From Rounders to a WPT Final Table

16 January 2008, Created By: J.C. Alvarado
From <i>Rounders</i> to a WPT Final Table
Well I find myself on PokerListings now and I feel like I should introduce myself. Unless you are a follower of my previous blogs you probably know very little about me.

So I'll use this first entry to tell the story of my brief career as a poker player.

It was 2004 and I had been out of high school for close to a year. I had taken the year off of school to pursue my dream of becoming a pro soccer player. The dream lasted about six weeks and I soon found myself with eight months of uncertainty before I entered college. I went back home to live with my mom in a small city in Texas named McAllen.

I decided to get a job so that I could save up for college in L.A. So as I was working the worst 9-5 available in McAllen, selling vitamins in a small kiosk at the mall, I would go home after work and watch the WSOP. Eventually it turned into the same story every 20-something professional poker player has, so I'll save you the boredom by just saying I watched Moneymaker, Raymer, Rounders and I was hooked.

The once-a-week $5 home game with my friends turned into an everyday occurrence. When none of us had a free house during the week we'd go play at the IHOP, where even the waiters would join in on their breaks. The $30 first prize was big for me back then, and soon enough I had about $200 in poker winnings just from playing with my friends.

I decided to deposit $50 online, and lost it within 30 minutes. I then used another $50 to deposit online but decided that I was not going to play the game unless I was good at it, so I used another $50 to invest in two instructional DVDs, and suddenly the gambling addiction became a profitable obsession.

When I got to L.A. I had no clue what I was doing in that city - I didn't know a soul. Luckily I met my roommate within two days and I was set up in an apartment on Venice and Sepulveda. As soon as the Internet was set up I was playing poker. My roommates were pretty shocked by what seemed to be an insane addiction. All they saw was a kid playing every day all day - my social life was fairly nonexistent and my school work was rarely turned in on time.

After about a year of grinding 3/6 and 5/10 Limit Hold'em, I had my first taste of success in tournaments. I very rarely played tourneys but I decided to take a shot at a $50 buy-in on Stars. I soon found myself playing heads-up out of 600 people against the one-and-only JohnnyBax, who at the time I couldn't imagine being at the same table with, let alone playing HU with him to win a tourney.

With a bit of luck I took it down for $6,000. The money was massive to me at the time. Now, with an $8,000 bankroll, it seemed like I was destined for greatness. I thought I was unstoppable and by December 2005 I was giving my mom a call that she never wanted, to let her know I was quitting college. It didn't go well to say the least, but fortunately I have a very supportive mom who ended up letting me do whatever I wanted.

At this point I had my first taste of my real self, kind of a foreshadowing of what I would turn out to be if I ever did make it in poker. I spent a lot of money, I took shots playing way above my bankroll and about 2 months after quitting school I was broke again. I had nothing but $135 in my online account and was pretty much forced to pack my stuff and move back home with my head down and my tail between my legs.

By the time I moved back home I had rolled up my $135 to about $1,000. I got to Texas on a Saturday night and had an all-night heart-to-heart with my mom. She questioned my "job" but after a long explanation all of a sudden she just "got it". My mom randomly walked away from the conversation, and two minutes later came out of her room with the biggest display of trust ever. She had a wad of hundred dollar bills, $5,000 to be exact. She said "This is all I have, but if it helps you get back on your feet, you can have it and don't worry about paying me back". We've never had too much money, so I knew how much this meant to her, but I took the money and promised I'd have it back to her the next month.

The next morning I woke up to play the Sunday Million on Stars, which is something I almost never did because at the time it was too expensive. I ended up cashing for about $500 and decided to use that to play an $11 re-buy with about 2,000 people. Well, at about 4 a.m. I woke my mom up with a loud yell and happily handed her back the cash she had handed me 24 hours earlier. I won $18k the first day back home. As if that wasn't enough, I won another $20k two days later, and chopped up the $11 re-buy twice more that week. Within a week I took my bankroll from $1,000 to nearly $60k and it all seemed uphill from there.

The Spoils of War

The future looked bright and smooth, but as I look back on the past two years it's more like blurry and rough. I've built my bankroll and lost it all back a few times, something I would have never imagined happening back when I was playing 3/6 Limit on a $2,000 bankroll. In life I've gone from an obsessed workaholic to the laziest human possible; I've experienced the lowest low of going broke and the high of making a WPT final table and as rough as it's been, I wouldn't change it for anything.

My outlook on the game and on life as a poker player is extremely positive because of my experiences, and I look forward to the next few years. If you follow this blog throughout the year you'll see some more ups and some more downs (hopefully not too many downs), and without a doubt you'll see me learn along the way. Hopefully I'll be able to keep it entertaining for you guys as the weeks go by.

J.C. Alvarado

To read more about my day-to-day life and more open thoughts about random non-poker stuff visit my Web site at


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Greg Amaro 2009-09-29 13:09:00

Awesome story J.C. I couldn't believe it was you when I heard you on "Cash Plays." I had to call the crew from "A Brush with Death." I remember you talking about playing 15/30 online, and I remember your apartment in L.A. Sounds like you're doing great in D.F. I'm working in film, you can reach me through


Sara Toombs 2008-02-06 23:38:00

Very good article, keep the good work

Roy 2008-02-04 20:36:00

Keep the stories coming. This is like watching a movie.

Pokerface 2008-01-22 22:34:11

Ha, I remember the film Rounders. Wasn't that Matt Damon as the smooth playing poker champ. Wish I had a uni professor as forgiving as him!

Brody 2008-01-18 04:53:00

Nice post! I hope to see many more.

PokerBoy 2008-01-18 01:48:00

I wish I could have sit in on the conversation you had with your Mother, you really convinced her that you had talent! I hope everything works out well for you.

cheddergrrl 2008-01-17 22:44:00

What a cool mom! I look forward to reading more about your poker adventures.

vern 2008-01-17 21:38:00

wow, great post J.C. really looking forward to your updates, didn't know you were going to be on PokerListings. I was just reading your posts in the 2+2 thread about ike and sebok too and thought you expressed your ideas really well. good luck on the circuit this year.



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