I am José, the so called 'Portuguese poker prodigy'.
Many of my friends and family have pointed out the thread about me on 2p2. They told me that there is a lot of speculation about me: that people are saying my story is fake; i don't exist; i am some mystical force, and; I even eat babies for breakfast. I am surprised and flattered (and a little scared), but I’m nothing so mythological I’m afraid. I'm just an ordinary 18 year old kid who loves to play poker.
So, this is my story.
I was born in 1992. I was 4 years old when my Father died. I don't remember much about him, but from the stories I hear about him, I know he was a great man. I was raised by my Mother and although it was just the two of us, we got by. She worked hard to support me and make me happy. I watched her struggle and her selflessness and determination affected me strongly in life.
I attended an international School and studied hard. I was a good student and would enter into a lot of math and writing challenges, winning many of them. I finished my GCSE's with extremely good grades.
Growing up I aspired to be a professional footballer. My Mum would always tell me that my father admired brave men, that he admired men who took risks and took life by the horns. My dad was never there to watch me play and teach me like other kids, but I would practice football obsessively. In time I got good enough to play on the youth team for Sporting Lisbon, where I was on my way to play for the national youth team. I've also played Tennis a lot since I was 5. But when I was 13 I had a bad knee injury that barred me from playing the game again. It crushed me at the time, but soon after my interests shifted in other directions.
My fascination with poker really started when I was 16. I decided that I wanted to buy a house in Hawaii for me and my family/friends which I had already picked out. Sounds silly for a high schooler, I know, but I was that kind of kid. A friend of mine had been playing poker for play money and told me a story about this guy named Durrrr. How he had started with nothing, just a poor college kid, and using his wits and hard work, created for himself a fortune by mastering this game. I was captivated. I got every poker book I could find at the local bookstore (I couldn’t afford to buy any and Poker was still a secret, so I’d sneak the books into the bathroom to read them) and spent 2 months reading and analyzing them – Mathematics of poker, Sklanky's theory of poker, Harrington on Hold'em, Gus Hansen's Every Hand Revealed, and more. I was also watching every poker show I could and studying all of their plays, all the way down to the smallest little bet or fold. As I was studying the game, I would test my theories and discoveries on the play money tables, where over time I accumulated a million play chips.
I decided I was ready to step up my game. I begged my Mum for 2 days to let me use her credit card and deposit 30 Euros on Betfair. She was hesitant at first, but in the end she relented. She just wanted me to be happy, she said. And that’s how my journey into the world of poker got started.
I began grinding 1c/2c tables, playing as many tables as possible and trying to capitalize on rakeback. I played 6-10 hours a day everyday that I could, writing down the most important hands on a piece of paper (at this point I’d never heard of HEM or even 2p2) and I would analyze them afterwards using the concepts I had learned in my books and on TV. I kept on this way, cycling through sites to take advantage of bonuses, and eventually was able to grind 24 tables at once.
About a month and a half in, I had made that initial deposit into $2,500. At this point, I was playing 100NL and the games were starting to get tougher. I noticed that the best players at my tables were playing a looser style than me (I was really tight, like 15/13). Slowly I began to open up my game and that got me to think more deeply about hands. This eased my transition into HU, where I would end up playing most of my volume.
It was when I had built my roll up to $5,000, I told my Mum about my success. I expected her to be pleasantly surprised, but she was nervous for me. She said if I wasn’t careful, I would turn into a gambler and lose everything. I remembered her words echoing in my head when one day I took a shot at a 200NL game that was built around a big fish. I had never had so much money at one table before, and my heart was pounding just sitting there. About 15 minutes in, I got dealt KK UTG. I raised 3.5x, the fish 3-bet me UTG+1, and it folded around to the SB who made a large 4-bet. It was the fish’s first 3-bet and the reraiser was extremely tight. I stared at my hand for a while and made a crying hero fold... the fish shoved, and the SB called. It was AKs vs AA. I was so ecstatic at my fold, it gave me so much confidence. I went on to win 3 buyins in the game and took a screenshot to myself sitting at a table with a whole 822 dollars. When I went to bed that night I was so pumped I couldn’t sleep. I still have that screenshot.
The next day a good Betfair regular who really respected my game wanted to get in touch with me and talk about poker. Up until now I had been learning on my own, so I got to know him and started talking about hands with him. Eventually he told me about Hold'em Manager. When I found it, I was instantly hooked. I bought it and spent hour upon hour just looking at all of the possibilities. See, for me, poker has always been fascinating. I see every hand as a puzzle that I need to solve to find the best play. To me, these tools were like a dream come true. It was like a little workshop in my own computer, prodding, tinkering with my game, trying to visualize how little changes would affect the big picture. To me, it was all exhilarating. My poker development soared.
Within a couple of months, I was playing 400NL and studying poker religiously. For 6 hours a day I would just analyze the game, going through every single regular’s hand histories as well as my own. I made long, detailed notes (To this day I have 100+ pages of notes on people on my computer) and would try to dissect every single little hand, even the most commonplace ones. I felt like my game was improving fast, and I was starting to build real confidence in my abilities. By the time I built my roll up to $8,000 I ended up taking a shot against a heads up regular whose game I had studied intensely. It was a long match, but over 9 hours I ended up beating him for almost 10 buyins.
