How does someone go from being broke with no prospects and $1.75 in a PokerStars account to winning the Sunday Million 6 years later?  Read on to learn about Mike Wasserman’s journey from a poker hobbyist to a world class professional…

By Mike Wasserman

In 2015, I won the Sunday Million for $145,000.  It took years of full immersion, hard work and studying. But it started back in 2008, with only $1.75 in my PokerStars account, and a lucky run.

I Hated My Jobs (all of them)

I have a B.A. in communications. Working for a biotech company after college, I lasted exactly 2 weeks.  I felt sick from the moment I got in the car in the morning, until the end of each, miserable day.  It was against my soul to work in that environment and refer to the printer as LUMBERGH. I mean, yeah I liked Office Space just as much as the next guy, but working in a cubicle was just not for me.

Also, I have a Journeyman’s Certificate in audio engineering, but I couldn’t get over the idea of being someone’s bitch, interning for no pay, for years, for a band that I couldn’t stand listening to. 

I held a dozen jobs working at call centers, delivering pizzas and waiting tables, while playing $1-$3 cash once a week in Los Angeles. But I can’t tell you if I was making money playing this game, because I didn’t keep track. BIG MISTAKE. Once I started keeping track, I learned how to hold myself accountable, and how to get the most out of each session. I also learned that I was making $30/hr. 

The breaking point came in 2008 while I was working at The Cheesecake Factory.  A year and a half into this gig, during a hectic dinner shift, I waited on a celebrity who snapped her fingers at me just 3 times too many.  I came home to my apartment, completely exhausted and fully defeated.  Still in my grubby white uniform, I looked at my roommate and declared, “I can’t do this anymore.”  And I meant it.  I gave my 2 weeks’ notice after my next shift.  

Early Lessons Learned

The day after my last shift, I went to the Bicycle Casino and played their “Deepstack” Event.  I had very little tournament experience. It was a $550 buy in.  I had $3,500 dollars to my name.  BIG MISTAKE. This, my friends, is bad bankroll management.  I took the remaining $3,000 with me, and kept it in my pocket, to remind myself that if I bust, at least I’m not broke. 

Two days later I found myself sitting at the Final Table.  We ended up chopping 10 handed and I got 3rd place money for $24,000.  I was no longer “low on funds.”  This was all the money in the world to me, at that time.  I was rich and couldn’t be stopped.  So naturally, I headed to Vegas.

I took multiple trips to Vegas and had some winning sessions, but overall I was bleeding money.  I remember losing over $5,000 in one trip, playing poker and table games.  BIG MISTAKE.  At the time, I thought I had a conservative approach to bankroll management  (I lost over 25% of my total money on one gambling binge).  I would be learning this lesson the hard way…

Ten months after my big score at The Bike, I had $1,000 dollars to my name, no job and absolutely no plan.  I moved back home to take care of my Mom who was sick at the time, and took some time to regroup.  After helping her with some bills and paying some of my own, I found myself with a few hundred dollars.  I had a choice.  I could either eat while I looked for a job, or I could deposit the money onto Pokerstars. Now I know that most of you are thinking that I gambled with my last few hundos… NOPE.  I embraced my inner nit and decided to eat.  Poker would have to wait.

A ($1.75) Chip and a Chair

A few days later, I opened up Pokerstars and noticed I had $1.75 in my account. Cha-ching!  I registered a $1 Omaha HU match and won.  So I registered for 2 more.  I won both.  I did this for a few days slowly increasing my Average Buy In (ABI).  Over those three days I won 2 Sunday Million Tickets, good for Tournament Dollars and ran the $1.75 up to over $1,000. 

I cashed out all of it and took care of some living expenses.  My next plan was to try some secondary sites.  I deposited $50 on Cake Poker.  That week, I ran that $50 up to $5,000 playing MTT’s. I waited 3.5 weeks for the check to arrive in the mail. During the wait, I only played play money tournaments because I was completely broke.  I was also applying for jobs because I was unsure if the check was ever going to arrive.

