"It's like out of a movie": Jesse Lonis Goes on an 888Ride "It's like out of a movie": Jesse Lonis Goes on an 888Ride

Jesse Lonis was looking for ride to the casino to play some poker, and thankfully for poker fans, 888poker sent David “TuckonSports” Tuchman to give him a ride. What ensued was a wide-ranging conversation that saw the #1 player in the world on the Global Poker Index (GPI) talk about where he started and where he’s going.

“It’s like out of a movie” — that was how Lonis described the moment he knew poker was his calling. He was sitting in the Main Event of the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open, Hollywood in 2021 with $4k to his name and 10% of that in play through a $400 satellite entry to the $3,500 Main when he got a call from his then-girlfriend informing him she was pregnant.

While that might have caused many people to reconsider their life direction, it made Lonis buckle down. He realized he was in a pivotal moment, but instead of folding, he decided “All right, time to lock in and not lose.”

While he didn’t win that tournament, he took 5th place for $223k, setting up a nice bankroll for his poker future and nest egg for his personal future. In part, the success is due to his own confidence and drive. “Whatever I did, I was going to be the best at it.”

“See the Path”

One of the things that distinguishes Lonis from some other players is his approach to tournaments. While he has a solid handle on the math required, he is more aware than most of the journey that tournament poker actually is. Cash poker is a series of events, one after the other, but tournament poker is a story, told from the first hand to the last — it is a journey during which a player has to navigate different terrain during early stages, bubble play, etc.

His first big score in Florida was where a lot of his philosophy developed. After some advice from a friend who’d had a recent big score that included “See the path” he realized that navigating the twists and turns of a poker tournament was as much about survival as chip acquisition and the strategy was a big part of what propelled him to that first big score.

“It was a refuse-to-lose style,” Lonis said of the play style he adopted after that fateful call from his girlfriend. “I just remember getting pocket kings and flatting them pre-flop … I’m not going broke here.”

The small-ball style he adopted in that first huge score transformed his outlook on the game. “You can avoid coolers. I know it may not seem right, but if you read strength, you don’t have to take these crazy high-variance spots.”

“My Addiction Was Money”

“I always told myself I’d be a millionaire in my 20s.” Despite growing up poor, Lonis always had a level of confidence in his own abilities that was perhaps oversized to his start in life. “My addiction was money … I was too hungry to not succeed. If it wasn’t poker, I would have figured it out in a different business. Whatever I did, I was going to be the best at it.”

He acquired that drive, and his poker skills, from his grandmother. Lonis described her as a “hustler” and that rubbed off on him after he moved in with her following some legal problems for his father. From “helping” his gramma win on Full Tilt and having the run of Atlantic City while his grandparents gambled, he evolved into the player we see today.

Product of our Environment

While Lonis is open about his tough upbringing, he actually sees it as a benefit to his work ethic. “When I was starting out, I’d hear from people 'poker is so tough.’ And I’d be like 'this is easy — you guys don’t know what tough is.”

Near the end of the 888Ride, Lonis talks about the difficulties of playing poker for a living and contrasts it with other walks of life. “There’s single mothers out there with five kids working two jobs — that’s what tough is.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Lonis isn’t where he came from, or even where he’s going — it’s that he seems to be in such a good place no matter what happens around him. No doubt that plays a part in his poker success.

You can watch the full interview below or you can see all the on the 888poker Ride interviews on their YouTube channel.