The interview took place a few hours before the start of the $250,000 tournament. Jason Koon played the first day, but couldn't come on the second due to the birth of his son. The organizers returned the full buy-in to him.
Jason Koon is our guest. Thanks for taking the time.
– Yes, today is a crazy day, but I gladly accepted your invitation.
What makes today so special?
– The $250k tournament starts in 30 minutes. I came early to buy in. At the World Series, this is quite a stressful procedure. They check every cent, no matter how you buy in. You have to spend a lot of time to prove that you are not a criminal. Although I would not be surprised if there are such people among the participants of the tournament.
– You said that this tournament is the main one for you. Why?
– For several reasons. First, I love playing high stakes. Secondly, this year is special because for the first time in a long time I won't be able to play the Main Event. About a week later, my wife and I are expecting the birth of our second son. So for some time in my life, there will be no poker, I will sit at home, watch the broadcasts, and cheer for my friends.
– So you won’t play the main event at all anymore?
– I will, of course. When the son is one year old, he will be able to take care of himself.
– It seems that you won your first bracelet right after the birth of your first son?
Yes, he was only a couple of weeks old. Ever since my first World Series, I've dreamed of just playing in a heads-up tournament. I think in those years the buy-in was $10k. The tournament that Jake Cody won was very memorable. It had a buy-in of $25k and included all the legends. In the final, Jake beat some crazy amateur from England, a very nice guy. I forgot his name (ed. – here Jason's memory failed a little, then Evgeny Timoshenko took 2nd place . Of course, a nice guy, but far from an amateur ). Naturally, winning such a tournament myself was the ultimate dream of mine. Although the experience turned out to be a little strange because it all happened in the midst of restrictions due to the pandemic.
– Have you already played any tournaments in this series?
– I signed up for the $100k tournament almost from the very beginning, I entered both the $25k's at the very last moment with a short stack and quickly got out, and for the $50k I missed it because I was playing cash. In general, I really like the WSOP, I plan to grind at least one series from start to finish in the near future. But at the moment it is impossible, my life is too chaotic, and I do not have time for anything.
I recently re-read your interview from ten years ago. In it, you told how, right in the middle of a major series, you flew to Hawaii to surf. Has anything changed in your approach to poker since then?
– Yes, I remember very well, it was a series at the Bay 101 casino. I just wanted to surf and skydive, so I dropped everything and flew away. Since then I have become much more disciplined, this is the main change. At that time, I didn’t really understand how to prepare for the sessions, how to work on the game. Then I seemed to see the light, I think that now I spend my time very efficiently. I used to act on a whim for everything.
– You went from a low-stakes grinder to one of the most successful high rollers. Can you tell the audience about some of the highlights that helped you take off so quickly? What has changed in your approach to the game?
– As soon as I played the first hand in my life, I immediately realized that poker was for me. I had never experienced this before in my life. I said to myself: "Hmm, this is something new and I like it." A week later I was tearing up all my friends, a month later they called me a cheater, and six months later I was making decent money online. Among the players of my generation, many came from chess, Magic, or other mind games. There was nothing like this in my life, I have never done anything even remotely similar to poker. But I immediately plunged into the game with my head, because I really liked it. So the most important advice – do not play for the sake of money, the best way to grow is obsession.
You will sit in a chair for hours and do the same thing, it is important not to lose the drive. Be sure to find people who will help you and push you forward by their example. In general, in poker there is nothing more important than perseverance. And, well, one more small condition that is mandatory in order to succeed – you must not do stupid things. The best way to prolong your poker life is not to burn it all down. And it is very easy to do this, especially in difficult periods.
You have a lot in common with Doyle. He grew up in a poor family on a farm and he said that he started playing poker in order to quickly forget about this life. Did you have similar motives?
– I really hated poverty since childhood and promised myself that my family would not experience anything like that. But it has nothing to do with poker. I studied well and received a financial education. I had options for a successful career even before poker. Moreover, the soul of finance did not lie at all, but relatives convinced me that this was very promising. And when poker appeared, it replaced everything, I just couldn't think about anything else. I even thought that I was a gambler. But I decided to take a chance and start a professional poker career. By that time I had already received my diploma and knew that in case of failure, I would always find a job.
