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World Series of Poker Main Event final table profile: Cliff Josephy26 September 2016
As recently as 13 years ago, the only involvement Cliff Josephy had with poker consisted of being the self-confessed "donkey" at his Thursday night poker game.
Hometown: Muttontown, N.Y
Twitter handle: @JohnnyBaxPoker
Final table position: 1st place
Chip count: 74,600,000
Odds to win Main Event, via bet365: 5-to-2
Career WSOP Cashes: 19, two bracelets ($3,000 No Limit Hold'em Event, 2013; $1,500 Seven Card Stud, 2005)
Favorite poker book: None. "When I first started playing poker I read dozens of books, but things have changed so much since then, none of them are relevant anymore, so I couldn't name one for you."
Favorite poker movie: Rounders "Really? Is there another choice?"
Favorite poker player: "Too hard for me to pin down one player. I respect a lot of different players. A lot. But I will say I like watching poker players play poker, not actors."
Favorite hobby, other than poker: Spending time with wife and three sons. "That's my real job; taking care of my family. My sons and I love to watch Mets games together and any other free time I have is spent going to as many of my sons' sporting events as possible."
"Yep, that was me," he remembers with a laugh. "I was literally giving away money every week. I think they would have taken a collection for a limo to come get me if I wanted them to. It was that bad."
But that all changed on 25 December 2003, when he boarded a JetBlue airplane heading to Florida with his family. After settling into his seat, Josephy began flipping through the channels on his personal TV monitor and, by chance, landed on WSOP coverage of the 2003 Main Event — the year Chris Moneymaker pulled off his epic victory, inciting the now-famous "poker boom."
"I thought to myself, "Wow, this is kind of cool,'" recalled Josephy. "I wasn't really familiar with no-limit. At my home game we were always playing all kinds of crazy games. I remember saying to myself, 'I could do this.'"
The lifelong stockbroker wasn't alone. Millions of amateur poker players from all walks of life were thinking the exact same thing, leading to an online poker explosion and a meteoric climb in the number of entrants at the WSOP.
Josephy, however, was different. Already intuitively armed with three traits he says have been vital to his enormous success — math, instincts and focus — he became completely engrossed in the game. He read every book he could get his hands on. He spoke to people who knew more than him and, more importantly, he listened. He logged hours upon hours online. He went from "fish" to "shark" in a relatively short amount of time, and he was thoroughly enjoying his newfound hobby.
"Hey, winning if a lot more fun than losing," he said. "Everyone knows that."
About a year after he picked up poker, his company was going through a transition due to a bankruptcy. Josephy went to his wife and told her he wanted to make poker his full-time gig. She was supportive of the decision, and before long, the moniker "JohnnyBax" became legendary in online poker circles as he dominated high-stakes games.
Today, the 50-year-old from Long Island, New York, is one of the most well-known figures in the game. He has two WSOP bracelets and he's made millions of dollars, both at the table and away from it. Oh, and he's the chip leader at the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event as we head to the final table that will be played in Las Vegas in five weeks.
"No, I don't think it's crazy at all," the personable Josephy told Casino City matter-of-factly. "I mean, it's all about setting goals and hitting goals. I expect to be successful in whatever I do. Doesn't everybody?"
Sure, but time after time, "JohnnyBax" has proven that he isn’t just anybody. In 2005 when he won his first bracelet in his first WSOP appearance, it came in a seven-card stud event, a game he had never played before. That was also the same year he became the top-ranked online player in the world and remained on that perch for a record-breaking 17 consecutive months.
In addition to his triumphs at the poker table, which have led to more than $3.6 million in live earnings in addition to the fortune he has made online, Josephy is one of the founding fathers of the training site PokerXFactor.com. He has found a knack for funding fellow players and ultimately increasing his bankroll via their success.
Two of his most famous "finds" are Ylon Schwartz, who made the WSOP Main Event final table in 2008, and Joe Cada, who agreed to get the financial backing of Josephy and his partner before the 2009 WSOP in exchange for 50% of his winnings. Cada went on to become the youngest Main Event champ in history that year, cashing in for $8.5 million.
Josephy was in the front row of the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino when Cada clinched his historic victory and was one of the first people the newly minted WSOP champ embraced during a wild celebration. So, in a way, Josephy has already experienced a Main Event victory, both from an emotional and monetary standpoint. But don't think for a second that lessens his desire to be the last man standing at this year's final table.
"Honestly, it's all I think about; I can barely sleep because I think about it so much," admitted Josephy. In addition to being the big stack, he will also be the oldest player at the final table, as well as the only one with a WSOP bracelet on his resume. "I know I shouldn't be like that, but I am. It's all anyone wants to talk about when they see me, so it's hard for me to get it out of my head, even if I wanted to."
Josephy cashed four times at this year's WSOP, bringing his total to 19. That number includes four Main Event cashes in 12 appearances, with his best finish coming in 2008 (386th). While he wouldn't get into specifics about how he is preparing for the final table, he did explain that he decided to take some much-needed time away from poker over the summer to travel with his wife and three sons. In September, he helped his oldest son move to college, and then later in the month he played in the WPT Borgata Open, where he failed to cash.
Josephy admitted that he would have loved to have seen the Main Event continue along right after the final table bubble burst on Day 7 because he was the player with the most momentum.
"Believe me, I'm all for what's best for poker and they have deemed that the final table break is what's best, so I'm cool with that," he explained. "But having said that, I had every bit of momentum throughout Day 6 and 7. I was like a locomotive train, not because I was playing great, but because everything was going my way.
"So, yeah, I would have like to have kept playing. Instead, now it's like a new tournament. We're back to square one, essentially."
When reminded that the chip leader entering the final table has historically struggled during the November Nine Era, winning just twice in eight years (Joe McKeehen in 2015 and Jonathan Duhamel in 2010), Josephy scoffed.
"That's meaningless," he said. "It wouldn’t matter to me if the chip leader won every single final table or lost every one. It has no bearing on what happens this year. I just have to play my game and try not to make any costly mistakes.
"This is by no means a soft final table. It's a table full of superstars and, believe me, I have my work cut out for me."
Try as he might, Josephy can't hide from the fact that because he's the chip leader and the most decorated player at the final table, he will be the odds-on favorite to win the coveted Main Event bracelet when the cards go in the air. Yes, he already boasts an ultra-impressive poker resume, but capturing the Main Event title is something he confesses would be the ultimate achievement.
"This is the one tournament every poker player wants to win. This is the one," he said passionately. "I don't care how successful you've been, everybody dreams of winning the Main Event. I'm no different. It's kind of surreal to be so close to actually pulling it off. I can’t wait to get started."
This article is part of Casino City's series of WSOP November Nine profiles. Other articles include:
World Series of Poker Main Event final table profile: Cliff Josephy is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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