Heads-Up with New Jersey Poker Player Keith Donovan (donnysack)


PocketFives had the opportunity to interview longtime member Keith donnysack Donovan (pictured, ranked 9th in New Jersey), who after watching the World Series of Poker on TV with his dad back in 2002 was taught the game he now plays for a living. An online grinder since 2007, he was forced to play more live poker once Black Friday hit and was able to get some modest cashes to keep his career going.

Once New Jersey poker arrived, he was able to pick up where he left off and take down tournaments from the comfort of his own home. With over $1.1 million in tracked online cashes, some of his notable cashes include two wins in the 888 Poker/WSOP $30,000 Guarantee, four wins in the network’s $10,000 Guarantee, and a win in the PartyPoker/Borgata $10,000 Guarantee for a total of $30,291. Visit PocketFives’ New Jersey poker community for the latest news and discussion from New Jersey players.

PocketFives: Give us your thoughts and experiences of regulated online poker in New Jersey.

Keith Donovan: I love that we are one of the lucky states to be able to play poker online in the US. I had been having decent success playing online since 2007, but when Black Friday hit, I decided to play live tournaments and stay in New Jersey instead of moving abroad like most of my poker friends did. I wasn’t ready to flip my life upside down and move to another country.

While I was able to stay afloat with some modest live cashes, I was very excited to get back to playing online when New Jersey introduced internet poker to us again. Lately, the sites have made improvements to their tournament schedules, which I’m happy about. I play some cash games, but I’m more in my comfort zone playing tournaments.

PocketFives: Is there a meaning behind your screen name?

Keith Donovan: My PocketFives handle, donnysack, comes from one of my favorite TV shows, “The Sopranos.” I was a fan of the character Johnny Sack and some of my friends call me Donny, so it was fitting. I’m also from Bergen County, where most of the show was filmed. My New Jersey handle, T1mb3y_B33F, was suggested by a friend of mine. A friend of his named his cat Timbey Beef and my friend told me to make it my New Jersey name, so I said, “What the hell? Why not?” My girlfriend still asks me why I couldn’t have chosen a more normal name.

PocketFives: What’s your favorite hand?

Keith Donovan: I don’t really have a favorite hand, but if I had to choose one, it would be K-5. A friend of mine was playing a tournament online, had been dealt K-5, and folded it. His uncle, who was watching from behind, yelled, “What are you doing?!? K-5 always hits!!” And of course, the flop came K-K-5. I’ve always remembered that story.

PocketFives: Do you recall any memorable hands that helped you win or lose a big tournament?

Keith Donovan: I rarely ever complain about losing since every single poker player has their fair share of bad luck, but this year I made Day 5 of the WSOP Main Event, losing K-Qcc to 10-10 to take 135th. I keep replaying that coin flip in my head, thinking how far I could have potentially gone if I got lucky and won that hand. I could’ve still lost an hour after that or made the November Nine. We’ll never know!

PocketFives: When did you start playing poker and why was it appealing?

Keith Donovan: Like most poker players my age, I started playing in high school. I remember watching the 2002 WSOP episode when Robert Varkonyi won, which inspired my father to teach me the form of poker he was most comfortable playing, Seven Card Stud. My grandma held a weekly poker game at their apartment in the Bronx when my dad was growing up. We would play with quarters from the extra change container we kept in the kitchen.

When the 2003 Main Event aired, it took my small town by storm. We would get $20 tournaments together after school on Fridays that would attract 40 to 50 kids. It was a lot of fun. None of us wanted to be Chris Moneymaker, though. Sammy Farha and Phil Ivey seemed way cooler.

PocketFives: Since the launch of regulated online poker in New Jersey, what has been your most memorable cash or win?

Keith Donovan: I’ve been fortunate to have a few good wins, but I think my most memorable win was the $250,000 Guarantee Freeroll WSOP ran on Super Bowl Sunday of 2014. It was a promotional freeroll repaying their players for participating in the series they had been running. My plan was to one-table it and go to my friend’s Super Bowl Party as soon as I lost it, but I ran good and won it for about $50,000. That was very unexpected and was a lot of fun.

PocketFives: Do you play any other variant of pokerbesides Hold’em?

Keith Donovan: I fool around with Omaha and Seven Card Stud, but I mainly stick to Hold’em. I still make mistakes every day, so I keep telling myself I’ll focus on Omaha once I’m fully comfortable with my Hold’em game. But I’m getting the feeling that won’t be happening anytime soon.

PocketFives: Is there anyone who helped change how you approach poker?

Keith Donovan: There are so many players I have to credit my success to (albeit modest). After having success early on as a pro, I eventually decided I would feel more comfortable playing while being staked. I asked a good friend of mine, David phatchoy888 Cheng (also a New Jersey native) to stake me. This was way before Black Friday happened. He no longer is my backer, but we remain friends to this day. It’s nice having a friend who also grinds the New Jersey tournament schedule.

FilthyDiaper, a frequent New Jersey cash regular, is also one of my best friends in poker. I’ve learned a lot from watching and talking hands with him daily. I’ve learned to stay away from the cash tables when he’s there.

My best friend in poker is Shankar Pillai. He won a bracelet at the WSOP in 2007 and I’ve been friends with him for years now. We constantly talk strategy and he’s my travel buddy to live tournaments around the live circuit.

I also have been fortunate to share a house in Vegas with a ton of very good players during summers at the WSOP. Fellow PocketFivers GINS FINEST, T Money, and Athanasios 9 are players whom I respect a lot and have learned a lot from watching over the years. There are countless others I’ve learned from and am friends with, but I don’t want to make this interview 10 pages long. I’ve been lucky to learn from some of the best in the game.

PocketFives: What do you do away from poker? What else interests you?

Keith Donovan: This might be the standard answer from a poker player, but when away from poker I enjoy spending time with my girlfriend, family, and friends. I recently moved in with my girlfriend of two-and-a-half years and we couldn’t be happier. She supports my unconventional job of playing poker for a living and she makes me a better person every day. She’s a school teacher who also tutors, coaches sports, and now heads the National Honors Society at her school. Watching her work so hard makes me want to improve at what I do daily.

I’m a big Knicks and Jets fan, which can be torturing, but I love my teams regardless. I always enjoy traveling to a new city or trying local restaurants with my girlfriend. It’s very important to have a life outside of poker. Sitting at your computer every day playing tournaments can get to you mentally.

I also love my three dogs and enjoy going to Hoboken with friends for a night out. Being able to play online in New Jersey makes it easy to do a lot of the things I enjoy.