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Due South: Cole on Fire in 2010
Up almost $3 million already, Cole South has been the hottest player in high stakes online poker to start 2010.
But the 22-year-old CardRunners instructor and Georgetown economics major says his recent success is due to a lot more than just running good.
"I've certainly had a lot of luck on my side, and am very fortunate to have had such a strong start to the year," he said. "I have put in a lot of hard work away from the tables and it is certainly nice to see it paying off."
South's first foray into the highest stakes games on Full Tilt could hardly be deemed successful. He dropped close to $1 million in 2008.
But 2009 was a different story altogether as he developed into one of the most consistent players in the nosebleeds, posting a $2 million profit by the end of the year.
Now with a blazing hot start to 2010, South credits the work he's done away from the virtual felt as much as the work he's done on it.
"There are some opponents at the highest stakes that are such good card players they can play any game at any time and be a favorite," he said. "I have a ton of respect for that approach, but I find that hard work away from the tables is a big factor in my results.
"Before and after every session, I am always looking at the big hands I've recently been involved in to see what I could have done differently."
Picking the right games to play in has also been a factor.
"Game selection is an important skill for any poker player," South explained. "If you are only playing in games with players that are better than you, you are bound to eventually go broke. That said, it is difficult to improve as a poker player if you are only playing lesser opponents. At some point you will undoubtedly begin playing down to your competition and stop progressing your game."
With only a handful of the best poker players in the world playing in the big games online, South has had no choice but to get better.
"In the biggest games, the player pool is so small and the stakes are so high that any weak players would be quickly sent broke," he said.
"Every opponent at these levels is extremely tough, and there aren't any players that can be viewed as easy money. Guys like Tom Dwan, Patrik Antonius, and Phil Ivey are at the top for a reason; they are insanely good poker players.
"I respect their games immensely, but at the same time I have played each one of them in long heads-up matches and have emerged a much stronger player because of it."
South started playing poker in a home game with some buddies during his freshman year of college.
He found losing the week's beer money a frustrating experience, so he checked out a few poker books from the library and began to improve his game.
As his results improved, he turned to online poker, busting a few $50 deposits playing well above his bankroll.
Eventually he learned a little about bankroll management and took a real shot, ran up a $200 deposit playing low-stakes Limit Hold'em and "with a lot of study, and a fair amount of luck at the right times," he hasn't looked back since.
But despite all the time he's spent playing, studying and analyzing the game, South believes his time spent away from poker altogether has been just as valuable.
"I really enjoy playing poker, but at the end of the day it's just a card game," he said. "I am happiest when I am leading a balanced life with a variety of interests."
South says playing poker at the highest stakes is a great challenge, but without other goals to temper it with, it can become all consuming.
"Right now I'm training for a marathon and the feeling of a great run after a poker session is very rewarding," he said.
"Traveling is one of my passions, and I have been fortunate enough to visit over thirty countries on every continent but Antarctica in the past few years. Every place I've visited has had a ton to offer, and I'm always hungry to further explore the world."
Ultimately, South believes pursuing his passions outside of poker has helped lead to success inside the game.
"When I'm happy outside of poker, I find that my results at the tables reflect it," he explained. "Life is all about the people you surround yourself with, and I'm very lucky to have a wonderfully supportive girlfriend and fun-loving dog to come home to no matter how my day at the tables went."
After a three-year hiatus from school, South came back to Georgetown last fall and is currently wrapping up his junior year.
While he finds the subject of economics fascinating, describing it as, "a never-ending poker game with a lot more variables," he doesn't necessarily see himself pursuing a traditional 9-5 job in the field.
An instructor with CardRunners for three past years, South said he enjoys being in a position to help others find better results at the tables.
He also found some success at the World Series of Poker this past summer, booking his first live tournament cash when he made 162nd at the 2009 WSOP Main Event.
But in the end, where he'd most rather be, is taking a shot in the nosebleeds.
"I had a great time playing live tournaments last summer, and I plan on playing several WSOP events this year," he said. "Going far in a tournament is a very rewarding feeling entirely different from winning big in a ring game.
"Ultimately though, I'm a cash game player at heart. I love the flexibility, constant action, and big gamble that only a cash table can offer."