The backstory for the vast majority of today’s poker crushers reads the same. To cut a long story short, it goes something like this: Moneymaker effect > depositing online > some early success > talking strategy with others > full-time pro.
You’ll notice that studying the game of poker (which back in the day mostly consisted of swapping strategies with other players) comes late in the story after the player has already been grinding at the tables for a while. Those who pursue poker seriously are often those who enjoyed early success, as winning money motivates them to work on their game and ensure they keep the ball rolling.
Today’s poker landscape is different. While players in the poker boom relied on Skype groups and only a handful of resources for study, players entering the game today have a colossal amount of material to choose from, be it YouTube videos, Twitch streams, and training sites like BBZ Poker.
This is leading some teenagers to begin learning how to crush online poker before they’ve ever played a single hand of online poker.
Julian “Juliantjen” van den Heuvel got into poker two years ago when he was just 16, playing for fun with family and friends before discovering online poker. Too young to play online, he began watching online poker content and noticed several YouTubers and Twitch streamers were promoting poker training sites.
“This showed me that studying was probably the way to go if I wanted to make money from poker in the future,” he says. “I was still only 16, so instead of playing poker, I studied.”
Van den Heuvel was still at high school in the Netherlands but in his free time, he was learning the basics of poker. “At the beginning, I was just learning from free streams and videos, stuff like bet sizing, ranges from different positions, and how to play differently as a short/big stack,” he says. “But over the last couple of months, I’ve mainly focused on the maths, quantitative strategies, and learning the basics of ICM. For the first two topics, I gained a lot of help from the BBZ Quantitative Strategies videos.”
Over the next two years–without playing a single hand of online poker–Van den Heuvel studied the game, as well as studying hard at school. Now 18, he recently graduated high school with a diploma and within a month he’ll be studying Economics & Business Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam, something he’s very excited about.
Turning 18 meant he could now finally play online poker. He was prepared in terms of his poker know-how, but what about his bankroll?
“I’ve had a side job the last few years and I decided that I would save money from that and eventually make a deposit on a poker site,” he says. “I don’t spend much money anyway.”
He did plenty of research into bankroll management before depositing $750 on PokerStars and $750 on PartyPoker, giving himself a starting bankroll of $1,500. “This way I’d have enough to deal with little downswings,” he says.
His bankroll rules are strict: he’ll only play tournaments between the $1.10 and $7.50 buy-in range, with no turbo buy-ins above $3.30 and no hyper buy-ins above $2.20 (“There is more variance in those games.”)
Two weeks ago, Van den Heuvel played his first online poker session.
“I don’t mean to brag, but I feel like I’m already consistently one of the best players at the table,” he says. “I see almost every player at these low stakes make obvious misplays and a few who do some really stupid stuff. But hey, that’s probably the micro stakes for you.”
There wasn’t much to report from Van den Heuvel’s first session, but his second session?
His second session ever?
That was a huge success. He took down the Hot $2.20 PKO on PokerStars, defeating a 632-entry field to win the $74.37 first-place prize plus $89.55 in bounties.
“I won a flip at the start of the final table and had a great position as the chip leader in a bounty tournament, allowing me to put a lot of pressure on smaller stacks,” he says. “From there on out I collected most of the bounties and won the heads-up pretty quickly. It feels amazing to take down such a big field and it has really given me a boost of confidence.”
He hasn’t let that confidence go to his head, however. “So far I’m crushing it, but I’m not sure if that is mainly down to rungood or playing well. I’ll need a bigger sample for that!”
Had Van den Heuvel been 18 or over when he first found poker, he admits he probably would have played before studying, as the vast majority of us did. But he considers himself lucky that he wasn’t.
“I think that people who just want to gamble a bit can have loads of fun playing this game without studying,” he says. “But if you actually want to take it seriously and win money, I personally think studying before ever playing is the way to go.”
Van den Heuvel had a plan right from the start. He wanted to know what he was doing from the get-go so he would have a clear head start against his opponents. “Understanding your thought process every hand, aside from being very useful, is way more fun than just clicking buttons.”