On a normal day, Jon West is involved with some of the most important people in the cryptocurrency world. The last five days haven’t been normal for West though. And no, we’re not talking about the swings in the price of Bitcoin.
West is one of the last 20 players in the 2018 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event chasing down the seven-figure score that comes with first place. The 26-year-old isn’t just some rich kid from the world of crypto splashing around in a poker tournament though. He’s been playing poker since he was 14 years old.
When he was five years old his father introduced him to chess. He picked that up pretty quickly and over the course of the next five years, he became one of the top-ranked players for his age in the United States.
“I went to tournaments. I got up to #6 in America in sixth grade and used to travel all over America,” said West. “I convinced my mom to take me to these chess tournaments and leave me there for the weekend in the hotel because I was an extremely responsible 11-year-old.”
He’s not lying and no, there was never an issue that resulted in mom getting a phone call from a pissed off hotel manager. West understood that screwing up meant he’d soon find himself rooming with mom again.
“If I messed things up, I wouldn’t get this privilege anymore and then I wouldn’t be able to hang out with the older kids and have the parties in my room,” said West. “I was always the youngest, and it was super fun, especially since at that point I was getting bullied pretty hard in middle school. It was nice just to be able to hang out with all these 16-24 olds that just hung out with me all night.”
It was during one of those trips where he stumbled into poker. Literally.
“I go to these chess tournaments and you know those guys who play speed chess in the park? There’s every chess tournament equivalent of those guys in some side room playing chess for money – $1 or $5 per game, except they were playing poker,” said West. “I was 11 and I was completely enthralled. So I stayed up until 2 or 3 am every night, watched them all play poker and I was like ‘next year I’m going to come back and give it a whirl’.”
He went home and bought himself a copy of Super System and Harrington on Hold’em. Gave them a read and then just waited. He returned to that same tournament the next year anxious to play some cards.
That weekend I ran super hot and won $2,000. This is as a 12-year-old – that’s life-changing money. Gumballs galore!,” said West. ” I came home with a pile of all these $20s. I was like ‘check it out’ – stuffing them in my pockets.”
Two years later he signed up for his first online poker account under his mom’s name and he dabbled in tournaments and cash games. Once he was done with high school he went off to Dartmouth to chase down a philosophy degree. While there he played even more online poker. Much to his parents’ delight, he graduated on time. He played poker for the next year.
In late 2009 he finished third in a Full Tilt Online Poker Series event for $97,737 and decided to head to PCA to try and run it up. He came home broke but learned a lot.
“It was this life-changing moment where I learned about risk tolerance and pacing myself and all this kind of stuff,” said West, who still considers PCA his favorite tournament because of those lessons.
Once he got home knew had to find a real job. He wound up working for Citi in the Sales and Trading program. He spent two years there as a trader dealing in FX Forwards and credit default swaps.Za
“Once I stopped doing that after my two-year period was over, I started working for Mike Novogratz, he’s a hedge fund legend. He ran Fortress, one of the largest hedge funds in the world, he was the CIO there. He hired me to join his family office and be his execution trader,” said West.
While working for Novogratz, the pair started exploring the world of cryptocurrency. Novogratz’s college roommate was Joe Lubin, one of the co-founders of Ethereum. They dove in head-first and West shifted all of his focus to the crypto market. He’s now the co-founder of Omega One, a startup focused on increasing liquidity in the crypto markets.
Even though this is only his second time playing any sort of poker in the last 18 months, he knows the poker world is infatuated with crypto and it doesn’t at all surprise him.
“It’s the same group of people that like games, don’t like having traditional jobs, don’t like working for people, like to be able to wear whatever they want, like the power of the internet – online poker and that whole super exciting thing, like the power of technology and have a libertarian streak to them, where they don’t like ‘the man’,” said West.