Since then, my main goal is to surround myself with people who believe in me, help me develop, and then I can help them. Of course, human qualities are also very important. Among my friends, there are both online and offline regulars, young players, and old-school professionals. I think one of my strengths is that I have absorbed something useful from each group, and not become obsessed with one thing.
– A couple of years ago, you offered a bet that you could run 100 meters faster than 11 seconds. Did it never take place?
It's funny that you mentioned that. Recently, I have reduced my presence in the public space and abandoned social networks. Therefore, almost no one knows that for about a year I have been actively training, constantly running, and just short distances. I work out with Olympic Games participant Devon Allen. There were no official races yet, but in training, I got close to 11 seconds. We did not make a bet with Bill Perkins but agreed to help the sports school where I started. I have helped them before. But now they need a new gym, and a complete renovation will cost several hundred thousand. Bill promised that if I succeeded, we would donate the necessary amount together. I think I can do it, but I won’t promise anything, I’d better post the video right away.
– There are a lot of scandals in poker lately. You advise GG on security issues. Are there any successes?
Yes, a lot of work is being done. This is another reason why I don't have time to play the World Series. I will not go into details so as not to make life easier for scammers. But I will say that we have made great progress in the methods of dealing with clues. Yes, poker has a lot of problems with the fairness of the game, we only hear about multi-accounts, RTA, and so on. But online poker isn't as bad as it's been made out to be in recent years. Although before this work, I myself was extremely pessimistic about the prospects for online play. In the next couple of months, we plan to publish several progress reports.
– When will you turn 40?
On August 14, I will be 38.
– You probably guessed that I'm hinting at the Hall of Fame, which you can get into after 40?
I don't even think about it. It's hard to believe that I can be there. I started watching poker in the 2000s, I was a fan of the stars of that time, then, with my mouth open, I played with many at the same table. I can proudly say that I was friends with Doyle, I always listened to his stories with pleasure. Bobby Baldwin is also a friend of mine, I love hearing his stories about old Vegas. I am a fan of poker and its history. He recently admitted to his wife that it is very difficult to get used to the idea that he himself has become a part of all this.
– Now you are in 5th place in tournament winnings in your entire career. Are you thinking about the top spot?
I'm sure I'll never be there. There is just too much distance. Stephen Chidwick, Mikita Bodyakovsky, and other guys from the list play everything in a row. I love poker, but every year I ask myself how much longer I can do it. And these guys seem to be ready to play for the rest of their lives, so they like it. Of course, you can always win a tournament for a million, but it is unlikely that in 10 years I will be in 1st place.
Do you think there will come a time when you will quit poker altogether?
– Hardly. I'm still obsessed with the game, I enjoy discussing hands, working with students. But I almost stopped going to the series, with the exception of Triton. I play cash most of the time. I have no idea what would have to happen for me to start grinding tournaments again.
It's been a few weeks since your run-in with Dan Smith. How do you rate this episode now?
I think my behavior was completely unacceptable. I know that many supported me, and there was some truth in my words, but it was not worth saying all this publicly. Dan and I have been friends for a long time, he is a great player and a great guy, it would be enough to have a face-to-face conversation. The blame for this whole situation is entirely on me, fatigue and accumulated stress affected me. But we have already discussed everything, I came to his house to apologize in person.
There is nothing easier than labeling. They always say about high rollers: “They just transfer money from one pocket to another, they play for an insignificant share ...” You should know what kind of streaks we have to deal with. You have to be a fool to believe that Dan Smith is playing for 3% of himself. It is clear that the money is huge, and they put pressure on everyone. Hence the reaction.
Who would you bet on in the upcoming $250,000 tournament? Except yourself.
– It is impossible to say who is the strongest at the moment. There is a group of the best players in the world, there are about 10 people in it, and the leaders are constantly changing. If you imagine that I was forced at gunpoint to put my entire fortune on one of the participants, I would choose Stephen Chidwick or Mikita. Although Nick Petrangelo is no weaker, Seth Davies is also very cool, Christoph ( ed. – Vogelsang ) ... Ike is having an incredible year. I would choose one of them.
None of Jason's favorites lived up to his expectations.