Moments after poker megastar Daniel Negreanu was devastatingly eliminated in 11th place from the 2015 World Series of Poker main event, the remaining 10 players redrew seats and reassembled on the main ESPN stage. One more elimination was all that stood between these players and their dream of making the WSOP main event final table. One player would see his dreams shattered; the others would join the fraternity of the November Nine.
As play resumed, all eyes were on a calm Josh Beckley, the short stack.
“I was just going to wait for my spot where I could get my money in good," said Beckley. "If I was eliminated, I would've been disappointed, but I [knew regardless] that I have a long career ahead of me.”
Beckley didn’t wait long. On the fifth hand of 10-handed play, the New Jersey native shoved all-in from middle position with As-Qh and was called by chip leader Joe McKeehen with 9h-9c. It was the race of his life.
The crowd watching anxiously at the Rio rose and awaited the crucial flop. Beckley’s rail erupted after a Ac-6c-2d flop and continued to cheer as the turn (4h) and river (4c) offered McKeehan no help.
“I would have been happy with the blinds and antes, but Joe ended up calling with nines," said Beckley. "For some reason, I was extremely comfortable. I thought that I got it in the best I could with the short stack and I just needed a little help. After the ace hit on the flop, I got the double up I needed.”
Less than 45 minutes later, Alex Turyansky was not so fortunate. This time McKeehen wouldn't lose the race (Qh-Qc > Ac-Kh) and the 2015 November Nine was set.
Beckley's dream of poker glory began as far back as middle school, when he began playing poker with his friends. Since those days, he's played poker five days a week, either online, back before Black Friday, or in live cash games. Although the 25-year-old played regularly while he was young, he was not a profitable player right away, primarily due to his aggressive playing style.
“I was never really successful when I was younger," he said. "I felt I was better than everyone else, and I was not afraid to lose my bankroll. I just played very reckless and would win big one night and then often lost it right back the next.”
After graduating high school, Beckley decided to attend Burlington County College in New Jersey (currently known as Rowan College at Burlington County). Poker was always his primary objective and it often took time away from his studies. As a result, it took him four years to earn his associate degree, which typically takes only two.
“My schoolwork suffered a little bit, but my poker game suffered as well, as I couldn’t dedicate my time thoroughly to the game," Beckley admitted. "Eventually, I knew I had to make a choice.”
That choice wasn't simple. His aggressive playing style would often catch up with him, and he'd burn through his money and go broke. With his propensity for poor bankroll management, this cycle repeated regularly. To build his bankroll back up, he would work a few months part-time at a grocery store and retail position for minimum wage. Although this wasn't the most enjoyable way to earn money, the life lesson Beckley learned at these jobs may have been much more valuable than his actual paycheck.
“Working for minimum wage wasn’t very fun," he said. "It seemed pretty crazy that I was making $200 a week working, but also winning or losing $1,000 in a night playing poker. It really got me thinking that I shouldn’t be taking such risks in certain spots and should be playing poker much smarter. I guess I started to value money more after working these jobs.”
In case his dream of playing professional poker didn’t pan out, Beckley enrolled at Drexel University. He attended for three semesters, leaving after he hit what was then his biggest score, although it's since been eclipsed by making this year's November Nine.
Having been solely a cash game player, Beckley would regularly play $5/$10 no-limit hold ’em and pot-limit Omaha at Parx Casino near Philadelphia and the Borgata in Atlantic City. In August 2014, he registered for his first tournament ever, a $1,600 no-limit hold ’em with 323 entries at Parx Casino. After a few days of hard work, Beckley not only cashed in at his first live tournament, but won the event with $98,348. This score was the bankroll infusion he needed to leave school and pursue his dream full-time.
With his newly earned bankroll in tow, Beckley decided to travel and test the waters in the poker capital of the world, Los Angeles. There, he played higher levels of $25/$50 at the Commerce Casino, and during his initial two-week trip, he enjoyed relative success, making a small profit after paying for expenses. A month later, he anxiously returned back to the Commerce, but this time, the results were not as good. He lost over a third of his bankroll during this visit, kicking off a downward spiral. Beckley eventually lost almost his entire six-figure score in just a few months.
“After the bad run at the Commerce, I really didn’t have good bankroll management," he admitted. "I was just in catch-up mode and began playing higher levels at Borgata. And then on top of it, I started running super bad. I lost most of it by the end of the year and was like, ‘Holy crap! What just happened!’ This was easily the most money I had ever lost in my entire life.”
Beckley used some of his remaining funds to play in some tournaments at the next series at Parx Casino in February of 2015. He made two final tables, earning almost $90,000 combined. This time, he was going to learn from his previous mistakes, protecting his bankroll and changing his playing focus.
“After I lost my first $100,000, I was definitely super cautious after these two scores to protect my bankroll this time. After that, I said that I was no longer going to play cash. I came to the realization that I was primarily going to focus on playing tournaments, since I was obviously good at that.”
After this second major bankroll infusion, Beckley dedicated his time to studying tournament poker by reading books and watching strategy videos. Working on his preflop play, gauging people’s ranges and shoving ranges, Beckley felt that his game has attained another level.
With this new bankroll, Beckley traveled to the holy grail of poker for the first time ever. He had a solid summer during the 2015 WSOP, earning four cashes. Although it wasn’t a hugely profitable stretch, he did gain invaluable experience leading up to the WSOP main event.
“I was feeling really good when I arrived in Vegas. Once I started playing tournaments, I felt so alive," he said. "I learned a lot during the summer. In many tournaments, I got a lot of chips Day 1, but didn’t have enough patience on Day 2.”
After taking a week off before the main event, Beckley was ready to play the most highly anticipated tournament of the year. The rest is history.
Beckley returned to the felt a few months after making the November Nine, rejuvenated and excited to prepare for the WSOP main event final table. Earlier this month, he captured his first WSOP Circuit Ring in Event 1 ($365 no-limit hold ’em monster stack) at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.
“I felt really clear, and this tournament gave me some valuable final-table experience, which I really wanted," he said. "It’s always a great feeling to win a tournament, and to do this right before the main event final table is the best time. I feel really confident heading into the November Nine.”
On November 8th, Beckley will return to the Rio in seventh in chips (11.8 million). Enduring poker’s harsh bankroll realities over the past several years, Beckley will certainly value the money he has won and learn from his past transgressions to protect this newly earned bankroll.
“It would be the greatest accomplishment of my life, and it would be the ultimate validation. I feel I would be very comfortable being a poker ambassador, I would love to help promote the game that I love.”