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This summer in Las Vegas, the PokerListings video crew followed high-stakes poker pro Jason Koon day in and day out as he played the biggest week of tournament poker of his career. Koon competed in the $111k WSOP One Drop Super High Roller, followed by the $500k Aria Super High Roller Bowl, both in the same week. In this short poker documentary we get a look inside the lifestyle of one of the world's most successful high-stakes poker pros. With interviews from some of the biggest names in poker including Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, Erik Seidel, Ike Haxton, Tom Marchese, Doug Polk, Jason Mercier and more, we explore the competitive drive and exhaustive poker training that allows Jason Koon to succeed at the highest levels of the poker world. We also speak to Koon's girlfriend, one of his oldest childhood friends and the man who was a father figure to Jason for much of his life. Koon is a veteran poker pro who started from the very bottom playing low-stakes online No-Limit Hold'em. He worked his way up to the highest levels and now puts millions of dollars in buy-ins on the table every year. The fact he came from an underprivileged background in West Virginia only makes his success more impressive. Check out the full video to get to know Jason Koon better and watch him compete in the most expensive poker tournaments on the planet.
Phil Ivey: He's one of the top players out there now.
Daniel Negreanu: He's in the game. He's very engaged and very focused.
Phil Galfond: He wants to be very good and he tries very hard and it shows.
Doug Polk: The guy wants to win and I can see how important every hand is to him.
Erik Seidel: He's the combination of very smart and very hard working and it's hard to beat that.
Jason Mercier: He's a freak of nature.
Ike Haxton: Outgoing, big-hearted nice guy.
Liv Boeree: I love Jason He's incredible.
Antonio Esfandiari: Yeah well he's a piece of shit ... no (laughs).
Jason Koon: It's going to be a crazy week. It's almost enough. I'll figure the rest out when we get up there. Don't have big enough hands. What are you doing today Joey?
Joey Weissman: How are you?
Jason Koon: Good man, ready. Ready to do work. We'll see.
Matt Salsberg: This is the $100k line?
Jason Koon: It's cool being in line with a lot of these guys jumping in the $100k as well. So, we just roll up with $111,000 any way you can bring it: chips, cash, wire. If you can somehow get them to take it, like I have different casino's chips, cash and all kinds of different stuff.
Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, one hundred and eleven thousand, one hundred, and I owe you $11 I believe. Showtime. Thank you. Take care Linda. Alright, let's go play a tournament.
Matt Showell: This tournament Jason is playing today is called the One Drop Super High Roller and it's the highest buy-in tournament at the entire World Series of Poker this year. The cool thing about this event is that it gets out all the big names in the poker world. Guys like Phil Ivey, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Hellmuth. All the big guys are playing. And some of the other guys? They might not be poker pros but they're all geniuses. We're talking about some of the brightest minds from business and finance. I mean, we've got actual billionaires playing in this tournament.
Arthur Crowson: 135 players, 14 million-dollar prize pool and the winner's going to walk away with almost $4 million. It's just an incredibly prestigious, high-stakes event.
Jason Koon: Well, I started my first table pretty standard and I was chipping up a little bit. I flopped a set and check-called when the flush draw got there and the guy had a flush so lost a small one. But I just won one and I'm slightly over what we start with. So a pretty neutral start but the tournament will move quickly, tables will break, so I'm just going to embrace the structure and play as well as I can and hope for the best.
Matt Showell: On the second last level of the night Jason flopped second pair with a weak kicker and had to make a big hero call for almost all his chips. His opponent was bluffing with a busted straight draw and Jason was up to about 1 million chips. He was on track to finish the day really strong.
Tournament Director: 1pm restart tomorrow.
Jason Koon: Yeah it's fine. I'm pretty agitated. I got to 1 million chips making a hero call and then they just give us a 4k ante and a 24k big blind in a $111k buy-in. I didn't even play one significant pot. I mean, 20 big blinds in the last level is half a million chips. But it's kind of frustrating to fold half your stack away. So now I'm stuck with like under 500,000 and I'll be re-shove mode tomorrow at 15k/30k. Everything's independent and this is where I'm at right now. This is the only thing I need to think about so right now all I'm thinking about is getting a good night's rest and coming back here to try to win this tournament.
Jason Koon: This is Stevie. He's my boy from West Virginia.
