Counted amongst the winners at the halfway point of the 2020 World Series of Poker Online are a former WSOP Main Event champion, multiple World Poker Tour champions, and previous bracelet winners.
Mixed in with that group of professional poker players and all of their pedigree is a 36-year-old former walk-on college football player turned family man from Ohio with $25,000 in live earnings and no previous online poker success worth bragging about.
Now living in Las Vegas, Terrell Cheatham beat out 1,528 entries to win Event #16 ($500 NLHE Turbo) of the WSOP Online and take home a $116,204.40 score. He’s not a professional poker player but he’s never let what he’s not stand in his way of doing what needs to be done. It’s a personal ethos reflected in his screenname, ‘Heezahustla‘.
Cheatham arrived on the Kent State University campus in the fall of 2004 on an academic scholarship. He wanted to play football though and agreed to try out as a walk-on. Through hard work, Cheatham went from a walk-on standing on the sideline during games to a full-ride football scholarship playing 10 games in 2005 and 2006 before graduating with a degree in Business Management and eventually a master’s in Sports and Recreation Management.
Cheatham moved to Las Vegas from Akron, Ohio eight years ago simply for a change of pace. He chose Sin City, in part, because it was so different from Akron and gave him a chance to find a good-paying job and would allow him to play some cards on the side.
Today, Cheatham plays poker as a means of supplementing his income and can usually be found in the $1/$3 or $2/$5 cash game streets in Las Vegas. Otherwise, he can be found navigating the streets of Las Vegas as a rideshare driver.
“I started off in catering, then I worked in events and trade shows, and Uber and Lyft. A little bit of everything,” Cheatham said.
Driving drunken tourists from one strip casino to another or making sure Vegas locals can get to where they need to go is how Cheatham pays the bills for his growing family. He met his girlfriend not long after he arrived in Las Vegas. She had a son from a previous relationship and the couple added another son three years ago.
“He just turned three on the 27th and her son, he’s eight now. I’ve been helping raise him too,” Cheatham said.
The coronavirus pandemic put his household in a difficult situation. There weren’t any event shifts for him to pick up while the city was shut down and rideshare business slowed. Now that Las Vegas is open again, Cheatham has to balance the need to be able to pay the bills with the overwhelming desire to keep his family safe from the virus.
“There wasn’t anybody on the roads. It was super slow, the roads were empty, but (business) is starting to get back to somewhat normal because people aren’t staying in like they’re supposed to,” Cheatham said. “I’m just worried about keeping my family safe and not bringing anything back home. We’ve been staying in pretty much. We’ve just been homebodies.”
Spending more time inside meant Cheatham had more time to play online poker. He’s entered 10 bracelet events on WSOP.com and cashed in five of them, including the win. The $116,204 first place prize gave Cheatham and his family some breathing room but by no means meant the end of the grind.
“Pay off some bills, yeah, then get back to it,” Cheatham said. “It’s not life-changing money, so I keep going.”
Along with the money, Cheatham also won that piece of jewelry that nearly every poker player, amateur or pro, at one point in their time playing the game has dreamed of winning. Cheatham had his entire family with him as the final hand was dealt.
“I was psyched. I had my sons next to me. My girl was there watching too, she saw the final hand,” Cheatham said. “We were just high-fiving each other.”
There wasn’t a huge celebration to follow, though. He saw the kids off to bed, had a beverage or two and called it a night. Cheatham spent the next two days relaxing before returning to the tables.
“Took a couple of days off, then got back there to a final table,” Cheatham said. He played one event without cashing and then finished fifth in Event #22 ($500 NLHE) for $28,493. He’s posted two more cashes since and hopes to pick up one more in the $1,000 buy-in Championship event on Friday.
“Hopefully, maybe some live (poker) happens before the end of the year. Maybe I’ll get in some of those,” Cheatham said.