Heavy is the crown, they say, but Joe McKeehen doesn't seem to be feeling much burden being the world champion of poker.
After taking down the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event, McKeehen remains the same relaxed, laid back guy he was before banking a life-changing score of $7,683,346. In fact, life-changing might not be the right word for it. As McKeehen tells is, things aren't much different for him nowadays, and it might be more accurate to call it a career-changing score.
"I'm playing some of these bigger tournaments now, that's about it," McKeehen said of life after winning the Main Event.
McKeehen fired his first $100,000 buy-in in December when he played the World Poker Tour Alpha8 at Bellagio in Las Vegas, a tournament eventually won by Fedor Holz.
"I was definitely a little nervous," McKeehen admitted. "But once the cards get in the air, it's poker. You're just playing poker against good players. It's cool to test yourself against the best in the world."
Outside of the high caliber of poker skill required to compete against the players he's encountered in his recent high-rolling ventures, McKeehen noted another thing that stood out to him.
"I've had an absolute blast playing these things," he said. "These dudes all know each other, they're friends. They're very funny."
McKeehen airballed that Alpha8, but he's off to a great start in his second crack on the elite super high roller circuit. Here at the 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure's $100,000 Super High Roller, the world champ is crushing, battling for the chip lead with less than half of the 58 player field remaining. Battling some of the world's best is suiting McKeehen so far, as he sent notable elites Erik Seidel and Justin Bonomo to the rail on Day 2.
Always known as a solid East Coast grinder who was a regular at places like Borgata, McKeehen now finds himself with the bankroll and poker chops to tackle the high-roller circuit. But don't count on seeing McKeehen join the likes of Steve O'Dwyer, Holz, Mike McDonald, and others who appear almost universally at the biggest buy-in tournaments in the world.
"Maybe if I have a little success in this, but I'm laying low for the most part," McKeehen said when asked if he'll appear at more of these events in the near future.
The closeness of the PCA, which is a shorter flight away than many domestic destinations for those in the Eastern United States, appeals to McKeehen, and he plans to play a full schedule while he's here, including the $50,000 and $25,000 buy-in high roller events and possibly some $10,000 and $5,000 ones in addition to the $5,300 Main Event.
His usual work grinding the East Coast circuit no longer holds appeal for McKeehen, who finds himself with a dilemma. He seeks bigger buy-in events that populate the European Poker Tour, but is turned off by the rigors of traveling incessantly to get to them.
"That's Europe, that's far away," he said with a laugh when asked about playing more EPTs. "I'm not too keen on traveling, so I don't know that I'll do a lot."
When not saddling up for $100,000 buy-ins, McKeehen is willing to play a different game for slightly smaller stakes. In a recent interview with Sarah Herring, McKeehen talked a little bit about Hearthstone, a game that's captured the interest of more than a few poker players.
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