Thursday, 23rd May 2024 15:21
Home / News / From penny games to Las Vegas (via a Gold Pass NACOOP win)

It’s easy to look at a professional player and think something along the lines of: Well, it’s okay for them.

After all, it’s easy to play high stakes – and win NA COOP titles, like Cal Kelleher – when your bankroll stretches that far without breaking.

But that would be to overlook what is often a familiar start for these types of players. Players like Cal, who will be going to Las Vegas next month to play the first NAPT in 12 years – the Gold Pass entry being added to his first-place prize money.

Starting in penny games

“Started playing with friends during covid on iPhone apps,” said Cal, 25. “I wanted to keep playing when the game stopped so I started playing 0.01/0.02 on stars. That was my introduction to playing online poker.

That 1 cent, 2 cent introduction culminated with a win in the NACOOP Main Event earlier this month.

The highlight of the series had a prize pool of $350,000, from which Cal took down $52,576. A career best?

“Yes, not even close.”

That’s 2,628,800 big blinds in that first game if you were keeping score.

Stepping up a level

The next phase of Cal’s story is not uncommon.

Cal, who lives with his girlfriend in Hoboken, New Jersey, took his early experience in the game and set about levelling up. He started with small midday tournaments. A routine he kept up. From there he stepped up again.

“I won a $20 closer during 2021 NJCOOP for $1k and got hooked. Pretty much decided then and there I wanted to plan to play full time.”

Lots of players have the same ambition. But achieving it is something else. For Cal, climbing the poker career ladder one rung at a time, that moment came in July of last year (2022). By that point he was playing mostly mid-stakes. But he was eyeing something more.

As he put it: “[I’d] like to work my way up to the nosebleeds.”

Learning from role models

You might not think NACOOP counts as needing a nasal health intervention. And maybe you’re right. But Cal is undoubtedly on the right trajectory.

And he credits the tole models he’s had in the game with his success so far. The New Jersey grinders who have had a massive impact on his game.

“I certainly have a long ways to go to match their skill but seeing them online everyday since I started playing for fun gave me the confidence to pursue this full time.”

Winning the NACOOP Main Event

So how did the NACOOP Main Event, play out for Cal?

Well, in his words, not ideally.

“Started by firing six bullets which was the max allowed. Obviously not an ideal starting spot being in for $1800. Needed 17th to break even.”

Things got worse with 35 players left when Cal was reduced to just two big blinds. Climbing back, he then got lucky with aces, turning a full house after his opponent flopped a set of kings.  

“Final table went pretty much as smoothly as I could have hoped. Was second in chips pretty much the whole time until I took over the chip lead with three or four left. Heads-up it felt like I had value every hand. Ended with a flush over two pair.”

The next upward step is the obvious one. The trip to the NAPT Main Event in Las Vegas which came added to his first prize in the form of a Gold Pass (Click here to read about how you can win your own).

As you might expect, Cal is optimistic, and pragmatic, when it comes to what will be the biggest event of his career so far.

“If I can confidently play my game, I’ll consider it a success. Winning would be cool too though!”

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