Cliff Josephy came into the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event final table with arguably more experience than anybody else at that table with him. That didn’t stop the man more commonly known by his online name, ‘JohnnyBax,’ from enlisting the help of a coach.
With the implementation of the November Nine and the extended layoff between making the final table and playing the final table, players who have a chance at winning poker’s biggest prize generally hire another player to help improve their game during the layoff.
Josephy, an online poker legend with now over $6.2 million in live winnings as well, made the decision to have Shaun Deeb and Chance Kornuth coach him during the downtime. They ultimately helped guide him to a third place finish for over $3.4 million, more than doubling his lifetime live earnings.
“Bax approached Shaun and Shaun said that ‘Since this is a live tournament, we need Chance,’” said Kornuth about how he was brought onto the coaching team. “I’ve known Shaun a long time and it was very flattering. Shaun actually paid me out of pocket since him and Bax had already agreed upon an amount. It was really cool to be part of the team.”
Deeb has two WSOP bracelets to his name already and nobody would argue Josephy’s decision to hire him, but Kornuth brought other abilities to the table that made the team stronger.
“It was partially just live reads,” said Kornuth about why he was brought on. “But also, Shaun and I have talked poker for a really long time and we respect each other’s opinions on different situations. We work well together, we think about the game differently, and there were a lot of different spots where I was like ‘Well, what if we did this in this spot?’ And we were able to talk about all of those different options.”
While Kornuth and Deeb were the official coaches, Josephy had plenty of other players and friends that helped. Josephy runs one of the most well-known staking operations in the game and has, at one time or another, staked many of the games bet players, including eventual Main Event runner-up Gordon Vayo.
Kornuth and Deeb used the extra bodies and poker minds to run online simulations as to how the final table would play out.
“It was mostly simulations and if there was a spot that we wanted to talk about, we would discuss it,” said Kornuth. “At first Shaun set up online sims on PokerStars home games and we would like dump stacks, so they would be close to where they need to be and we would kind of anticipate who the final six would be and stuff. We ran tons and tons of simulations.”
The two coaches used the other players involved in the simulation to represent the other opponents at the table. They did their best to forecast how certain players would be playing in certain spots and had the players participating in the simulation to play that style, to create the most realistic scenarios.
“We would just say ‘Hey, you’re Gordon Vayo’ or ‘You’re Qui [Nguyen]’ and we want you to do this in these spots with these hands,” said Kornuth. “Unfortunately, we mis-prepared for Qui. I doubt anyone prepared correctly for how he played. He actually played really well and deserved to win.”
Josephy was one of the original grinders that was making a lot of money playing online poker tournaments. He was making millions online before either of his coaches had become an elite player. With that kind of background and pedigree, Kornuth was surprised at how easy he was to coach.
“I was actually expecting him to be quite rigid in his approach since he has been playing for so long,” said Kornuth. “But I was really impressed with his willingness to do whatever we recommended. It was always ‘Great. Sounds good.’ It was great.”
In terms of changing Josephy’s game, Kornuth and Deeb had one big adjustment for him – play more hands.
“We were just trying to find spots to loosen him up,” said Kornuth. “Going into the Main Event final table with the chip lead, you should be playing a lot of hands. So, we were trying to help him defend certain combos from the big blind more and three-bet more hands. Basically, widening his ranges and playing more aggressive in those spots.”
With regards to Josephy’s execution of the strategy, Kornuth was pleased overall.
“He’s kind of a momentum player and since he didn’t get off to a great start, losing the first hand,” said Kornuth said. “But towards the end of Day 1, he won a few pots and got a few bluffs through. He was doing exactly what we
were looking for and it was fun to watch.”
Josephy ended up getting cold-decked three-handed with set under set against Vayo to leave him short and eventually finish in third, but Kornuth hasn’t stopped coaching. Kornuth launched Chip Leader Coaching shortly after the Main Event finished and is continuing to help players get better through his own program.
The idea of running his own coaching website was brought to him by his business partner, and fellow WSOP bracelet winner, John Beauprez. Beauprez has experience coaching online cash game and they developed the idea for coaching live tournament players. The two launched their website shortly after the Main Event finished, and they have begun taking on their first wave of students.
Unlike other training sites and coaches, where players pay a fee to be trained, regardless of results, Kornuth’s new coaching site only takes on players that they screen and accept. They take a five percent freeroll of their students’ future tournaments in exchange for the coaching they receive. The difference in their business model is what keeps Kornuth and his other coaches invested in the students’ success.
“If our players don’t succeed, then our five percent is worthless and we don’t really make anything,” said Kornuth.
Kornuth can rival anybody when it comes to poker experience and results. He’s got over $4.8 million in live tournament earnings, a WSOP bracelet, was a consistent winner online, and beats high-stakes cash games as well.
His new business venture is only dedicated to tournament poker, and there is a reason for that. Money.
“Right now, all the money is in tournaments,” said Kornuth. “There is a reason that all the nosebleed cash guys play tournaments now. It’s because it’s the softest aspect of poker. It’s the spot where all the money is and we are just focusing on the market where we think the most money is.”