James Mitchell


10 May 2010

My dad had $50 on his Ladbrokes account and I built it up to $60,000 without really knowing what I was doing

At the tender age of 21, Irish Open Champion James Mitchell is heading to Vegas for his first ever WSOP. Bluff caught up with him to talk about his first major title triumph and what it feels like to vomit all over the Vic.

You’re a rich man, James, and we hear it’s all down to a lamb burger…

Yes. I’d been grinding at the Vic a lot and was doing well, so I thought I’d stick to that, because I was a bit fed up with tournaments. One day I went out with my mum for lunch and had this lamb burger, and then went on to the Vic in the afternoon and started grinding. After a while I started to feel a bit ill, so I went to cash out my chips. I’m at the cashier’s desk and the woman’s taking, like, a million years to count out my money and I really feel like I’m going to vomit. I finally get my money and run to the toilets, but I don’t make it. I throw up all over the carpet, right by where you sign up to put your name on the list. After that I was too embarrassed to go back to the Vic, so I went to the Irish Open instead.

Did BlackBeltPoker.com buy you in?

Actually, no. I’d been promoted to brown belt after coming second in the World Heads Up Championship, so Black Belt backed me for a few events, like the PCA, but I didn’t really get anything going there. Then I was playing a lot online and doing my own thing, so they didn’t actually back me in Dublin. They’ve been great, though, and I really appreciate what they’ve done for me, but I’m probably going to strike out on my own now.

Has the Irish Open transformed your life, bankroll-wise?

Yeah, totally. Now I can play a lot of these big events. Before, they would be massive shots, but now I can afford them. It’s very exciting.

Tell us how to win the Irish Open please…

Well, I had a really soft first table to start. There was this massive fish who played every single hand. He’s literally calling any raise pre-flop. He limped and I had K-Q suited, so I raised, like, ten per cent of my stack because I knew he would call. The flop came king-high and I got it in and he turns over A-K. I hit a queen and that really got me going. So I ended up with a decent finish on Day 1, and Day 2 was just cruising. On Day 3 I got into a pot where I had queens against the nut flush draw and that was a big deal – it was for the final table average with three tables left, the biggest pot of the tournament so far. From then on I just kept it steady and cruised to the final.

On the final table, my game plan was to put a lot of people under pressure because I felt that no one wanted to bust early doors, but what actually happened was that I just ran into loads of hands. I lost half my stack on the first hand with A-9 against jacks. But I got lucky when I needed to – I shoved from the small blind with A-X at one point and got called by eights. That was for my tournament life and I sucked out. It was basically the Gus Hansen way to win a final!

You seemed pretty blasé when you won. You barely smiled. Was that just shock?

I never really do that much smiling anyway. It’s kind of a reserved English public school thing (laughs). I don’t really do much jumping around or anything…

So you went to posh school?

Yes, Kings College, Wimbledon.

Do you think that if King’s knew you’d won a major European title, they’d have you back to do a talk, or would they not approve of such things?

Well, maybe… The guy who invented Betfair went to my school and he came back to give us a talk about business and economics and I thought it was quite funny because he failed his business A-level. There was actually quite a funny newspaper article in the The Telegraph a few years ago about eighteen-year-olds neglecting their studies for online poker. It was about me, basically. I was in a national newspaper! Page five!

How did you first get into poker?

I started playing home game SnG’s with friends for really low buy-ins –like £.2.50 – and I was watching the WPT on TV. My dad had $50 on his Ladbrokes account and I started playing low buy-in tournaments on that. I just ran really well, winning a thousand dollars here and there. I mean, I was pretty bad at poker back then. I built up the account to like $60,000 without really knowing what I was doing. I was just really aggressive and I just kept on winning the whole time.

Then I started playing six-max cash games. I didn’t have any idea of bankroll management and I was playing way too high, but I just kept on winning. I kept running into this guy called Nebuchad and winning his money, so I was following him around, and all of a sudden he starts sitting in $25-$50. Sixty grand doesn’t go too far when you’re playing $25-$50 and you don’t really know what you’re doing. I lost about $45k in two days. I think I there was about $15k left, which my dad let me keep. I never told him that I’d had $60k, though.

Are you looking forward to your first ever World Series?

Yes! I’m going out at the end of May. I’m not playing too many events – roughly one a week; some weeks two, and then just cash games for the rest of it. I’m not going to go mad. I’ll mainly be playing the $2k and $5k tournaments because the structures are better. I’m excited to go over there for the first time and hopefully I can get a big score.

We interviewed Bambos after the World Heads Up Championship. He saw his victory over you as a triumph of old school versus new school. Would you care to respond to that? Not that we’re stirring or anything…

Obviously Bambos needed to run super-hot to win that tournament, and he’s still feeling quite smug about it. I like Bambos, although I do think he’s been on a 60-year heater (laughs). Technically I think that the old guys make huge errors, but they’re very, very good at reading people. They’re also very good at playing against fishy players. They know how to squeeze out every last penny. They have good game selection too, although that not so difficult when you consider that most live players are really bad.

You’ve won a lot of money for a 21-year-old. Are you a sensible young man or are going off the rails as we speak?

Well, I’ve always been slightly off the rails anyway. It’s probably lucky that I have this money because, before, I was spending way too much. So I haven’t changed my spending habits, but they were pretty extravagant to begin with. I was going out a lot and spending so much money and thinking well, “Where is this money coming from?” because the more you go out, the less poker you play. The simple answer is win a major European tournament and you’ll be fine.