COLUMBIA — MU junior Blake Cahail started babysitting when he was 12 so he could save enough money to buy a car when he turned 16. He ended up buying a green, two-door 1997 Grand Am for $4,000.
Since then, he worked every year until he found a different way to make money — playing online poker.
“Once you finally figure it out and you get that edge, you start making money so much quicker,” Cahail said.
Cahail, like many others, started playing Texas Hold’em after watching amateur player Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003.
Shortly after Moneymaker’s success, Cahail created an online alias, Balla-B13, at various online poker Web sites.
After “breaking even” the first year and winning marginal profits the second, Cahail recently ended his three-year grind by making a huge score.
On Nov. 18, Cahail won the PokerStars Sunday Million online poker tournament against 6,636 other players to pocket more than $190,000.
This win helped him get to No. 1 on last week’s PokerStars tournament leaderboard, and his face was revealed to the online gambling community.
Last week, at the site’s main lobby, Balla-B13’s avatar, a smiling, thin-bearded, 20-year-old college student flaunting a yellow MU hooded-sweatshirt and cap, was to the left of the avatars of 2005 WSOP main event winner, Joe Hachem, tennis player turned poker competitor, Boris Becker and three-time WSOP bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu.
“I was No. 1 on the tournament leaderboard and Missouri was No. 1 in the nation, so I figured I should represent for Missouri,” Cahail said.
Cahail, who used some of his winnings to travel to the Big 12 Conference Championship game in San Antonio, has the same interests as many of his peers. He enjoys watching sports, movies and going out with friends.
Luckily for him, his roommates don’t constantly hit him up for cash.
Cahail lives in a five-bedroom house that was bought by two other online poker phenoms, Blair Hinkle and James Mackey, aka Blur5F6 and mig.com.
Mackey, or mig.com, attended MU for two years, but took an extended leave to play poker professionally. He won a $5,000 buy-in, No Limit Hold’em, World Series of Poker bracelet this past summer.
Hinkle, who paid cash for his 2004 Mitsubishi Eclipse, won over $146,000 in a FullTiltPoker online tournament Nov. 7.
All three Columbia residents began their online careers with an initial deposit of less than $100, but each managed to win six figures.
Luck either runs through their faucet or these guys know the secret to winning online poker.
“We don’t really explain to too many people how we play,” Hinkle said. “We like to keep it as low key as we can.”
The house hierarchy of experience begins with Mackey, who taught Hinkle, Cahail’s mentor, how to play. When Cahail moved into the house, he also started taking lessons from Mackey, who began backing him for tournaments, including the Sunday Million.
Cahail now plays up to eight tournaments simultaneously on two monitors in his room.
Cahail and Hinkle both credit Mackey, who is currently playing a few tournaments in Las Vegas, for their success.
“I was pretty fortunate to have met mig.com,” Cahail said. “That, in itself, was immensely lucky.”
Although good poker players thrive on the mistakes of weak players, Cahail and Hinkle offered some advice.
Hinkle said even though he and Mackey have more experience than Cahail, they all play relatively similarly.
All three play the early rounds of tournaments with a tight-aggressive style and when the blinds, or forced bets increase, they transition to loose-aggressive.
When playing tight-aggressive, players are tight or selective about starting hands, but bet them strongly when they play. Loose-aggressive more or less means players worry less about the cards they have and more about the chips in the pot.
“I’d say the best thing about the three of us is we’re really good closers, we know how to finish tournaments,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle and Cahail also recommend reading books and online poker forums about basic strategy, developing your own style and playing more tournaments.
“Sundays are the really big days when all the big tournaments are,” Cahail said. “On a really bad Sunday, you could lose $2,000 or $3,000. But on a really good Sunday, you could walk away with six figures. Most days, it’s just win a couple hundred, lose a couple hundred, bascically breaking even. Where you really make your money is when you get those top three finishes.”
They also stress proper bankroll management and not playing limits that are so high that you could lose all your money after an unlucky streak.
“If you start off getting unlucky, you can lose a lot of money fast,” Hinkle said. “And that’s if you’re a winning player. If you’re a bad player and you start off unlucky, then you’re not going to last very long at all.”
Hinkle said he was on a $40,000 downswing before his $146,000 win. Winning players need to know how to cope with these swings. He recommends having the money for at least 50 tournament buy-ins to endure the variance.
For example, if you play $10 tournaments, you should have at least $500, so if you go on an unlucky streak, it’s not going to break you.
After graduation, Hinkle and Cahail plan to use their poker talent and accumulated bankrolls to travel the world and play in live tournaments.
The transition from the computer screen to the felt-covered table will be an interesting adjustment. Even if things don’t work out at first, these two have already proven they have the patience to grind it out until the big payday.
“If you work hard, it will pay off in the long run,” Cahail said.