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As a professional poker player, Justin Oliver is accomplished. He has more than $900K in live poker tournament earnings to his credit, including a World Series of Poker bracelet that he won at the 2013 WSOP $2,500 NLHE 4-Handed event. The following year, he came close to another one but finished in second place in the WSOP $2,500 NLHE tournament.

A desire to learn the game began when he played online from his now-former home in Toronto. His career at the time was in the jewelry business, an integral member of his family’s company. But poker captured his heart, and he eventually moved to Las Vegas to play on a full-time basis. He now plays cash games and tournaments.

Despite his poker efforts and successes, it wasn’t until he made a video for the Global Poker League that he became more recognized. The video was an application of sorts, one that served as a way for the GPL team captains to get to know him and consider him for a wild card spot on a team. The selection process was completed at the end of March, and he wasn’t chosen, but his video gained quite a bit of notoriety for Oliver throughout the industry.


Oliver’s passion for poker is on display this week at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida, where he traveled to play some of the SHRPO and WPT tournaments. Poker Update caught up with him there in an effort to get to know more about him.

Listen to the interview here:


PokerUpdate:  How much attention did you get from your GPL video? I think everyone wants to know.

Justin: Yeah, that was pretty crazy. I got more attention from making that crazy video than I did from anything I’ve ever done in poker. More than when I won a bracelet, more than any event I’ve ever played in. We got tons of attention and interest and interviews.

PokerUpdate: You were the only one to go out there and do something crazy, so I think you set the bar for the future. A lot of people took notice and were like hey, I should probably do that.

Justin: Yeah, I hope so. You know, I was surprised. I wanted to release it very close to the draft because I thought if I released it too early, then a lot of people would copy me, so I kind of had timing in mind for doing it. I hope the next time they have a draft, a lot of people will do it because I think it’s fun and interesting, and I think it’s good for poker.

PokerUpdate: What was your family’s reaction to your decision to play more poker, to make it more of a focus in your career?

Justin: Wow, yeah that’s pretty crazy, I grew up in my family’s business. It’s funny because I have three younger brothers, and we have this business that’s kind of really well known in Toronto. I was the only one in the business for many, many years, and then all of a sudden, now, I’m the only one not in the business. I’m a poker player, and everyone else in my family, all three of my brothers, are in the business. So everyone’s kind of surprised. It’s a weird turn in my life. It’s interesting, and I’m kind of trying to find some ways to tie the two businesses together in some way.

PokerUpdate: That would be really great to see. So you still live near your family in Toronto?

Justin: No, I live in Vegas now.

PokerUpdate: Do you travel a lot to go back to Toronto to see your family?

Justin: Not too much. I mostly live in Vegas. I play cash games there and travel around the States playing tournaments. I got back to Toronto for the Fallsview Classic recently, and I go back for some weddings, some holidays and stuff. But mostly I’m in Vegas, and actually my family loves having an excuse to come visit me in Vegas. I think it’s better than me visiting them there.


PokerUpdate: I can definitely see that. How do you divide your time these days between live poker and online poker?

Justin: I play like 99% live poker now. When I was in Toronto I was playing some online, mostly online and travelling for some live stuff, but since I moved to Vegas, I do not play on any of the Vegas websites. I just play a lot of cash games in Vegas, tournaments in Vegas and travel for tournaments. I’ll play occasionally, if I’m back in Toronto, a little bit of online.

PokerUpdate: What are your favorite cash games to play?

Justin: I play all the big no-limit games in Vegas, so Bellagio’s my spot. I mostly stick around there because it gets the biggest no-limit games. The best games in the world, the best players in the world, the most comfortable place to play. The Bellagio is an awesome spot.

PokerUpdate: How much time do you tend to spend looking to improve your poker game?

Justin: That’s a good question. It’s funny; I spend more time working on my poker game, more time working on my mental game. I work with Jared Tendler, and I do a lot of reading. I read books like The Zen of Poker and Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler and I spend more time working on my mental game than I do my actual strategy. I think it’s the most important thing these days because everyone’s strategy is so close together. There are so many good players in terms of tactics and strategy that the difference maker for me is staying composed and focused and in the moment, not tilting. I think that’s the most important part of poker these days.

PokerUpdate: So that would be your biggest tip to people who are really trying to improve their game, is to look at it more from a mental aspect and develop themselves mentally for the table.

Justin: There’s no doubt that strategy, of course, is important. You need to know when to raise, when to fold, etc. You’ve got to work on that. But I kind of feel like you can almost reach a ceiling in that department; you can only work on that so much, and then you have to keep with the times and the trends and what people are doing and adjust to how people are changing the game. I just find the difference between the top players and others in the game in the next layer is mental game. I’ll see the smartest players in the world, some of the best players in the world, bust out of a tournament, not because they didn’t know what to do but because they tilted. And they just got angry and went all-in in a spot that they shouldn’t. So, mental game was the difference in that spot.

PokerUpdate: When you won your bracelet at the 2013 WSOP, you mentioned your girlfriend, you mentioned your dog, but you also mentioned Bill Hubbard. Who’s Bill Hubbard?

Justin: Well, that’s pretty sad because Bill was my mentor in poker, he was my coach, he taught me everything I know right from the start. I worked with Bill for many years, and he passed away about a year ago. It’s almost a year ago now, and it’s insane. He was 60, and he was taken way too soon. I can never thank him enough. I know he’s up above watching me. I credited the bracelet to him and any success I ever had in poker in my whole life. He’s one of the people that I credit with so much because he really was an unsung amazing poker player that not a lot of people knew. He was just an amazing coach, and I’ll always love him and remember him. Anything I do, I always remember him for it.

justin oliver wsop 2013

credit: WSOP

PokerUpdate: What are your plans for the summer of 2016? The WSOP? What games are you planning on sit in on?

Justin: I do not even look at a cash game during the summer. The rest of the year in Vegas, I’m playing a ton of cash. When summer rolls around, there are so many tournaments in Vegas. It’s just such a great place to play tournaments. It’s crazy to just not play all the tournaments you have at your disposal. It’s just so beautiful for me. I don’t have any expenses, and I can actually literally walk from my condo to the Rio and just play unlimited World Series events every day. So I’ll be playing all the no-limit events at the World Series. I’ll be playing at the Venetian. I’ll be playing anywhere that has big no-limit events.

PokerUpdate: Can we expect more fun videos in the future from you?

Justin: I have a video that’s in production right now. We did some filming recently, and it’s being edited by the wonderful Lizzy Harrison and my cinematographer; his name is John. He and Lizzy are my team. I just get in front of the camera and spew a bunch of nonsense, and somehow they edit and make it look funny. That should be coming out in a couple weeks, and I’m hoping they make it look as good as the last one.

PokerUpdate: Finally, do you have any tips to give our audience in terms of playing and learning poker, something that they should know?

Justin: Well, I would say follow me on Twitter @juicypokerJO. I usually put a tip of the day there every day. Off the top of my head, I would say – I was about to post this on Twitter tomorrow as my tip of the day: Always have a plan for the hand. So, when you’re betting the flop, don’t just bet the flop because then someone raises you, and you don’t know what to do.  Bet the flop and know right away what you are going to do if somebody raises. What are you going to do if they call? What are you going to do on certain turns? What are you going to do on certain rivers? Always plan out for the entire hand; don’t just plan for that immediate street but make a plan for the entire hand so that nothing surprises you, so that you’re ready for all situations that could come up.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.