It Must Be Something in the Water(loo)
Most people outside of Canada have never heard of Waterloo, a town in the province of Ontario. Until five months ago, I had never heard of Waterloo either. That all changed while talking to Mike "timex" McDonald and Will Ma, two fantastic poker players who call Waterloo home. They began mentioning other poker players from Waterloo. The list of names they mentioned was a Who's Who of top players in the poker world. "Wow... I'm surprised I've never heard of this city... it must be really big," I suggested. They corrected me, "no, it only has about 100,000 people, maybe about 120,000 when the University of Waterloo is in session." What shocked me the most was that most of the names they mentioned were all fairly loosely connected to each other. Some of them know each other and helped coach each other to poker greatness, but by and large, they reached the top of the poker pyramid through pretty independent paths.
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I can't explain why Waterloo, Ontario seems to breed elite poker players, but perhaps some things are better left unexplained. One thing is for sure, you'd be wise to avoid running into any of these Waterloo-based players at a poker table:
Steve was introduced to online poker by another Waterloo resident, Steve Black. Although he has since diminished his presence in the community, at one time Black was a successful high stakes online cash game player known for beating the likes of Prahlad Friedman. Thanks to Mr. Black's recommendation to try online poker, Paul-Ambrose began winning money hand over fist in online tournaments. In 2006, he won a $110 online satellite to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. It turned out to be the parlay of a lifetime; he won the tournament, the first live he ever played, for a cool $1,388,000. Since then, Steve has won over $300,000 in other live tournaments and has served as a great ambassador of the game.
Originally from Serbia, Medic began playing poker while attending the University of Waterloo. Like Steve Paul-Ambrose, Medic made the final table of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in his live poker debut. He finished 6th in 2005's running for $133,000. That was hardly the last the poker world has seen from Medic. In 2006, he won the World Poker Finals for $1,717,000. He nearly repeated as champion of that event by finishing 3rd for $486,000 in 2007. In this summer's inaugural $10,000 buy-in pot-limit hold'em WSOP event, Medic captured his first bracelet to go along with $794,000. His career winnings are now a staggering $3.6 million.
Mike "timex" McDonald
One of poker's top young players is 19 year old Mike McDonald. After being taught poker by Steve Paul-Ambrose, McDonald wasted no time making a name for himself. Earlier this year, he became the youngest winner of an EPT event by capturing the German Open for $1,370,000. That win coupled with his success through his online poker handle "timex" has helped McDonald amass over $2,000,000 in career winnings before ever being of legal drinking age in Canada.
Mike "SirWatts" Watson
Another living testimony to Steve Paul-Ambrose's poker coaching abilities is Mike Watson. Watson's poker success was mostly limited to the online realm where he has won over one million dollars playing as "SirWatts". That all changed in July of this year when Watson broke through in the Bellagio Cup IV. He beat 445 of the world's best players to win a staggering $1,673,000. Maybe the Canadian government should rethink their stance on not taxing gambling winnings.
When I was speaking with McDonald and Will Ma about all the amazing players from Waterloo, we finally changed the subject and started talking about the recently completely EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. I knew the winner, Glen Chorny, was from Canada, so I asked them, "do you guys know Chorny?" Their response, "oh yea... we forgot about him. He's from Waterloo too!" It seemed puzzling that they could have overlooked a guy who rose all the way to 5th place on the Canadian career winnings list with his $3.2M win in Monte Carlo, but as you're beginning to see, there are a lot of Waterloo-based poker players to keep track of!
Matt "ch0ppy" Kay
Matt Kay was introduced to poker by Mike McDonald. In 2007, his first full year as a poker player, Kay finished 2nd on the CardPlayer Online Player of the Year standings. He held the lead for most of the year after getting a jump start from winning the Sunday Million in January. To Kay's dismay, Issac "westmenloAA" Baron overtook him in the 11th hour to win POY honors.
When the least-known guy on a list has over $600,000 in career live tournament winnings, you know it must be a pretty special list. Will Ma is close friends with McDonald. The two travel to Europe together since both are too young to play events in the United States. Ma reigned victorious over 139 players in last year's €10,000 buy-in Grand Prix de Paris. That win came with a $575,000 payday to get his career off to a good start. Since then, Ma has been tackling high stakes online games at Party Poker and Titan Poker.
Canada's third all-time winningest poker player, Gavin Smith, while not technically from Waterloo, still deserves a mentioning in this article. Gavin is from Guelph, Ontario, a town about 30 km from Waterloo. Well known for his playful antics in the poker world, Gavin has nearly $4,000,000 in career winnings and is a fixture in the Vegas prop-betting scene.
Special thanks to Mike McDonald for his assistance in providing facts for this article.