About two years ago, Anderson Ireland won the first poker tournament that he ever played. Outlasting a few dozen players in a $60 turbo at Mohegan Sun, his final opponent was a little old lady who confessed she’d never played an evening tournament before. Obviously exhausted, she requested a chop. Ireland smiled slyly and said, “Let’s play a few more hands!”
Ireland’s gung-ho, no-chop attitude was tested in this summer’s World Series of Poker. Outlasting 831 others in Event #67: $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha Bounty, his final opponent was WSOP bracelet winner Matt O’Donnell. No chops were offered. Four-and-a-half hours grueling hours later, Ireland’s brief poker career had come full circle: he beat O’Donnell and won $141,161.
I met Anderson in New Orleans, where he’s the tour manager for the brass band The Soul Rebels and a regular at the poker tables. In this conversation, which happened last month in Las Vegas, we discussed addiction, life as a tour manager, transitioning to pot-limit Omaha, and winning a WSOP bracelet.
Ben Saxton: There’s a lot to cover from this summer. But first, I’d be interested to hear how you got into poker.
Anderson Ireland: How I got into poker? Huh. I guess I got into poker because I’m a degenerate gambler.
How did you become a degenerate gambler?
Ha! So that’s even further back. I used to be a heroin addict. I got sober about six years ago and gave up everything: I only smoke cigarettes and drink coffee.
Did all of this happen in New Orleans?
I’ve been in New Orleans since I was seventeen. I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, about two hours away.
There are a lot of potential pitfalls in New Orleans.
Yeah, but I was already an addict by then. I became a drug addict and a drug dealer while I was in boarding school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. That was when I did things to extremes. I didn’t care about college. I just wanted to be in a city where I could party, so I applied to four schools in New York, Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans. Loyola [University] gave me a scholarship. Two months into my first semester, I got arrested in the dorms.
I was with a few buddies of mine and we had a volcano vaporizer. I was on a bunch of other drugs, too, and in my mind it wouldn’t smell. It’s vapor, right? But it still smells. Apparently, we had stunk up the entire floor below us and the RAs started knocking on doors. We were really stupid. There were a bunch of empty beer bottles, a case of empty whippets — nitrous stuff that people use to make whipped cream — oxycontin, a little bit of cocaine, some LSD, a bag of weed, a thousand dollars in cash, sandwich baggies, scales. I had everything. They called the cops on us.
Anyway, Loyola decided to suspend me, and so I degened out for a year and became a full-time drug dealer back in Chattanooga. I moved some weight from Atlanta, eventually came back to Nola, and got arrested again. I was looking at five years in prison. I managed to get into drug court, they sent me to rehab, and I finally ended up getting sober in 2012. I got a job, went back to school, and majored in marketing and music management.
Around 2013, I started playing blackjack and couldn’t lose — but only at first. Then I started losing, and I couldn’t afford to keep playing. I had played cards with my grandmother as a kid — gin rummy, five card draw, shit like that. So I understood the basics of how poker works. Whenever I played blackjack I would see these poker rooms, but they were very intimidating. The first time I played in a casino was February 2017. Once I started, I didn’t stop.
How did those early sessions go for you?
The first few sessions went really bad, and then I read Essential Poker Math: Extended Version. Somehow, after that, I was winning most of my sessions at 1/3 [no-limit]. Looking back, I think I was getting really lucky.
You’ve juggled a fascination with poker with a career in music management. You’re the manager for The Soul Rebels, is that right?
I’m just a tour manager.
What’s the difference?
A manager is a 24-hour-a-day type thing. You’re always around trying to drum up business and build a fan base. A tour manager is different in that I’m there when they play a lot. I make sure they have what they need, that they have somewhere to sleep at night, that they can get from one place to the next. That’s it.
How big are The Soul Rebels?
They can sell out shows in New York and San Francisco, because they go there all the time. They do well at festivals. They’re a bigger band with a bigger sound. They’re out of town a lot during the summer and do weekend runs during the spring and the fall. It’s a little slow in the winter. So this past winter — that’s when I started playing poker like forty hours a week. That’s when I started playing PLO.
How did you get into PLO?
When I started playing poker, I consumed everything I could — videos, books, YouTube, theory, shit like that. As soon as PokerGo came out, I got a subscription and watched all the old Main Events and the old Poker After Dark episodes. They finally had a PLO episode and I said to myself, This game looks awesome.