Steven Merrifield: Hi. How's it going? Pretty funny the coincidences between the two of us. We're the same age. We grew up in West Virginia and we're from about an hour and a half away from each other.
Jason Koon: At the end of the day we're both rednecks from West Virginia. We like to fish and cook out.
Steven Merrifield: Good old simple kind of men, who share a love for the pokes.
Jason Koon: Today's a special day obviously. It's not every day you get to play a hyper turbo for $4 million. Obviously going to be a little bummed if I go in and get got but I'll also have a smile on my face.
Matt Showell: You know, Jason likes to downplay how important these things are but I guarantee you, whenever you're playing for six figures, it's a big deal. Jason came into today shortstacked and he knew he had to make a move. Unfortunately he got all-in, couldn't get lucky, now he's out. He said he'd have a smile on his face win or lose but we just watched him lose over $100,000 and that's got to hurt, especially with the cameras rolling. We're starting to really see how much this really means to him.
Jason Koon: I had a shove that was profitable, I took it, I got called by a better hand and now I'm out. I'm just going to take the rest of the day off. We good?
Jason Koon: Originally from West Virgina, from a really small town called Westin. It's known for a really old crazy house. That's the town I'm from. Was an athlete my entire life. Outdoorsy kind of guy, was always outside. Realized really young I was fast and ended up going to college for track and field.
John Butcher: I first met him when I was just a kid and I found out later, after I had known him a while, that he was from a pretty rough background. I don't know how to describe it other than it just felt like he was one of my kids.
Alden Butcher: Man, he's been making a name for himself ever since he was a little kid. He's a fierce competitor, like I said. He's resilient. Talking about someone who knows how to step over those brick walls and overcome adversity.
Jason Koon: Two years into my track career, which was all I cared about, and ended up getting hurt and when that happened one of my teammates asked me if I wanted to hang out and play poker. I didn't like to lose and I thought those guys were really bad from what I could tell so I learned a lot about the game and very quickly started to be called a cheater and get banned from all the games. The local Elks and the Moose Clubs banned me from all the games and everyone just thought I was cheating. So I took my few hundred dollars, maybe at that time I had made a thousand, and put it online and got beat up by guys who were better than me. I didn't like that so I got good enough to the point where they started calling me a cheater.
Matt Showell: Jason really is one of these guys that started right at the bottom and worked his way all the way to the top levels of the poker world. He's won more than $3.5 million playing live poker tournaments, a ton more online and he's played in some of the biggest cash games anywhere. And he's not just a successful poker player. He's also one of the most liked in the entire poker community.
Antonio Esfandiari: Jason Koon is one of my friends. And there's not many people in the poker world I would say is a genuine friend. He is a teddy bear, just locked inside of a bodybuilder's building.
Phil Ivey: When I hear the name Jason Koon, I think gentleman. He's a guy's guy and he's one of the most fun guys on the tournament scene.
Phil Galfond: I really got to know him when I moved to Vancouver and he moved to Vancouver to play online and we became really good friends pretty quickly. He's still one of my best friends in poker.
Jason Koon: Yeah, I started at the micros. The kid that I lived with, his name is Nick Rampone, he started teaching me at an early age. He had won a freeroll tournament for $10 and ran his Full Tilt account up to over $1 million without ever depositing a cent or being backed or selling a piece of action to anyone.
Jason Koon: Today's the day man!
Matt Showell: Yeah how you feeling man?
Jason Koon: Whew. I don't usually get pumped for tournaments but I'm out of my mind jacked.
Nick Rampone: 5X the biggest buy-in you've ever played before?
Jason Koon: Well, I've re-bought in a $100k before but I don't know if that really counts.
Nick Rampone: I met Jason way back when, I want to say it was 2006, at an online poker table. I just started playing before he did. So I was figuring out the first basic things about poker before a lot of people, before he did. So I was able to show him a few basic things but over the course of like a year or a year and a half, two years maybe, he kept improving to the point where I didn't have anything left to teach him you know?
Now it's very much the opposite where he knows so much more about the game and he's always pointing things out to me and teaching me. As this $500k tournament was approaching this week, I was kind of keeping an eye on him to see how he would react because this is the biggest buy-in he's played by a magnitude of five.
And he was pretty calm the whole time but last night, after he bought in and brought his receipt home, he was just amped. He was a little bit nervous and anxious to get in there and bouncing around the house a little bit so I was like, “Okay good, it's nice to see that you still feel a little bit of those nerves, like you haven't seen it all.” That was cool to see and rightfully so, it's a massive poker tournament.