It did.  I deposited another $100 on Pokerstars, played a few SnGs and fired the 20 cubed.  I won the 20 cubed for almost $10,000!! Over the course of two months, I turned the $1.75 I found in my Pokerstars account into almost $20,000 (3 weeks of which, was me playing play money tournaments, waiting for my check to arrive).

I played single table turbo SnGs for the next 6 months.  I was making a dollar or 2 per game when I decided to make the transition to 180 man turbo SnGs.  Around this time, I joined Poker X Factor and contacted a handful of instructors.  Chris “Fox” Wallace was the only person who responded.  Although I never received any formal coaching from Chris, he did give me the single best advice I have ever been given about the game.  He told me:

— Pick a form of poker that you enjoy.  Learn everything you possibly can about it.  Obsessively pursue knowledge about how to beat that specific game.  Beat that game.  Then, NEVER stop playing it.  —

I did not take this advice lightly.  I dove, head first, into 180 man turbo SnGs.  They didn’t take as long as MTTs and they paid better than the single table SnGs.  After a few months, I started researching a few of the top grinders to see who among them were the most profitable.  I chatted them up on Pokerstars until I found someone to coach me, and then dropped everything and moved to Arlington, Texas to live in a poker training house. I didn’t even care what it was going to cost me, I just wanted to learn how to do this for a living.  It was here that I learned the true value of aggression in quick structured SnGs and tournaments.  In no time, I ran up my bankroll. And then our entire house decided to relocate to Las Vegas to run a training house.

Las Vegas and Beyond

Five of us moved to Vegas at the beginning of 2011.  We had a few students come in and stay to learn SnG strategy.  We were all grinding/studying 5+ days a week.  One of my roommates was being backed and coached by a top tier tournament pro.  Although I wasn’t looking for backing, when that offer got extended to me, how could I say no?  I hadn’t grinded Multi-Table Tournaments much, yet…

So, I immediately started playing low and mid stakes MTTs. I was just a few weeks in, when BOOM!  Black Friday hit.  Everyone in the house had most, if not all, of their money online, except for me.  I had cashed out everything a few weeks before.  Amazing timing eh?  This also brought an abrupt end to our training house days.  My housemates returned to their respective states, but I stayed in Vegas for the WSOP.  I continued my backing deal through the summer.  I played the main event for the first time and finished 220th.  That knocked out whatever make-up I had.  When the summer ended, I decided to head down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to live with my backer and two other professional tournament players.  Soon after arriving in Cabo,  I won the Weekly TLB on Stars, ending 2011 on a big upswing.

Over the last 10 years, I have spent a lot of time split between Mexico and Canada putting in tons of volume, and meeting some amazing people.  I have been fortunate enough to be coached and mentored by one of the best MTT’ers in the world.  During that time I’ve racked up some hard earned accolades** and I’ve made enough money to travel around the world and even start a little retirement fund. I am in a good enough situation to continue playing this game for a living, or even take time off to travel, read, or pursue other passions. Those freedoms and opportunities make me feel pretty rich, and beyond grateful.  And with a lot of studying the game, and a little bit of luck, I haven’t even come close to going broke since 2009!

I am sharing this story with you because there is nothing particularly special about me.  I just made a decision that I was not going to work for someone else and that my work had to be on my terms.  That has been my motivation and driving force to succeed.  I’m not the guy who has it all figured out – I’m still learning every day.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do enjoy offering help if and when I can.  Please hit me with any questions, comments or suggestions and I’ll do my best to provide some good content for you.

You really can do anything if you put your mind to it!

Mike Wasserman

Twitter: @StrungOut12


***Partial list: 100,000+ MTTs played,  $1.5 Million+ total profit,  Pokerstars Sunday Million Winner, GG Global Millions Winner, Reached #1 on Pocketfives in September 2015, cashed for $7.5+ Million online/live***