Monday, 4th December 2023 13:44
Home / News / Change of direction for Shawn Blair with a NACOOP title in between

Let it be put on record, that we don’t recommend doing very much with 7-2 off suit. Other than folding and waiting for a better hand.

Especially at the business end of an NACOOP Ontario event, with a first prize of $28,000.

But when you’re heads up for that title, and playing unstoppable poker, the rule book should probably take off through the window.

Just ask Shawn Blair, originally from Brockville Ontario, but now living in North Bay. More on the reasons why later.

“It felt pretty cool winning the Ontario Championship of Online Poker with the worst starting hand in NLHE,” said Shawn, who recounts the final stages.

The result is a trip to Las Vegas next month, for the first NAPT event to be held in 12 years.

It’ll be a new experience for Shawn, whose life lately has been full of new experiences. Both at the poker table, and off it.

STARTING OUT

But before getting to that, Shawn’s start in poker is worth exploring. Specifically for its familiarity to a lot of players. Perhaps some of this sounds familiar.

It wasn’t a book from which he learned the game. He wasn’t inspired by a movie, or a Twitch stream, or even highlights on television. His was that more traditional training ground. The kitchen table.

“I started playing poker like many people, with friends around the kitchen table.

“I bought a poker table in the 12th grade and set up a room in my basement to host games with my friends. I have been playing ever since.”

STEPPING UP

He began playing more seriously when he discovered online poker in 2007.

“The golden age of online poker,” he explains. “I played freerolls until I created a small bankroll, and within a few months, I won a $1 rebuy tournament… for over $1000.

“I became a successful mid-stakes player and used poker to pay for my education and overall enhance my quality of life.

“I used to take the game extremely seriously, playing daily and studying 2-3 times a week.”

While the NACOOP win is his biggest yet (given the added NAPT Gold Pass), Shawn has won other five figure events.

His biggest cash came in 2012 when he finished third in a special Big 109 on PokerStars for $21,000 (around 30k CAD at the time).

“That same month I played over 1,000 MTTs (averaging around 35 a day) and profited for over $50,000 USD.” 

Shawn is most proud of his overall number of cashes, which he estimates adds up to $2.5 million, mostly on PokerStars, and across nearly 10 million hands of no-limit hold’em. 

“I still play and study, but much less now that I am back at University pursuing my teaching degree.” 

This is where that change in direction comes in.

CHANGE OF DIRECTION

Shawn, who graduated from the University of Toronto, spent 15 years living in the city, working in finance and as a retail investor.

But now, aged 34, he’s turning his back on the corporate world. He has instead moved north, to the town of North Bay, Ontario, which lies on Lake Nipissing, an hour away from Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s the type of town that appeals to hikers, hunters, and anyone who loves the outdoors. 

“I will admit, living in Toronto for 15 years, I was more of a city person and it took some time to adjust”, said Shawn. “After a short period though, it became so refreshing and I found myself spending more time outside than I ever did before.

The reason for the move is to swap numbers and currency, for people, young people. Shawn is training to become a teacher, with a new mission to help young people get the best from themselves.

It’s a world away from that of finance, and poker.

NEEDING THAT CHANGE

“I was tired of the isolation that could come with working from home for myself,” he said.  “It was similar for trading as it was for playing poker; many long days stuck inside at your computer by yourself (usually 12+ hours).”

By way of a side note, and as if to demonstrate this fascination with the game, Shawn ended our email exchange with an apology for being “long-winded”.

“I have played so much poker and achieved results that I am proud of, but none of my friends or family play or understand the game, so I don’t get to talk about it much.” 

But back to his story…

“I had taken a volunteer position being a tutor for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. I loved working with students; helping them understand content and achieve their goals.

“Most of these students were struggling in school and from marginalized communities, so they really needed someone to help and believe in them.”

Shawn found his free time was spent thinking about lessons, planning activities and how to help the kids at school.

“It became what I looked forward to every week. This was a clear sign for me that I needed to shift course and transition into a career in education. 

“I aim to be a grade 7 and 8 teacher and have had such a great experience teaching so far. I haven’t felt this passion for something since I found poker back in my youth.”

DETERMINATION

Talking to Shawn he strikes you as someone whose determination to succeed will work just as well in teaching as it did in poker.

He quotes Kobe Bryant has a personal role model.

“I was so impressed by his work ethic, his dedication, his determination, and so many other qualities. When he passed, it was the only time I ever felt shaken and disturbed by the passing of an individual that I didn’t know personally. I have him as my avatar as a reminder to never give up and to work relentlessly.”

He has role models within the game too. He mentions the likes of Fedor Holz and Jason Koon. Stars from the upper echelons of the poker world who have used a highly analytics approach to the game to succeed.

“They taught me you have to trust the process, study hard, and hone your intuition.”

An intuition and work ethic which will now benefit local kids in need of a helping hand.

POSITIVE EFFECTS

The change of lifestyle, and scenery, as well as his new goals, has evidently had a positive effect on his poker game. A lesson to other players working at the business end of the game.

Isolation in a big city can turn poker into a singular pursuit. Away from those restraints its back to being a hobby, and one that earlier this month earned him that NACOOP Ontario Main Event title.

It all started reasonably well. Shawn was in the top third after day one and doubled up on the first hand of day two to put himself in the top three overall. He never really left the top of the leader board for the rest of the tournament.

CLOSING STAGES OF THE MAIN EVENT

Then with 12 remaining, a stroke of luck

“I won a sick cooler blind vs blind where my opponent had KK preflop and I woke up with AA. The money went in pre and I held.

“I applied huge ICM pressure while still at two tables, and at one point had 27 million chips when the next closest was 7 million (for context, there were only 74 million in play total).

After a three-way deal, more aces. 

“TeeWee opened to 2.2BB on the BTN (42bb), I made it around 7.5 BB in the BB (50bb), TeeWee tank-shoved with 99, and I snapped and held.

“I went into heads-up with a nearly 2-1 chip advantage. I decided that going into heads-up I would open 100% of my hands from the BTN and continue my relentless aggression. Heads up lasted only 11 hands. 

BACK TO THAT 7-2

Which brings us back to where the story started. The eleventh hand, and that 7-2.

We would stand by the advice to fold in most cases. But this wasn’t an ordinary situation.

Shawn flopped two pair, and his opponent, holding 8-7 off suit, top pair. The money went in on the turn.

“River was a blank Q and that was it.”

And that’s how you win a NACOOP title with the worst possible starting hand.

LOOKING AHEAD

With all the changes going on in his life, Shawn’s poker goals have also changed.

“My main goal in poker for the past two years is just to have fun. Studying and grinding can be exhausting and can take a lot of fun out of the game. Playing casually has been a breath of fresh air.

“I also want to use poker as a means to travel and see new places. I hope to play in some EPT and APPT events in the future.

“My non-poker-related ambition is to be an impactful and influential teacher to my future students. I want to be a good role model for them and encourage them, to lift them up and build their confidence so that they can pursue whatever they want in life. I spend a lot of time trying to improve my teaching and creating fun and engaging lessons/activities for students.

But not before heading to Las Vegas and the NAPT Main Event.

“A good result for me would be cashing. A great result would be a final table. A fantastic result would be the win.”

Related Articles

Latest Articles

Study Poker with Pokerstars Learn, practice with the PokerStars app