PokerStars Festival London: Turning nothing into something with Joe 'Magic' Johnson

One thing we learned from the £2,200 High Roller event at the PokerStars Festival London this week is that there's no easy money in this game. But, by the same token, you can get something for nothing if you're prepared to put the hours in.

The tournament with the highest buy-in of the festival drew a bigger field than expected, ran a day longer than was scheduled, and played out in no fewer than four different rooms of the labyrinthine Hippodrome Casino.

If you can keep your focus through all that and emerge with all the chips, you can justifiably say that you earned your stripes. In the case of Joe Johnson, who hoisted the trophy at 7.30pm today, you can also say you earned £59,912, the biggest single payout of his career.

But here's the twist. Johnson is a 23-year-old live cash-game player, who plies his trade here at the Hippodrome. It wasn't too much of a change to his ordinary schedule to play here throughout November and December last year at the time that a unique loyalty program was running.


Joe Johnson: Freerolled to the title

The 48 players during that period who accumulated the most loyalty points earned a ticket in a freeroll tournament, the winner of which earned £4,000 in tournament credit to play at this festival. Johnson won it, cashed in half his credit in the High Roller, and now he is the champion. His nearly £60,000 is real money, nothing token about it.

This tournament began on Tuesday, with 166 players adding a further 12 re-entries over the opening period. The big names were arriving and departing--Jake Cody entered twice but didn't cash; Felipe Ramos, Luca Pagano and Adrian Mateos also fell short. Liv Boeree stuck around until the early hours of yesterday, but she left in 10th for £6,280. Even then, it would have seemed unlikely that the tournament could last another 20 hours.

Tournament officials made a very shrewd decision to call a halt to proceedings at around 2am last night, with five players left. The idea was for things to be done and dusted by that point, but they all still had chips and had to bag up again.

It meant that the following came back to play to a winner this afternoon, eyeing the lion's share of the monster £345,320 prize-pool.

1: Yuriy Boyko, Ireland, 484,000 (20 BBs)
2: Harry Lodge, United Kingdom, 626,000 (26 BBs)
3: Enzo Del Piero, United Kingdom, 1,100,000 (45 BBs)
4: Joe Johnson, United Kingdom, 2,200,000 (91 BBs)
5: Nicolas Beker, Switzerland, 1,123,000 (46 BBs)

While some commentators expected it only to last a couple of hours, shrewder observers looked at the stack sizes and knew it could go on far longer than that. Even so they moved into Jimmy's Room, yet another hidden annexe in the Hippodrome decorated with memorabilia from the building's previous life as a concert hall, expecting it to be clear by the start of another tournament at 7pm. Wrong.

That said, proceedings got off to a fairly hasty start. Seated below an appropriate poster for Bet Your Life, starring Arthur Askey, first Nicolas Beker and then Yuriy Boyko bets their lives and lost.


Nicolas Beker: Fifth place


Yuriy Boyko: Followed quickly in fourth

Beker, the last player from outside the British Isles, couldn't beat pocket queens with pocket eights. And then Boyko lost with A♥4♦ to Johnson's 9♣6♣ when Johnson flopped a flush.

"Magic Johnson," Boyko said. It was the kind of nickname that sticks.

With three left, play slowed up again. Del Piero, who is accustomed to long cash-game sessions, suggested a chip-chop when he was short-stacked, but was turned down. But then he quickly doubled up.

"If you guys want to do a deal, I'll still do a deal," he said. "You guys want to do a deal?"

They didn't, which allowed for another couple of hours of chip trading--and for Del Piero to assume the lead.


Enzo Del Piero: No deal, yet

They were still pretty deep at this stage, but things can quickly change in this game. Harry Lodge, who had some success on the UKIPT over the past few years, was the player to take the fall after a long three-handed session. He got the last of his chips in with K♣3♥ and was ahead of Del Piero's Q♠T♠, but the spades proved to be critical. Del Piero rivered a flush, leaving Lodge looking for £36,150.


Harry Lodge: Out in third

When they got heads up, Del Piero again suggested they do a chip-chop but initially Johnson wasn't interested. So they played on again and the stacks levelled to within a single big blind. That meant they finally agreed to split it: a near down-the-middle agreement with £3,000 and the trophy on the side.

They also changed rooms again. Of course they did. They ended back in "The Lounge", where they had played for a bit on Day 2. But the action after the deal was anything but lounge-like. Johnson had a big rail with him, watching his every move, and they were on hand to watch him seal the deal when his A♠J♦ held up against Del Piero's A♥9♣.

Johnson and his rail were ecstatic. "He doesn't even play tournaments," one of them said. Then, true to the form of most rails, "Can we get some food? I'm hungry."

The new champion agreed and they vanished in a cloud of smoke. Magic.


Joe Johnson prepares to feed the 5,000

PokerStars Festival London 2017 High Roller

Buy-in: £2,000 + £200
Players: 166 + 12 re-entries
Entries: 178
Total prize pool: £345,320

1Joe JohnsonUnited Kingdom£59,912*
2Enzo Del PieroUnited Kingdom£56,678*
3Harry LodgeUnited Kingdom£36,150
4Yuriy BoykoIreland£26,500
5Nicolas BekerSwitzerland£19,410
6Nicolas CardynFrance£14,240
7Jonathan ClarkUnited Kingdom£10,440
8Nathan ManuelUSA£7,650

*denotes heads-up deal

Click for full payouts from the High Roller

Howard Swains
@howardswains in Live Poker