Interview: Wesley Whybrew - aka 'tEh_R3aLde4L'
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Wesley Whybrew isn’t a household name like Daniel Negreanu or Phil Hellmuth. He doesn’t play insanely high-stakes with Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey. However, with over $200,000 in online tournament winnings including a Sunday Million win and a successful live cash career, the 20-year-old poker professional from Michigan has made waves in the online tournament world.
You don’t know his name, but if you play mid-to-high-stakes tournaments on PokerStars may have been outplayed (or abused in the chatbox) at some point by tEh_R3aLde4L.
The rising star of tournament poker is volatile, shrewd and completely without fear when it comes to risking his chips: “Most online players think I suck because I do a lot of things differently. [They say that] I ‘shove too much’ or make too many ‘crazy plays’ in MTTs,” he says.
However, his impressive record; his unbridled passion for the game and improving his own play; the undivided respect of the posters on PokerForums.org, where he is a long-time member, and all this before he’s old enough to play in Las Vegas proves critics wrong. And hey, how many of the people who said he sucked are being interviewed by Bluff Europe?
June 23rd, 2008 was the date that affirmed Wesley’s self-belief. On that day he entered the $216 buy-in Sunday Million at PokerStars, and, soon enough, he found himself going deep in the tournament and making the final table.
“I woke up that morning and recognized that life sucked because my girlfriend and I split up; I was doing poorly in school and I drink too much. Then I realised it was Sunday and I said (for the first time in my life): ‘Today is the day I win the Sunday Million,’” the tournament-crusher and apparent psychic said, recounting that day. “I called friends and family and told them I was going to win and called it out on 2+2 as well. I'm almost certain that thinking positively about poker had something to do with winning. If not for me thinking I was going to win, I might have played one or two hands less-than-optimally and then not won the tournament.”
It was a rocky road to the end – losing a massive pot with JJ against 66 took him down to just $2m chips with blinds at $250k/$500k a$50k. A huge comeback saw him claw his way back to a decent stack as the remaining players struck a deal. He had lost none of his earlier confidence, telling then-chipleader ‘bolikk’ during the negotiations: “hell yeah you will get $112k and like it” and stating that he was “like 75% to win this thing.” Finally, he saw the words in the PokerStars chatbox that every player wants to see: ‘for you it's $121,688.14 and the coveted title of Sunday Million Champion.... congratulations!’
The amazing thing about his victory is that four months earlier Wesley had announced that he was quitting poker for “an undetermined amount of time, maybe forever.” Issues with his then-girlfriend, failing school and the typical problems all teenagers go through led to the stress of the high-rolling lifestyle getting to be too much for him. Eventually, though, the lure of the game drew him back. $121,688 later he’s probably glad it did. The huge payday is the sum of years of hard work and huge swings, both emotionally and financially. A score like this got his career some respect – he not-so-fondly remembers an incident where his mother “freaked” at his poker earnings. “She thought that in order to have won that much I had to have risked – and lost – as much or more,” he says.
“My parents used to hate poker until one day one of my dad’s co-workers spoke to him,” Wesley remembers. “I’d been playing with him at the casino for a while, not knowing he worked with my dad. He told my dad every day at work that I was fearlessly aggressive and that he had never seen anyone play poker like I played it.”
The typical question to ask a poker player is ‘who is your favourite pro’ or ‘who’s style influenced you the most?’ In Wesley’s case, the answer is a little longer than expected: “When I was 16 years old I was very bad at poker. I got weekly e-mails from Full Tilt Poker with pro tips but mostly discarded them,” he recalls. “Then I got an e-mail from my favourite pro, Phil Ivey. For some background - I have probably watched that Phil Ivey vs Paul Jackson bluff on YouTube 500 times. I have literally sat up at night before, with nothing to do, just replaying that bluff over and over again, and trying to see what Ivey saw.”
He pauses, then clarifies: “… obviously I don’t do that anymore. Anyway, the article was decent, but he made one really, really good point: a good exercise would be to jump into a low stakes game, a game where you can lose a few buy-ins and it’s meaningless to your bankroll, and literally try to win every pot. At first I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard, but he was right. If people learned poker in this way, then they subconsciously store in their memory all the situations where they made a reckless bluff and it worked and all the times it didn’t versus different types of players. There really aren’t too many books you can pick up that can teach you to play like Phil Ivey.”
Young and rich, the world is his oyster. So where does Wesley see himself in the future? “I can’t think of any other job besides poker,” he says. “When I was like 12 I wanted to be a cop but not anymore. I usually set really low standards for myself – I would be happy playing poker somewhere warm. As long as I still continue to have a positive relationship with my family, I would be fine living somewhere like California or something. I just pray that online poker is still viable income in the future.”