If there's an early favorite in the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event, it has to be Joe McKeehen. With the dinner break approaching on Day 4, with approximately 400 players left, the 24-year-old East Coast poker pro finds himself as the chip leader with nearly 2 million.
It's familiar territory for McKeehen, who came on strong on Day 3 and has been among the leaders ever since.
"I ran really good on Day 3," McKeehen told PokerNews. "Day 2 I thought I played very well, I made a lot of calls on the river and they just gave me the pot. On Day 3, I got my money in bad a lot and won. I made a couple calls on the river for a lot of chips too. I had a lot of chips and started calling short stack all-ins and won the flips. I just kept building."
Indeed, McKeehen has continued to build; in fact, he nearly doubled his stack in the first two levels of Day 3, thanks in no small part to a massive pot just before the second break of the day.
I've won two massive pots with two black aces, so I have almost twice what I started with.
In it, a Borgata regular McKeehen was familiar with, who had just moved to the table with a pile of chips, opened the button for three times the big blind. McKeehen looked down at the in the small blind and opted for a three-bet.
"I know he doesn't fold, so I made a really big three-bet because I knew he wasn't going to fold," McKeehen said. "He called, the flop came down , which was pretty good. I down-bet 58,000 because he has been raising almost every single flop, and I thought he was going to raise again."
Sure enough, McKeehen's opponent made it 110,000 more, leaving himself about 500,000 behind.
"At this point it was a debate whether I call and try to get it in on the turn," McKeehen continued. "I decided if he had an ace at the very least he was going to call if I click it back. He made it 168,000 and I made it a total of 300,000. He insta-shoved, so it was an easy call. I just hoped not to see a combo draw. I ended up seeing quite possibly the best hand I could see in , all I had to do was fade two hearts. It was over on the turn."
It was a massive pot for McKeehen, and one that vaulted him into the chip lead.
"So far today I've had a very tough table, but I've won two massive pots with two black aces, so I have almost twice what I started with. I'm excited," added McKeehen, who is a tournament regular on the East Coast circuit.
The 2015 WSOP Main Event isn't McKeehen's first taste of poker success. In fact, he has $1,995,070 in tournament earnings, of which $1,194,279 are WSOP-related cashes. McKeehen's biggest WSOP cash came last year when he finished runner-up in Event #51: $1,500 Monster Stack for $820,863. He also has a gold ring on his résumé after winning the 2012/2013 WSOP Circuit Caesars Atlantic City $1,675 Main Event for $174,147.
It's the former event, which attracted 7,862 players, that McKeehen feels will give him an edge in the Main Event, which "only" had 6,420 players.
"It's hard to compare this to a $1,500, but that was the biggest $1,500 ever," McKeehen said with a laugh. "This is the deepest I've ever gone in the Main. I've cashed one other time, but I've played it four times. My style at the beginning of these tournaments is to play very passive, very low variance. Kind of build a stack.
"I ended up bagging 33,000 on Day 1 because I played very tight. I didn’t cooler anybody, which is what I was kind of looking to do. On Day 2, I started to actually play poker and build up my stack. Day 3 I just ran really well early to build a stack, won pot after pot. In these things you've just got to keep going. The tournament takes forever, so you've just got to keep accumulating.
In addition, McKeehen feels his vast experience playing live poker tournaments gives him a bit of an edge.
"If I see you're nervous, I can pick something up off that, online you can't do that," explained McKeehen. "I think a lot of people have experience, but since I have a lot of live experience it probably gives me an edge. I've definitely picked up reads on people, so I think that's something where I'll definitely have an advantage in in the future."
McKeehen is primed to make a deep run into the Main Event, and he's not the only one in his family who knows what's on the line.
"My parents are following everything on the blog, and probably going crazy at work right now."