If you're looking for a rags-to-riches story from the summer of 2015, look no further than 32-year-old Craig Varnell. Two months ago Varnell, who hails from Colorado, didn't know what the hell he was going to do. He only had a couple thousand in his bank account, was working a regular job to make ends meet, and didn't even know if he'd make it out to poker's mecca.
With no bankroll and an expired backing arrangement, Varnell didn't know what to do. Fortunately, his friends came through and he was able to put enough together for a trip to Vegas. It provide a wise investment on their part.
Varnell got off to a quick start finishing 478th for $3,928 in Event #16: Millionaire Maker, and followed that up a week later with an 85th-place finish in Event #26: $1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha for $2,397. A couple weeks after that, he placed 491st in Event #55: $1,500 DraftKings 50/50 for $1,000, and the day after came in 8th in Event #57: $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em for $3,281.
None were the big breakthrough Varnell was hoping for, but it would come. On July 2, Varnell played his way to the final table of Event #64: WSOP.com Online No-Limit Hold'em, and two days after that ventured to the Rio to play it out, ultimately finishing third for $73,079.
That same week, Varnell traveled down the road for the biggest World Poker Tour event in their history — the 2015 partypoker presents: WPT500 at ARIA Resort & Casino. The tournament attracted 5,113 entrants, created a prize pool of $2,556,500, and wouldn't you know it, Varnell shipped it for $330,000.
To top it all off, Varnell made the money of the 2015 WSOP Main Event.
"I feel blessed," Varnell told PokerNews on the last break of Day 3. "My confidence level is at an all-time high right now. I feel lucky to be here. My friends who supported me, they're the reason I'm here. Literally was working a real job, so that puts things in perspective how lucky you are to play a game that you love for a living."
So how does one go from questioning his future to dominating the poker world? There's no easy answer, but Varnell does know some changes to his game have helped.
"Switching gears, and switching your styles up," said Varnell. "Something I've been implementing in my game, I've been using different people's styles from videos I've been watching and learning. Just switching styles in a middle of a tournament, people get confused. I'll go from super aggressive to tight, so then when I three-bet I don't get any respect and they're calling off light because of how I played earlier.
"It's all about switching gears," Varnell continued. "I've learned to pump the brakes when I need to. I used to be full throttle all the time, and now I just learned how to slow down now that I'm playing for bigger money. Feels good, man, my life's definitely drastically changed."
Varnell closed out his summer with a 784th-place finish in the 2015 WSOP Main Event, good for $15,000. Varnell fell in the last level of Day 3 when, on a flop of , he bet 21,000 and Kilian Kramer raised. Varnell responded by moving all in for approximately 180,000 holding the , and Kramer called with the . Neither the turn nor river helped Varnell, and his Main Event run came to an end.
So what's next for Varnell?
"I kind of want to go on vacation to be honest, just not play poker," Varnell says with a laugh. "Though I feel like I might play a little more. I think I might go to Hawaii or California, hang out for a little bit, and then thinking about going home to see the family for a little bit. No kids, but I've got two nephews and it's summer vacation. I haven't gotten to see them all summer because I've been playing poker. It'd be nice to take them on a little trip before they go back to school, hang out with my mom, dad, and sister."