A major downswing in poker can, on occasion, be a good thing. Beyond the negative factors like pressures on a bankroll and financial stress off the table, it can be a window into how you’re playing, what can be improved, and whether small or drastic changes are in order.
Just ask Andrew Moreno.
At this point three years ago, Moreno was at a major crossroads in his life and career. He was making a solid living as a mid-stakes cash game player, but he was starting to feel a little uninspired as the day-to-day grind started to wear on him.
“I’d say prior to 2019, I got really comfortable in my games that I was playing. I was doing well playing mostly $5/10 and $10/20, and I just didn’t really have much desire to do anything else. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m making a pretty good living doing this.’”
Any drive he had to climb to higher stakes was tempered by the potential consequences of his results going awry. But circumstances beyond his control would soon completely reshape the trajectory of his career, and his life.
“In poker, there’s a lot of stress. I always thought, ‘Okay, if I move up, it’ll be more stressful for me.’ [At this point], I was very relaxed, and these games I was playing, they were fairly low variance for me,” Moreno said. “I was playing for an amount of money, at the time, that I was not really stressed about winning or losing on a daily basis. I didn’t really care much to change any of that – but then I went through a significant downswing. [And as] I was going through the biggest downswing of my career, having a lot of confidence issues, and feeling not great about poker in general, then I was forced to stay home, as we all were.”
Moreno had started dipping his toe into a slightly more regular tournament schedule in 2019, prior to the downswing and the eventual COVID shutdown that shuttered almost all of the live poker in the United States. He finished second in a $1,700 World Series of Poker Circuit main event in March 2019. Moreno was also no stranger to occasional big tournament results earlier in his career, with a pair of deep WSOP main event runs and a sixth-place finish in the 2016 WSOP Monster Stack – all three worth six figures.
But tournaments had never been something Moreno had dedicated significant time and resources to or played on a regular basis. Upon reflection, an incident early on in Moreno’s poker playing career pushed him off the path towards becoming a full-time tournament pro for a long time – and it was something he’d have to confront as he considered heading in that direction.
“Why didn’t I do this before? Why didn’t I trust myself that this is where I want to be in what I want to be doing?”
“When I started in cash games, I really wanted to be playing tournaments,” said Moreno. “But one of my first experiences when I moved to Vegas 15 years ago, was with a friend. He was a tournament player that was quite honestly miserable and in a lot of makeup. And I just listened to him every day, talking about how much he hated poker, how much it was all pointless, how much luck there was.
“And so, I kind of let that voice into my mind, like I can’t do this. I don’t want to be like this guy. But deep down, I always really felt like this is what I wanted to do,” Moreno continued. “Then, when I did make the transition, I was really passionate about it. Immediately it was this kind of feeling like, ‘Why didn’t I do this before? Why didn’t I trust myself that this is where I want to be in what I want to be doing?’”
Given the fact that he was locked in the house without anywhere to go for months on end at the start of the COVID pandemic, Moreno decided the timing was finally right.
“During that time, I had to figure out how to make money online,” Moreno said. “So I said, I’m going to spend this time and I’m going to really study. I hired a coach and got into some good circles of people to just study poker. I think over that time, I kind of renewed my passion for the game.”
So, who did Moreno enlist to help him bring his tournament game to the next level, you might ask? Counted among his most valuable resources at that time was Chris Brewer, a high-stakes tournament crusher with one of the most respected minds in the game.
“I’ve known Andrew since 2016, or around then, in San Diego,” Brewer said. “And then in 2021, he just messaged me and asked if I’d be interested in working with him, so we ended up linking up.”
Moreno immediately took to his studies and got to work in the lab. By Brewer’s estimation, breaking certain key habits would be important to making a full transition between cash games and tournaments.
“One thing is that most cash games are played with no ante, so you’re just playing a much tighter game,” Brewer said. “So, one of the first things is you’ve got to loosen up. And then another big thing is the lack of ICM in cash games. Players who primarily play in cash games are often making big mistakes at final tables.”
By the time live tournament poker returned full bore in early 2021, Moreno was ready to hit the ground running.
