Morgan Popham was a defensive lineman for the NCAA Davidson Wildcats and since graduating he's been making a living playing poker.
This afternoon at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas Popham will compete for his first gold bracelet and over $200,000. Popham is fifth in chips with six players left in the $1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event.
“To be honest with you, I feel like I have an edge over the field,” he told PokerListings.com before making the final six.
“I came up on PLO. I don’t necessarily feel like I’d have an edge in Hold’em but I feel like I’ve put in enough hours in PLO to get a feel for the game.”
Davidson Grad Tackles Poker
Popham has a difficult route to victory and must contend with veteran poker pros including two-time bracelet winner Steve Billirakis who has the chip lead. Luckily for Popham he has experience dealing with adversity and tough competition, as he told PokerListings.com reporter Alex Villegas.
PokerListings.com: Is this your first WSOP?
Morgan Popham: This is my third year out here but I’ve only played cash the past two years. I played one PLO event last year, the $1,500 PLO with the three lammers. I’m not really much of a tournament player to be honest, I’m mostly cash.
This is Popham's second year playing WSOP tournaments.
PL: How’d you start in poker?
I’m from Atlanta and I started playing in home games and I remember travelling to Biloxi when I was younger, sneaking into the Beau Rivage when I was 19 to 20 years old to go play 1/2 and 2/5. Just grinding up the stakes from there.
You know, PLO caught on big in the south probably four years ago and eventually that just kind of became all we played. So it’s cool, this event is kind of dear to my heart. The game has a special place in my heart so it’s cool.
PL: Do you play online?
A little bit, a little bit, not much, you know. I never got too big into it, I went to school, I went to Davidson College and it was a tough school and I really didn’t have that much time for it.
I played it a little bit to supplement my income but never anything like the big guys you know. So mostly just been grinding cash for the past three or four years.
PL: How does poker compare to football?
In football you can sort of let your emotions go, you know what I mean? But in this, it’s been a learning experience to become a lot more controlled and calm and cool and collected.
I’ve learned a lot from watching guys like Jason Somerville and guys of that caliber. They just always keep it together and never lose their cool.
But it is cool to be competitive and still have something where you can compete with other guys. And like I said, to a lot of these guys this is one tournament in a million, but to me, this is the one. It’s the one that I’m really into, the one that I feel really comfortable with and I enjoy it.
I enjoy sort of being able to out-maneuver my opponents where I probably wouldn’t be able to in Hold’em.
PL: Did you have a hard time dealing with emotions before?
Unfortunately yeah. It’s been something that I’ve really worked on and I’ve gotten a lot better at and I’m really proud of myself for it to be honest with you.
Popham has a shot at his first WSOP bracelet this afternoon.
PL: Any specific incidents?
No, no, never anything like that. I never got mad at other people, I really just got mad at myself.
And that’s another thing players talk about a lot of times, you make the best range-play and when it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that it was a bad play. So being able to overcome adversity and just stay in that nice smooth zone is something that I’m really proud of.
PL: How is poker similar to football?
Definitely the competition and realizing -- and this is a big thing in football -- realizing that bad things happen.
You’re going to fumble, you’re going to throw an interception, the offence is going to do poorly and you’re the defence so you’re going to have to pick it up.
In poker when bad things happen, it’s really helped me recuperate, recover, and just realize that it’s all part of the game. Just get back into my zone and just keep hammering away and just keep going and going and going.
That competitive spirit and drive has really helped me at the table. Just stay focused and overcome adversity. It’s been pretty great.
PL: What’s it like to compete in the top tier of college football and then go on to compete in the top tier of poker?
It feels great man, it feels really cool to see guys like Phil Laak, Jason Somerville, just a lot of other really good competition. Stephen Chidwick was on my left all day yesterday, I got in a couple of tricky spots against him and it’s cool man.
Popham was seated beside Stephen Chidwick, one of the best all-around poker players in the world.
It feels really good to have the support from my friends and it really is kind of like a sneaky little thing. I feel like I do have an edge against these guys just because I’ve played a lot more PLO.
PL: What do you do besides poker?
This is it, this is what I do. I graduated Davidson in 2012, so two years ago, and this is my second series since I graduated. I love it, but I’m always keeping my eyes open for other options.
PL: What kind of options?
Finance. That’s what I studied in school, finance and Spanish. You know, just something sort of along those lines. Financial advising, portfolio management, stocks. That stuff really interests me and I kind of kept in touch with that world a little bit, with some of my contacts from Davidson.
My professors love poker. The guys I keep in contact with from Davidson, they really support me and they kind of say the contacts they have in the financial world will always be happy to have someone that has this kind of experience because it’s tough. It takes an emotional toll handling the swings and the big ups and downs. In PLO especially.
Other than your friends, who are all going through the same thing, you don’t have much guidance like you would, maybe, in finance and working under someone.
PL: Where are you living now?
I moved to Philadelphia in January for poker. I go to Parx and Atlantic city. I have to admit, I do miss those big PLO home-games from down south, but you know, it’s hard to make a living in home games man.
I really wanted to get somewhere where I could get a good schedule and grind every day and I love Philadelphia. It’s beautiful and there’s a lot of fun things, a lot of culture there. It’s great. Great food, great beer. I love it.
I don’t think I’ll live there forever but I really wanted to improve my Hold’em skills and I live with Aaron Overton and he’s really helping me out with game a lot.
So I really want to get to a point where I can do that and then move on and probably go back down south. Maybe Florida or maybe west to California.