For almost two decades, poker fans have been pestering Brian Koppelman and David Levien to write a sequel to Rounders. In the final scene Mike McDermott jumps in a taxi in New York City and tells the driver to take him to the airport.
“So where you headed?”
“I’m going to Vegas.”
“Good luck man.”
The cab drives off into the distance and the credits roll as Counting Crows‘ Baby, I’m a Big Star Now plays, but what happens after Mike gets to Las Vegas?
Well, Kopelman and Levien are busy with their hit show Billions, and a sequel seems highly unlikely, but 2020 World Series of Poker Online Event #1 winner Jonathan Dokler might just be writing it on his own. Six months ago, the 27-year-old had a good-paying job at a trading firm in New York City.
“I decided it wasn’t the life for me. I quit my job, moved out to Vegas,” Dokler said. He didn’t take a cab to Kennedy though – he took a train to Newark and then flew to Las Vegas. Everything started coming together about a month earlier though. Still working his 9-5, Dokler went to Atlantic City to play in some Borgata Winter Poker Open events.
“I took a Greyhound from New York to Atlantic City for a quick trip, a couple of days before I had to get back to work. I hadn’t even quit my job yet but I was planning to very soon,” Dokler said.
Dokler, with all of four live cashes to his credit totalling a little more than $21,000 in earnigns, beat out 76 other entries to win a $5,000 High Roller event for $100,829. Some of the players that he outlasted included former #1-ranked PocketFiver Paul Volpe, Faraz Jaka, Ian O’Hara, Jerry Wong, Christian Harder, and Jake Schwartz.
“It was a small field, only 77 people, so it’s nothing crazy, but it was cool to play that event, against that class of field and have a good result,” Dokler said.
Having picked up the game in college in 2013, Dokler’s competitive side fueled his desire to get better at the game. He began playing more, watching Run It Once videos, and talking over hands with friends. As time went by, Dokler grew more and more passionate about the game and he kept flirting with the idea of playing professionally. The bus ride back to New York City gave Dokler time to think and the Borgata win made it crystal clear to him that he needed to follow his gut. In early March, Dokler packed up his stuff and left for Las Vegas. His original plan was to use Las Vegas as a home base of sorts as he travelled the world playing poker.
“I was actually planning on travelling for a lot of tournaments. I was going to be in South America for some of the big PokerStars stuff, and I wanted to play the Irish Poker Open, WPT Amsterdam,” Dokler said.
That’s when Dokler’s 2020 story – and everybody else’s – really lost the narrative.
“I got out here, I had an Airbnb for a couple of days and one of the places I went to go eat after finishing a session, they’d shut down. That’s how I found out about the shut down in Vegas,” Dokler said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic that shuttered casinos and many Las Vegas businesses.
He did not bring many personal belongings with him to Las Vegas, so he quickly ditched the Airbnb and found an apartment to rent and began getting set up to play as much online poker as possible. He had the necessities though, even if he didn’t have the essentials.
“I didn’t have toilet paper for the first month or so, but I had a computer and an internet connection, enough to keep me happy,” Dokler said.
Happy indeed. In late March, Dokler earned $77,910 and a Circuit ring for winning WSOP Circuit Super Series Event #9 ($500 NLHE Monster Stack) on WSOP.com. That was really just a pre-cursor to last Wednesday when Dokler kicked off the WSOP Online by beating 1,714 other entries to win Event #1 ($500 NLHE Kickoff) for $130,425.75 and a WSOP bracelet. But even as Dokler was grinding his way towards the win, he was multi-tabling events across multiple sites and didn’t think anything would come of it.
“I was playing a lot of tables so I wasn’t even paying super close attention to the bracelet event until it was actually getting kind of close,” Dokler said. “I had some more interesting spots that didn’t really pan out and I was able to run up a bunch of chips in the bracelet event and make that happen.”
So inside of six months, Dokler won six figures in a live event, quit his job, moved across the country, quarantined himself in a new apartment, won a WSOP Circuit ring and then became the first WSOP bracelet winner of 2020. He might be relatively new to the scene, but he understands his recent run is thanks to a combination of his skill and some luck.
“I have friends who are much better at poker than me that don’t have any bracelets and there are also players that are worse than me that have multiple bracelets,” Dokler said. “I’m glad I won but the bracelet itself I don’t attach any particular significance to it.”
With three weeks of events left, Dokler plans to continue to grind as much of the WSOP.com schedule as possible and hasn’t yet made up his mind about leaving the country to play the GGPoker bracelet events.
“I actually haven’t decided yet. It’s tough because you’ve gotta get set up in a different country and all that,” Dokler said. “And I’m not sure if the borders are going to be open yet. We’ll see.”