Jason Koon: That's what $500k gets you: A little piece of paper and a dream. Here we go.
Phil Ivey: It's a $500k buy-in tournament and you're playing with some of the best players in the world and also some businessmen. Right now we have 38 signups. First place is going to be a lot of money. This is what we live for. Events like this.
Daniel Negreanu: You watch the NBA because it's the best basketball players in the world. You watch the NHL because it's the best hockey players in the world. You're going to watch this because you're going to see a collection of the best poker players in the world and you're going to learn a thing or two.
Antonio Esfandiari: When you put up a half a million knowing that 85% of the time you're going to get no return on your money, it's worth that feeling, that rush.
Matt Showell: So I know it sounds crazy that all these people put down $500,000 to buy-in. But the truth is there's a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that makes it all possible. A lot of these pros buy and sell action from each other. Some people have backers that help them get into the tournament, and some people do swaps with other players who are also playing in the tournament. So a lot of these guys will only actually be playing for ten, twenty, thirty per cent of their own action.
Matt Showell: So, table draw not so great.
Jason Koon: Yeah but what can you really expect? I'm ready to do my thing. I've played a ton with everyone there. I got to go to work so I won't be too chatty between now and the end of the day but when we get through we'll have a talk. Matt Showell: Good luck.
So, Jason started the day really strong but he had a super tough table. By the end of the day he was pretty short. On the second-last day of the night he got all-in preflop on a coin-flip. Fifty per cent of the time he's out of the tournament, but he managed to double up and he's coming back tomorrow. His stack still isn't huge but this is No-Limit Hold'em. Anything can happen.
Jason Koon: That's the thing man. All these tournaments, I've finished Day 1 with a 3X chip lead and bricked out so it can always be the other way too. If I come back tomorrow and double one time I have a million chips.
Doug Polk: I think no matter how much time you spend playing high-stakes, it's always special when you get together all the best players in the world to play the highest stakes tournament in the world, and that's what you have here. This is a truly one-of-a-kind tournament.
Ike Haxton: It's exciting to have this much money at risk in a poker tournament. I always find that it brings out the best in me.
Tom Marchese: It's important just to be able to play your game and play your best and not worry about the money.
Jason Koon: Don't expect too many good seats in this tournament. Brian Rast to my left and Tom Macdonald to his left, two great players, but there's not really a good seat in the house at this point. We signed up to play a $500k buy-in and this is what you get.
I actually got eight hours sleep so I feel great. Stack isn't where we want it yet but like I said, anything can happen in these things. Definitely have plenty of room to maneuver and plenty of time so I'm very optimistic about today. My girl got into town and that cheered me up.
Bianca Armstrong: Jason and I actually went to college together in West Virginia. He was a little older than me. He was a senior and I was a freshman. We were on the same track team and we ran track together so we've known each other since 2007. Playing high-stakes like this isn't just your typical tournament like at the World Series so I know he's done a lot of preparation and he's hanging in there. I don't think it really makes me nervous but I just want him to do well.
Jason Koon: Went all-in, Brandon Steven called with the ace and the queen of diamonds so we were flipping. Got the seven-five-three rainbow board and I thought cool, I'm in position, but lost a very standard coin-flip when the queen of clubs rolled off on the turn.
I have to say, that one hurt as bad as any. I was almost just nauseous. You know, you shake hands with everyone, you smile, and you do honestly wish the best for everybody. All these guys in the tournament are great people and it's not like the stars are aligned for me to win this tournament. They're all great guys and great poker players but it hurt me pretty bad.
I had to sit down for a while and take a couple deep breaths. It's one of those ones I won't forget but you gotta get back on the horse and you gotta get back to living your life and having a lot of gratitude for everything I do have. I have a wonderful girlfriend, great friends. This was an unbelievable opportunity. I'm a country kid from West Virginia man and I get to play the biggest stakes in the world. I get to hang out with the coolest people in the world. I get to play a game I truly love.
John Butcher: Yesterday he's in a $500,000 tournament and today he takes us out here to race go-karts.
Alden Butcher: I think poker's just a vessel for Jason to get him where he's going. He's always done great things whether it's bass fishing back in West Virginia or racing go-karts here. He's a competitor and I feel like poker's just something that's going to get him where he's going.