For most, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas — at least that’s how the old adage goes.
But for Thibodaux native Josh Thibodaux, he hopes that what happens in Vegas this summer will come back home to Louisiana with him and provide financial stability for both he and his family to enjoy.
Thibodaux is a professional poker player — a quickly-growing name in the sport, thanks to some of the successes he’s enjoyed in recent weeks.
On June 7, Thibodaux scored a seat at the final table and finished 5th in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em - Millionaire Maker Event, part of the 50th World Series of Poker. His prize for that event was a cool $350,758.
At press-time, Thibodaux is still in Las Vegas and is competing at various events throughout the summer in hopes of continuing to grow his profile in the sport.
“My goals for poker from the beginning was always to gain capital,” Thibodaux said. “That way, I can start and invest in businesses.”
For Thibodaux, the path from the bayous of Southeast Louisiana to multi-million dollar poker tournaments was paved through lots of hard work.
Thibodaux said he learned the game as a kid while spending time with family at their camp in Grand Isle during the summer. But he added quickly that he wasn’t always a pro.
“I wasn’t good at it at first,” he said with a laugh. “It took a lot of hard work and a lot of pain to get good at it.”
So we know you’re all asking at home: Exactly what “hard work” does a poker player have to do, specifically, to get better at the craft?
Thibodaux said that’s multi-faceted.
He said he got serious about playing when he was in college at LSU — a time when he really started to study and hone in on his craft.
As a younger adult, Thibodaux said he would go to casino poker rooms and watch other players play — without ever touching a card.
For hours and hours, he’d sit and study, picking up little observations about the successful players and those who failed.
Through those observations, Thibodaux said he learned some of the talents that one must have to make real money playing cards.
He said (without giving away too many secrets) that one of the big keys to poker are one’s fingers, adding that the best players are good with their fingers and not giving tells that can tip off other players.
Thibodaux said the best players also have to have mental toughness and the ability to stay focused, poised and patient for literally hours — sometimes upwards of 10-12 hours at a time, if not more, during a high-stakes event.
“If you want to be great, you have to be skilled in math and psychology,” Thibodaux said. “A lot of players today focus on the math, but don’t look at psychology as much. And for me, that’s where I put most of my effort. People react differently under pressure when there’s thousands of dollars on the line.”
“And look, I’m good at it, but I’m still not at the level I would like to be. I’m good, but I’m not as consistent as I would like to be. I can play great for a few days straight, but I may wake up one morning not completely on my game. I still get affected by the fatigue and other factors a lot more than I would like.”
But Thibodaux is doing a lot right, too — including a huge summer so far in Vegas.
In May, he won a $250 No Limit Hold’em event in New Orleans — part of the WSOP Circuit. For that, he won $16,451.
That led him to Vegas and four-straight tournaments throughout June.
Thibodaux competed in the $500 No Limit Hold’em - BIG 50 (297th place; $6,054 prize), $600 No Limit Hold’em - Deepstack (331st place; $1,739 prize), $1,500 No Limit Hold’em - Millionaire Maker (5th place; $350,758 prize) and $1,020 + $80 No Limit Hold’em - Main Event (150th place; $3,573 prize).
At press-time, he was playing in another event and faring well, though final results were not available at time of publication.
Thibodaux said he doesn’t have a “favorite hand”, per se, but said he has a least favorite hand. Without hesitation, he pointed to the King-Eight off-suit hand he had at the Millionaire Maker event, which cost him a chance at the title — a literal chance to become a millionaire.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said with a laugh.
But if Thibodaux keeps going at the rate he is now, he will reach 7 figures the hard way — through consistency and continued ability to fare well in high-stakes events.
Thibodaux said he hopes to finish the summer strong, adding that he’s learning a lot during his competitions throughout the summer.
To make $1 million in earnings and to finish back in another final table like he did at the Millionaire Maker event.
“Hopefully the cards have the same plan,” he said with a laugh. •