It is not a surprise to hear from a PCA Main Event champion that “life is pretty good right now,” but the end of that sentence from Michael Watson may be a bit unexpected. Poker is not a long-term goal for the winner of the 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, which was worth exactly $728,325.
Let’s start at the beginning, though, to provide a little background. A poker player with more than $9 million in live tournament earnings and another $3 million online like Mike Watson is one whose story should be told.
In the Beginning…
Watson was born in 1984 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The Canadian was raised there and headed to the University of Waterloo in his late teens for higher education. While pursuing his degree in mathematics and beyond, he discovered poker.
From small-stakes cash games at lunch time to online poker after classes, Watson unknowingly set out on a path that was unique and prosperous. The first deposits he made online were learning blocks, but an effort at bankroll management combined with poker tips from books and online forums pointed him in the right direction. He built a bankroll in just two years that put his name – SirWatts – on the map.
He quit the Master’s program at his university, and though Watson’s parents were none too happy at the time (possibly because they were university professors!), they eventually embraced his well-thought-out decision.
SirWatts had serious success in the online poker world but wanted it to translate into live poker success. He started traveling to Las Vegas in the summer of 2007 for the World Series of Poker and other tournaments, and he did cash in several of them, the highest a tenth place finish in a $1,500 PLO-8 event for more than $9K. Later that year, he final tabled events at Foxwoods and Bellagio.
The start of 2008 was an indication that it might just be Watson’s year. He finished tenth in the World Poker Tour’s L.A. Poker Classic Main Event for $61,610. Though he then only cashed for two tournaments at that summer’s WSOP, he hopped over to Bellagio to play the WPT Bellagio Cup before leaving the Las Vegas summer behind. And it was a solid decision, as he played the $15K buy-in Main Event and won it for $1,673,770.
That victory remains his favorite poker moment. “It will be hard to ever top for me,” Watson told Poker Update. “That was truly a life-changing score, and to achieve your biggest goal that you’ve worked incredibly hard for and never thought was actually possible when you started out is just amazing.”
Building on Success
Watson’s confidence was boosted, and he went on to travel a bit more of the global poker circuit. Just three months after his Bellagio win, he finished third in the European Poker Tour’s London High Roller event for £241K.
In 2009, he won a Bellagio Cup side event for more than $140K, and the following year, he won an Aussie Millions side event for nearly AU$130K and final tabled two other tournaments in Melbourne. The final tables were aplenty, and the wins were accumulating as well – including a 2011 WSOP Europe title, 2011 Epic Poker League win, 2012 EPT Berlin side event win, and a 2012 WSOP Europe Majestic Roller victory for a cool €1 million.
The big finishes were consistent for Watson through the years, but another win was important for him. The frustration of final tables and second-place finishes was mounting. “I was tired of finishing runner-up in big live events and really wanted to close it out,” he said.
So, when Watson ran deep in the 2016 PCA Main Event, he was determined. As the field thinned, players like Jason Mercier, Taylor Paur, Fedor Holz, Ami Barer, Stephen Chidwick, and Matt Waxman exited. Watson then made the final table but needed to defeat world-class players like Toby Lewis and Anthony Gregg to win it.
Watson started the action on Final Table Day as the chip leader, and he eliminated the third-place finisher to make it to heads-up play against Gregg. Watson had nearly double the stack of his opponent, but the two were not only friends but very aware of the abilities of the other. With that, the two agreed to a payout deal, with Watson guaranteed to take home $695,325 and Gregg $612,175, and that left another $33K on the table with the trophy and PCA title.
It still took two hours for the duo to end their battle. He explained the length and intensity after the fact to Poker Update: “I’m not sure I’d say we wanted the win more than the cash, but it was clearly something that held a lot of value to both of us. For Tony, it was his third PCA Main Event final table, and he’d gotten second before, so I think he really wanted to win this one. For me, I wanted to close it out, and $33K was also still a lot of money to play for.”
And Watson ended up in the winner’s circle after all. He emerged atop the field of 928 players and grabbed the trophy, title, and $728,325.
What is next after winning big money in the Bahamas? More poker for Watson, obviously.
“I’m leaning toward playing EPT Dublin, now that I’ve skipped Australia for the first time in ages. I usually play the Fallsview Casino series in Niagara Falls, but it overlaps with Dublin a little bit, so I’ll have to make a final decision on that soon. The 25K in Dublin and the tanking Canadian dollar are making me lean toward Europe right now,” he said, adding, “Fresh Guinness doesn’t hurt, either.”
Those high rollers famous on the EPT circuit are certainly a draw for Watson. “I like the small fields of the high rollers, since any time you make the money, you are at or near the final table and a shot at a massive score,” he considered. “But I think being deep in a main event is much more exciting and prestigious; it just happens so rarely.”
Achieving a victory so early in the year has many in the poker media discussing Watson’s early lead in “Player of the Year” races. For some players, it can dictate poker plans going forward. When Watson was faced with that question, he responded, “I’d like to say that it won’t (impact my plans), but it probably will a little bit. I’ve been around too long to still care too much about stuff like POY awards or to want to put the time and energy into properly chasing them. I’m happier when I keep more balance in my life now, but in the off chance I hit another big score in the next few months, it might start to look appealing to play a bit more.”
For now, it looks like Watson’s year will include poker, but not as much online poker as in the past. He now mainly plays the Sunday tournaments and special series like WCOOP and SCOOP. Lately, he has been spending more time on DFS.
He recently told PokerListings that daily fantasy sports is an “easy fit” for many poker players, himself Watson included. He noted that he has already put a lot of hours into DFS and continues to be drawn in by the competition, the employment of techniques and concepts involved in winning.
Watson’s future may always have a place for poker in it, but the focus may change in the coming years. “I definitely spend a lot of time thinking about opportunities outside of gambling,” he admitted. “Life is pretty good right now, but it’s hard to imagine wanting to do this forever.”
Returning to school to finish his program is not necessarily on that list, however, nor is anything that keeps him from being able to “sneak away for two weeks to fly to a poker tournament whenever I want.” Though he does consider other options besides poker, any opportunity is going to have to be a big one. “It’ll take a serious desire or passion for something new to get me away from the poker lifestyle.”
Things may change for Watson at any time. But when the next big tournament comes up, that open seat might just be reserved for SirWatts.