“When I started playing more tournaments, I just found myself all day every day thinking about poker, consuming poker content, talking to other professionals about poker, thinking about poker while I was in the shower…”
“For me, the way I found the best way to improve is to really immerse myself in poker on a daily basis,” Moreno said. “So before, [with cash games], I would go and I would play, then I would go home and a session was a session. Maybe I’d read a few hands,” Moreno said. “When you’re learning something, I think it’s a little more exciting. You feel more like playing. And I started to have more of the kind of curiosity that brought me into poker and helped me move up in poker early on.
“When I started playing more tournaments, I just found myself all day every day thinking about poker, consuming poker content, talking to other professionals about poker, thinking about poker while I was in the shower,” Moreno continued. “When I was on a run and some spot would come into my head, I would think about how I could have played it differently or where maybe I saw a mistake. I think kind of having that more obsessive mindset for me was really instrumental in being able to perform well in these tournaments.”
Moreno started posting results shortly after returning to the physical felt. After a deep run and his first-ever WPT cash in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown that April, Moreno kicked off his summer by winning a $1,100 Venetian DeepStack event for $127,740. Less than two weeks later, he struck it even bigger with a prize more than 10 times the size.
In winning the $10,000 buy-in Wynn Millions event for $1,460,106, Moreno had delivered on all of his hopes and dreams at once. He had proven himself equal to the challenge of a major tournament field and was enjoying the fruits of his labor.
The timing of Moreno’s wins could not have been more fortuitous, either. Andrew and his wife, Kristy, were just weeks away from the birth of their son, Miles. It was so much of what they had both wanted in their lives for so long, and yet for a moment, it didn’t immediately feel like enough for him.
Therapy became an important part of the equation in Andrew’s life. With an additional support system that includes Kristy and Andrew’s brother, Johnnie (aka Johnnie Vibes) – both long-time fixtures in the poker world in their own right – there was a greater enjoyment and appreciation of everything that was happening to Andrew, and how he didn’t have to do anything alone.
“For me, my support system largely consists of my family, and my brother, his wife, my parents, and my wife and my son,” Moreno said. “I’m very vocal now about when things aren’t going well, or when I’m going through something with them. I let them know. And I think that’s been really good because when I was going through that downswing, I tended to keep everything inside. I [felt like I] didn’t need to concern other people with my pain, or my insecurities around poker. I didn’t want to put that on them.
“Then I did some therapy and realized I really needed to open up and let these things flow freely. So I think for me, having the support of those people and really knowing that I can share these things with them – that it’s not going to be too much for them, that they’re not going to hear it and be so worried that something bad might happen to me. It’s more of an awareness that those people in my life, I need to really lean on them and be vulnerable. And that is really huge for me because I do that a lot.”
It’s an equation that’s led to continued success for Moreno on the felt as well. He won another Venetian event for $242,293 in February, and locked up almost $500,000 more at the Wynn in June, with a second-place finish in a $3,500 event. Andrew even made the same final table as his brother Johnnie in a $2,500 Card Player Poker Tour event at Venetian in November.
Moreno feels happy with where he’s at, and he’s relishing the opportunity to invest in himself as he continues to grow as a tournament poker player.
“I think one big thing about tournaments, there’s an end, there’s a winner, there’s runners up, and many places along the way,” Moreno said. “When you play cash games for your whole career like I did, there’s not really an end – you come and go as you please. There’s always a game. I think when I was in that cash game mindset, I kind of got lost, for lack of a better way of saying it. I would go and I would play, but I didn’t really find a lot of meaning in individual sessions.
“With tournaments in particular, it was really nice to put in a lot of work, go on a journey emotionally and mentally,” Moreno continued. “Have an ending in mind and a goal and experience the highs and lows in a really intense way that I wasn’t used to with cash games.”
Moreno’s experienced a lot of success at the Wynn in particular over the last couple years, and it’s a big reason why he’s currently No. 9 overall in the Global Poker Index rankings.
But regardless of whether the next big score is days or months away, Moreno is satisfied that playing tournament poker is exactly where he’s supposed to be right now.
“To have the success come so quickly after that decision, it kind of felt like the universe telling me that this is what you were supposed to be doing from the beginning. And we’re happy you’re here. When I look at a lot of the success, I think a lot about trusting my gut – not just in the tournaments, but just to fight through this idea of what a tournament player and the life I thought they lived was, to see myself as someone that could create their own story.”