Sitting Down with Team Online's Kevin "WizardOfAhhs" Thurman
If there's one thing you need to know about Kevin Thurman, it's that he slaps adversity in the face. Thurman, 31, has suffered from potentially deadly illness called Lyme disease since he was in college. He's been forced to take on excruciating chemotherapy treatments for several years, stripping away the regular life that most young people get to enjoy.
But Thurman never let the ailment in the way of his life goals.
In 2005, Thurman left his corporate job in search of a line of work that would allow him the standard of living he desired. He was constantly sick and needed a change. That's when he turned to poker. Thurman deposited $500 online and began to grind low-stakes cash games. And as they say, the rest was history.
Four years later, Thurman was playing some of the largest cash games available on PokerStars and had won more than $2 million online under the name "WizardofAhhs." But, amazingly, that wasn't enough. He needed another challenge. Before the New Year began, Thurman set a seemingly unachievable goal to break the record for most VIP Player Points earned in a year.
Twelve months later, Thurman had played more than 5 million hands at PokerStars to shatter the VIP Player Points record. He amassed more the 3 million VPPs -- triple the amount needed to attain Supernova elite status. As a reward for his accomplishments, Thurman was offered a sponsorship deal to become a member of Team PokerStars Online.
Thurman's latest life hurdle came in April 2011 when his job was ripped away from him. As a resident of Texas, PokerStars was no longer available to players in the United States. But, as he's done all his life, Thurman found a solution. He packed his bags and moved to a beautiful setting in Canada to resume his online poker career.
We caught up with Thurman to discuss his move to Canada and how his life has changed in the wake of Black Friday.
You recently moved from Texas to a gorgeous location in British Columbia. How has that transition been for you as a poker player and in your regular day life?
I couldn't be happier with the move. Canada is a beautiful country. I've actually been more active since moving here. I've found a passion for hiking through the Canadian Rockies. Back in Texas it's just too hot and flat to do much of anything other than plant yourself directly in front of an air conditioner. I had a few misconceptions before moving to Canada. I thought it was going to be a desolate wasteland with a bunch of frozen people walking around saying "eh"' every other word. I was expecting very little familiarity to my home back in Texas. But it has turned out to be a nicer climate than I anticipated; the people have been fantastic, and they have many of the same stores and restaurants that I'm familiar with back home. And as far as poker is concerned, the Internet is perfect up here so it's been business as usual, snappin' necks and cashin' checks!
You wrote in your blog about some problems you had with your condo after moving to Canada. Tell us about that experience and how you found the house you currently live in now.
It's difficult to choose a new home to live without ever having visited to see it in person, much more ever having been to the city or even the country. I basically just did a Google search and went to the place with the prettiest pictures. Turns out the place I chose was pretty on the surface but it was going through some serious growing pains. With their third set of owners and management in three years, they were a mess and we had to escape. But this time I had a little Canadian experience under my belt so choosing the new location was going to be a little bit easier this time around. My new home is located on Lake Okanagan near Kelowna in BC. The area was actually recommended to me by another PokerStars Team Online member, Adrienne "talonchick" Rowsome, who mentioned to me that this area was her favorite in all of Canada, so I started exploring -- online of course, I'm a virtual human. And once again my friend Google brought me to my current residence; the view is breathtaking, the price was right, and I signed on the dotted line.
We read that you studied music theory in college and were in a band. What role does music play in your life?
I'm about to tell you something that I've never told anyone actually. I began playing poker years ago so I could concentrate more on my music. I was working a full time job in the tech industry as a Program Manager after I graduated from college back in 2001 and it was consuming all of my time. I was forced to work very long hours day in and day out. And the worst part about it is it offered very little in the form of creative expression. My soul really needs to communicate through music. And I play all kinds of instruments. Basically if it makes a sound, I will find a way to play it. I began really focusing my efforts on honing my poker skills around 2002 to 2003 so that I could make a living solely through the online grind. And the purpose was to regain that lost freedom I had back in college. I wanted to be my own boss, make my own schedule, and pick up my guitar and belt out a song whenever the hell I felt like it. Poker gave me that opportunity.
Any other hobbies you enjoy outside of poker?
I'm really getting into photography (and videography), as well as hiking. And the two really go hand in hand because hiking through the mountains here in Canada will instantly turn you into a great photographer, you can't take a bad picture here. I can literally step out on my balcony and take professional level photographs.
You earned Supernova Elite status last year and shattered the VPP record at PokerStars with more than 3 million. How does one play 5 million hands of online poker in a year and not lose his mind?
I told my mom I was going to do it, and no one likes to let their mama down. In all seriousness though 5 million hands is madness! I still can't believe I did it. I set the goal, told everyone I knew that I was going to achieve it, and I just refused to fail. I told my family that if I ever had to go to the hospital that they'd better put my laptop in the ambulance with me because I wasn't going to fall behind schedule.
What were your goals going into this year and how severely did Black Friday obstruct your progress?
When Black Friday occurred earlier this year, I felt like the smartest man alive. One of the main reasons I grinded my ass off in 2010 was because of that fear, the fear of it all being taken away at a time when I felt like I was in my poker prime. There are a lot of uncertainties in life involving our futures, so I made the ultimate VPP plan to completely sacrifice today for a better and more secure tomorrow. So when Black Friday hit us, I was far from panic stricken as I had already given all I had to give, there were no regrets on my part, and I had earned plenty of money to live comfortably for a long time. I just took a much deserved vacation from the game, I went outside and looked at things that weren't constructed of pixels for a while.
How has your life changed since becoming a member of Team PokerStars Online?
I've made many connections with people in the poker industry. Up until this point I had been a loner in the online poker world. I'm self-taught, never having had a poker coach or roommate in the past. I had virtually no interaction with other poker professionals until I started grinding to break the VPP record. I was basically was just a faceless avatar behind then handle "WizardOfAhhs" for many years. Team Online brought the person behind the name out of the shadows and I've met great people because of it, so many new friends, students, and opportunities.
Do you plan on traveling to any live tournaments in the near future? What's your favorite stop on the tournament circuit? Any place you'd like to visit?
I'm not really a fan of big cities. I like scenery; beaches and mountains. PCA is probably my favorite spot on the tournament circuit that I've been to so far. Don't get me wrong, I've thoroughly enjoyed going to places such as Prague, Copenhagen, and Madrid in the past, but once I've seen a big city one time I'm ready to move on and generally don't plan on returning. But I've been to PCA a couple of times because of the ocean, and Atlantis isn't buried within the hustle and bustle of a city. The more the location has a vacation resort feel to it, the more inclined I am to attend.