I kept pushing forward. I started to believe there wasn't anything I couldn’t accomplish if I put my mind to it. I was grinding every day, studying and reviewing hands and trucking forward in my career. Around then I ended up finding 2p2 and HoldemManager, which brought to me a whole new range of opportunities. I spent countless hours reading through all of the great posts in the history of 2p2, from the likes of durrrr, DogIsHead, Krantz, Sauce, Jungleman, Lefort, MagicNinja, FoxwoodsFiend, etc. I would analyze their posts and try my hardest to grasp why they were saying what they were saying. Of course, a lot of the time I couldn’t, so I did what any normal person would do: I tracked them down on Skype and would ask them for 1 hour of coaching for them to talk to me about their ideas about whatever hand they had talked about that I didn’t understand. That’s how I met Jungleman, DogIsHead, Sauce, etc. It was fascinating and amazing to have access to the best poker minds in the world and pick their brains about poker theory. I tried to assimilate what I found most interesting about their advice into my own game. I would also look for the things that they found annoying (like check-minraises, preflop minraising, stop and go’s etc.) and made a point to incorporate those things into my game as well.
I rocketed through the limits, pushing my way up to $5/$10 NL, where I hit my first major roadbump. I took 3 unsuccessful shots over the course of a month, and when I couldn’t seem to infiltrate the ranks of $5/$10, I decided to get a coach. I shopped around on 2p2 and ended up talking to a lot of different ones (hence why so many people know bits and pieces of me), and I would incorporate little pieces of their advice into my game. I would round up a list of all the regs who I thought were the strongest, and tried to contact each and every one of them to get an insight into their thinking, ask why they did this or that. It was at this point that I truly began to understand poker and everything was starting to click. I would watch videos of all of the best video makers over and over again and take notes on what they did differently from me and why. To this day I have 35 pages of notes on training videos. I eventually broke into $5/$10 and started beating the limit: I began to surpass the people I was learning from, moving higher and higher in the stakes, and I felt unstoppable. It was at this point that the idea of becoming the best poker player in the world really seemed like it was within my grasp.
I cycled to and fro for a while. I was learning from some of the best players in the world, working on my game, all while trying to balance family and high school. It wasn’t easy and I faltered at times, but finally by the end of summer I was ready to take my first shots at nosebleeds. They didn’t go quite as planned the first time around. I got to revel in my first +$100k day, and I got to wallow in my first -$200k loss. There were lots of ups and downs, but I felt grateful for it everyday. I felt like I was finally in that arena that I had dreamed of all this time. Despite the swings, I used some of the money I made to buy a house that house in Hawaii for us. Everything seemed to be going right.
Then in October last year, something really messed up happened to me. I was taken advantage of by someone close to me. They cheated me for a large sum of money – about $250,000. Although I don’t want to write too much about the details, it was really screwed up. At first I was just shocked that this could happen - I was 17 and probably a little naive, but I couldn’t imagine that a person could do such a thing to someone they cared about. But as time passed, I started to feel angry. Angry at all of the hard-earned money that I had lost. In my mind I felt abused. I lost faith in people. I started questioning my friends, my family, even my girlfriend and, as I felt worse and worse, my poker results started to flounder. I just felt fucked over... by life and by poker.
It started a wave of negativity that impacted on everything. But, after a while and thanks largely to my girlfriend, my mum and my best friend, I remembered how lucky I am. Lucky to find poker, lucky to have a flair for it, to run good at the right times. Lucky to be healthy, and to have all of the tremendous opportunities that I have, to have a good family and have bought us that house in Hawaii.
I remember as a schoolboy reading the Greek myths. And in the myths when humans would get too cocky the Gods would come down, smack them around a little, and remind them of their fallibility and insignificance. Even the greatest warriors had to learn to be modest. Haha, that sounds really cheeky but I’m just happy to be climbing this mountain called poker. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and all that I’ve managed to accomplish in this time, but I’m far from done.
I look up from my desk, and there’s a board suspended on the wall. I made it a year ago when I was 17, when reaching the top of the poker world was still just a silly fantasy. On this board there are four pictures cut out and pasted… a crisp green million dollar bill, a picture of a WSOP bracelet, a screenshot of Durrrr sitting at Rail Heaven, and a photo of a little house in Hawaii. And as I’m looking at this silly little board I made, my mind wanders to where I started my journey. I remember standing at the foot of this mountain, a 16 year old boy, looking up with dreamlike wonder. Imagining what it would be like to scale its peak. I’m not at the foot of the mountain anymore, but my story has just begun. And although sometimes this mountain can seem dauntingly tall… I’m ready for it. And I’m grateful for this chance to climb it.
If you found my story interesting, follow me at http://twitter.com/girahpoker . I will be updating both of these regularly with Poker and life related stuff. Thank you everyone so much for reading, and good luck :)