I didn’t play PLO until October , when I grabbed four thousand dollars and hopped in the weekly 5/5/10 game at Harrah’s.
How’d that work out for you?
Terrible! I didn’t win a PLO session in New Orleans for the first month. Four of my biggest losses ever. Right after that I went to the Beau Rivage, played 2/5 PLO, and fucking destroyed. Those guys aren’t nearly as good. They’re super-passive. The guys in New Orleans are maniacs: they don’t let you see free cards unless you want to stick your stack in and hope for the best — which people do, constantly. Every week, the game is a bloodbath. It’s fucking carnage.
So the trip to the Beau brightened your spirits.
To this day, the PLO game at Harrah’s is the most difficult game I’ve ever played in. It was destroying me. It was demoralizing me. I realized that I wasn’t experienced enough and quit playing it regularly around April. That’s when they started spreading 1/2 PLO, which I played and fucking dominated.
In May, I took the [WSOP] Circuit Event as an opportunity to learn. I already knew I was coming to Las Vegas for the Main Event, so I played in every single tournament I could, and I didn’t cash in a single one. It was demoralizing. Every day I was playing twelve hours and not bagging.
How were you feeling coming into Vegas?
I was actually feeling pretty good. I had a good June playing at Harrah’s and in some home games. I flew to Vegas from a Soul Rebels tour in Chicago, the day before the Main Event.
How was the Main?
It was good, but I busted on Day 2. I never really got anything going. I would play it again.
The silver lining was that you were able to play the $1,500 PLO Bounty tournament. Was this your first PLO tournament?
No, my first was at the Circuit in Nola. That structure wasn’t great, but this one was a lot better: hour-long levels, and [$500] bounties make a huge difference because it incentivizes people to play for stacks.
Did you rack up some bounties?
Yes, right away. There were these two smarmy PLO pros who gave off a vibe that they were overqualified to be there, that they had a huge edge. You know the type — born in New Jersey, lives in Las Vegas.
Anyway, these two donkeys, I stacked ’em both off in one hand! I had three bounties by Level 2; by Level 3, I’d picked up five more. I got sixteen in total, including my own. By the end of Day 1 I had built a final-table stack, and then I lost it all going for fuckin’ bounties. At one point I was all-in for my tournament life. I had enough bounties and was like, Fuck it, let’s get the money in. The guy had a straight, I had top two and a gutshot, and I hit my four-outer.
Day 2 started, and I had like 13 big blinds. The good thing about PLO tournaments is you have a bit more maneuverability with a short stack. I was patient, tightened up, and got some early double-ups. Once I got a bigger stack, I started applying pressure. Being deep-stacked in a PLO tournament is the fucking best. You can just dominate people and pick up uncontested pots left and right.
Halfway through Day 2, I ran my stack up so big that I realized I might be slightly better at PLO than these people. There were two types of players in the field: too aggressive, or too tight. The final table was hilarious. The dude who got third, Joon Park, got wasted. The more he drank, the better he got. I ended up against Matt O’Donnell, who was selectively aggressive and maybe the all-around best player at the final table. I had a three-to-one chiplead and started grinding him down. But then he doubled through me twice and started grinding me down. I got down to almost nothing, doubled up, and and started raising every hand and c-betting almost every flop. I know that strategy probably isn’t good — as far as balance, or whatever — but it was working. He would call pre-flop and then fold on the flop. Call preflop, fold on the flop. I told myself, I’m not giving this dude one more fucking double-up. I’m gonna grind him down to dust. And that’s what happened.
Let me ask the obvious question: How does it feel to win a bracelet?
I don’t even know. Honestly, this win came so effortlessly that I almost didn’t even have to work for it. Part of me is like: Why do people make such a big deal about this? It was so easy!
What will do you do with your bracelet? Will you wear it to the PLO game at Harrah’s?
Absolutely not! I might bring it and show people. Maybe I’ll use it as a card protector.
Does this win change your poker plans?
Not at all. The great thing about poker is I love all the facets of it. Yeah, I want to win money. Obviously that’s a priority. But I love the competition, the camaraderie, having something I can get better at and work towards. At the end of the day, it’s a fucking brotherhood. You see the same people over and over again, and now I’m friends with a lot of them.
*originally published in the August 2018 issue of Two Plus Two Magazine.