Canadian Gambling Pros: Mike Watson Poker Tales

Did you ever want to step into the shoes of one of today’s elite professionals, just for a day? What is it like to be so successful, so wealthy, or so dominant in your field? If you enjoy playing poker, perhaps you’d like a more personal view of Canadian pro gambler Mike Watson.

Canadian gambling pro Mike WatsonWe writer’s can do research and script biographies of gambling pros all day long, but getting information directly from the source is the only way to truly understand what life is like for a pro poker player. Mike Watson offered that very opportunity in an exclusive interview with CBC before heading off to Australia for the Aussie Millions at Crown Melbourne.

Little did Watson know, he would soon be AU$529,200 richer. As the Aussie Millions wrapped up yesterday, Watson concluded his tour of the Land Down Under with a runner-up finish in the $100,000 Challenge High Roller, succumbing to American pro Nick Petrangelo (1st, AU$882,000) in heads-up.

His bankroll may have gotten a lot fatter, but the half-million cash won’t have too much effect on how Watson lives, or plays the game. The Crown Casino in Melbourne was just another stop along his professional tour, and the poker table will remain his office desk for many years to come.

How Does He Do It?

With more than CA$12.8 million in live poker winnings, Watson says, “Being good at playing cards is only … one of many things that you need to succeed as a poker player.”

Watson explained that to be a successful pro gambler on the felt, “You’ve got to be able to manage your money, you’ve got to be able to manage yourself, and put yourself in a position to actually show up and play well.”

The St John’s, NL native says he spends about half of each year traveling the world, following the pro poker circuit. “That could mean Las Vegas, but it could also mean Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Australia … I probably play between 50 and a hundred live tournaments in casinos over the course of a year,” he surmised.

Although Mike Watson has earned millions of dollars as the fifth most successful Canadian pro gambler in the history of poker, he says it’s an inordinately expensive career path. Not only is he paying the cash buy-ins to compete in so many live poker tournaments, he also covers the cost of constant airfare and hotel accommodations. And for all of his expenditures, placing in the money – much less winning – is never a sure thing.

“Probably, over the course of the year, you’ve got one or two big final tables. If you’re lucky, maybe you get a couple more,” said Watson. “But you only have a couple chances to get a big win and it doesn’t always materialize.”

Mike said he’s often able to supplement income with cash games and online poker, which is really helpful during a year with otherwise negative cash flow.

Mathematical Savant Not Required

Although the Canadian pro gambler does have a math degree from Memorial University, he said you don’t have to be a math whiz to master poker. All you really need, he said, is basic high school level math skills. Calculating quickly, however, is the key.

“You don’t really need anything too advanced,” he said, “but being very proficient with numbers, very quick with numbers, definitely helps a lot in terms of things like keeping track of the size of the pot [and] bet sizing.

“There’s a lot of mental arithmetic that’s going on every hand,” he explained. “Being able to do that quickly and easily let’s you focus on other things that are more important.”

Equally imperative to success is proper mental focus and preparedness. Mike attributes much of his success to his ability to stay focused and block out distractions, which are especially prevalent in a casino environment.

“It was always very important to me to take things seriously,” he continued. “Show up rested and ready to play, treat it like a real, serious job. But a lot of guys don’t. They show up hungover for the third day of a big tournament.”

He said self-control plays a key role in a player’s long-term success, and that coming into a large amount of money after a big win can have a very negative effect on a player’s future, if they’re not careful.

“There’s a lot of really unfortunate horror stories out there of guys who could play cards, but never really had a dollar to their name.” Watson’s intellect and self-discipline have helped him to avoid those all-too-common pitfalls, making him one of the most consistently successful and respected Canadian pro gamblers of all time.

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