pretty early, and that helped, then won A-Q vs. A-J. Once I got a big stack, I'd played enough online tournaments to know what to do with my chips.
CC: So take me through the last hand.
Jeff: I had A-10 on the button and I raised to $70k, and he had $800k behind and I had $2.2-2.4M. He moved all-in, and I'd actually played with him online before heads-up on PokerStars, I knew his screen name. So, I know he was trying to make a heads-up move on me, or I thought he was, I hoped he was. I called and got lucky that he only had A-8, and it held.
CC: So what was it like?
Jeff: It was real sick. The big check was awesome, getting interviewed, Hachem, Raymer, had dinner with Raymer, had dinner with Lee Jones. It was awesome.
CC: And you got to meet the IRS, right?
Jeff: Actually, I haven't met the IRS yet. I don't have to pay taxes until April, and I have a real good accountant. She specializes in poker, and she knows what she's doing.
CC: After you won, was there a flurry of media requests once you came back to the United States?
Jeff: It was an intense week. We were doing radio shows, national shows, hometown shows, and there was an article in the school newspaper.
CC: What did everyone around Athens think?
Jeff: They were like, "Man, you won a million? I've always seen you playing poker, but I didn't know you were good." I'm still not good, but I was pretty lucky.
CC: Since then, you've been playing some serious stakes, right? Has your win given you the bankroll to move up?
Jeff: I actually didn't put any of that money on the internet, so I've pretty much been using my roll pre-Monte Carlo. But I can now be more aggressive with it. I took some shots, did well, and now it's up there, high enough now to play pretty big stakes.
CC: So what do you play currently?
Jeff: FullTilt, PokerStars, PartyPoker, UltimateBet. $10/20 NLHE, shots at $25/50 when I'm feeling gambly.
CC: All NLHE or do you play any Omaha?
Jeff: I'll donk it up on Omaha occasionally, $10/20 PLO when I feel like gambling. And sometimes I'll want to play split, so I'll play $75/150 limit Stud H/L. I'll sometimes play heads-up as well.
CC: What have been your biggest learnings since you won? Is it about the bankroll, the amount you won giving you the freedom to play a certain way?
Jeff: Yeah, at first I took my roll from the kiddie stakes, probably a $3/6 NLHE roll and got it up to a $10/20 roll pretty quickly. I could take shots and knew I could reload if I had to, although I never had to luckily. If I was playing with case money, just my bankroll, I couldn't have taken the shots I did. As far as what I've learned at playing higher stakes, you have to be a lot more aggressive. Those guys are very good, and it helps that the money doesn't really matter as much.
CC: Do you spend time on forums?
Jeff: I'll post on 2+2 and PocketFives once in awhile. I have some friends that I talk to, that I've met in poker.
CC: Do you think that's a key part Jeff?
Jeff: I think it does help. I think everyone should try to do that, get a group of friends at their stakes, whether it be SNG's, multi's, cash. You can just review hands, they'll say, "Really, you called, you raised, you folded? What about this, what about that?" It's really helped me bounce ideas off different people.
CC: Have you gotten to play any more live internationally?
Jeff: I'm going next week to play the EPT London event, so that will be fun. I don't expect to last that long.*
CC: You, Strasser, Jeff Madsen, you're now the poster stars of college poker.
Jeff: I don't consider myself one of those.
CC: OK, but from a results standpoint, you've been very successful. But from your perspective, you can see that these campuses have become a huge hotbed for poker. Since you've been very successful very quickly, what do you see on a campus like here? Are people playing a ton, is it a major distraction for students? What do you see?
Jeff: A lot of my friends want me to put $25 into their account on PokerStars, and if they give me the money I'll transfer the money into their accounts. Some people have really gotten up there. Everyone sees me, like I'll tell one of my friends, "Yeah, I made $10k today," and they'll say, "My gosh, that's more than I'm worth. That's incredible! Give me some money on PokerStars." A lot of my friends have gotten in that way, they play online a lot. At lower limits it's a lot of fun and you can make a solid hourly if you're having fun with it. As far as live, I can't really say as I don't go to those games that much. I know a lot of people are going to these.
CC: Do you see it as a big distraction for students?
Jeff: As with everything, you're going to get addicted to it. If you're addicted to it and you're good, it's not bad. There are a lot worse things to get addicted to than poker.
CC: Who are the players that you look up to or you feel are the most challenging or that you've learned a lot from?
Jeff: I watch the shows on television sometimes, and I really respect Negreanu's game and Ivey's game. Online, I really respect Jason Strasser's game. His game is like mine, kind of crazy aggressive at times. There are a lot of great players I respect.
CC: Have you played Mahatma much?
Jeff: I've played him one time, $50/100 heads-up. It was fun, I think I lost $3k in half an hour.
*CC: That's better than him losing $300k in half an hour.*
CC: You're obviously still in school, so you haven't decided to just play poker fulltime. Do you see yourself finishing?
Jeff: Definitely. After I graduate, I might take a year off and play more, maybe play events on the circuit, but I haven't really decided yet. If I'm still into it by then; I mean, I don't think it's a passing fad for me, but if one day I wake up and don't want to play anymore, I won't play. There is a lot more to life than cards.
CC: I'm sure you know people who have bypassed college and play.
Jeff: Yeah, I've talked to some guys who are delaying college to play. If that's what they want to do, that's great. I don't think I'd encourage any of my friends to quit school because a college education is a lot more than grinding out $50 SNG's, but you can have both. I go to school and I play poker at pretty big stakes at night and weekends. You can definitely do both. I don't go to every event I could, but then again I'm not totally a bookworm either. You can have it both ways, and I think it's probably the best.
CC: What do your parents think?
Jeff: They actually are very supportive. I don't know if you know, but they came out to Monte Carlo for the last day, which was just great. I don't know what I would have done without them, I just can't imagine. They've been supportive, they've encouraged me to tip the equilibrium back to school, so it works out great. They keep me real grounded, help me with the money.
CC: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Jeff: After London, I have the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in January, then just play stuff online. Play in WCOOP events, hang out with my poker friends, play some online.
CC: One final question. You talked about the difficulties building your bankroll at the beginning and it's much different for you now. Tell me about bankroll management for you since you've had a chance to experience both sides of it, and I'm sure you've seen players at your stakes that have crashed and burned.
Jeff: It's all about what you want out of poker. If you want to put your $50 on there and see how high you can get, that's your prerogative. 98% of the time, you're going to have to reload sometime in the next week. That 2% of the time, you're going to run it up real high. If you're trying to work up a bankroll, never put more than 5% of your roll in play at a time, play conservatively, level up, pay yourself once in awhile, you can make it real profitable and a lot of fun. When you're not worrying about the money, you can play better and have more fun. When you're playing with case money, it's different.
*This interview was done in September.