The World Poker Tour closed out the 2016 calendar year with a bang, setting a field-size record with the Season XV WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic Main Event. At 791 entries, it was the event’s largest field size ever. The tournament also tied the record for largest $10,000 buy-in event in WPT history.
In addition to the $10,400 Main Event, the Season XV WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic featured two $25,000 high roller events, with combined prize pools of more than $2.5 million between them. The first one, the Season XV WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic $25,000 High Roller I, was won by Jason Koon for an impressive $412,800, but it was Koon’s second-place result the following day that really allowed him to steal the headlines from these two tournaments.
In the Season XV WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic $25,000 High Roller II at Bellagio in Las Vegas, Koon took second to Ankush Mandavia for $333,747, putting his two-day haul at just shy of $750,000.
“It’s one of those moments when you just laugh at the volatility of poker tournaments,” Koon said of his two high roller performances. “It’s great to put up a big results, and when it’s on the plus side you tend to just think you’re the best player in the world when that’s not necessarily true. I’m sure I ran really well over those couple of days.”
Although Koon was humble with his success by citing that he likely “ran really well,” he’s viewed by many as a player who puts large amounts of time and effort into his game, both on and off the felt. It’s his hard work that Koon recognized as the reason he’s able to compete against the tough competition the high roller events offer.
“I felt like the work I’ve been putting in lately worked out nicely,” Koon said. “The best places to test out your work are against the best opponents in those high rollers, because even though there are a couple recreational players that play them, generally when you’re playing at the end you’re playing against the best players in the world, so it feeds that competitive need we all have as poker players. It’s good to test your skills against the best players.”
In a career that has live tournament cashes dating back to 2008, Koon has now won nearly $6.5 million after his two Season XV WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic results. In 2016 alone, a year in which he was already having his best ever on the live felt, Koon was won $2.89 million. That’s right about double his previous best year in 2013.
So what’s Koon doing anything differently?
First, he mentioned his girlfriend, with whom he’s entering his second year being together with.
“I can’t say that it’s just luck or coincidence that I’m lighting it up having somebody who is there to support me,” Koon said. “We have similar interests, and she motivates me to stay in shape and eat clean, and she helps me if I’m running short on time with making sure I get all the nutrients and rest that I need.”
Beyond that, Koon’s looking to find as much value as he can in poker these days.
“I’ve been doing a lot of specialized work this year, and I’ve been looking for the value in poker since it’s harder and harder to come across,” said Koon. “I’ve just kind of decided to put my ego aside, and say, ‘Hey, how can I make the most money, and what can I do to become a better poker player?’ I’m just putting a ton of time into just figuring out the game and specific intricate elements of the game that I don’t think a lot of people are aware to work on. I think that that’s helped me a lot, because I’m not just trying to focus on being good at tournaments, but rather focus on being good at every challenge that a tournament brings up. I’ve just been a lot more specialized with my focus on my work this year, and I think that’s it coming together.”
As it has been each of the 15 seasons it’s been a part of the World Poker Tour, the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic was held at Bellagio in Las Vegas. Koon’s success this year at the event can be highlighted, but it’s not the first time he’s put up a big result at the iconic venue.
In 2010, Koon took fourth in the Season IX WPT Festa al Lago Championship for $225,680, and he has other scores at Bellagio that include prizes of $514,080 and $316,000.
“There’s something magical about being in Bellagio, and it’s definitely one of my favorite casinos,” Koon said of Bellagio. “Playing anywhere in Vegas is just a treat. I absolutely love being in Las Vegas. It’s a healthy place, and you can wake up and the weather is always good that you can go for a hike or you have a lot of accessibility to gyms and good and that stuff. Overall, I do love Bellagio and I love being in Las Vegas.”
Despite the success in the two Season XV WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic high roller events, Koon fell short in the $10,400 Main Event and is still in search of his first WPT title.
“I love the World Poker Tour,” said Koon. “It was something that got me fascinated with poker in the beginning. Watching the early stars like Gus Hansen, Antonio Esfandiari, Isaac Haxton, and others was so much fun. I have so much respect for people on the tour. I’m a huge fan of Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten, and I’m friends with the camera crew and the rest of the staff because I’ve just known everyone for so long. Whenever I show up to play a WPT event, there’s something really special about just getting to catch up with everyone.”
In his career, Koon has nine cashes in WPT Main Tour events. The previously mentioned fourth-place finish in the Season IX WPT Festa al Lago Championship is Koon’s only WPT final table to date, but it’s more just a matter of time before he breaks through, and he understands that.
“I’ve been there deep and knocking on the door several times in WPT events, and I know the expressions I’m used to seeing on all of the familiar faces of people that are there,” Koon said. “You can tell people want me to give ‘em a show and win the tournament. Just for that reason alone I would love to hold up the WPT Champions Cup and say, ‘Hey guys, we finally did it!’ Titles are going to come. As long as I keep playing I feel it’s inevitable I’m going to win some, and hopefully I get to take down a WPT title. I would absolutely love to get to win a WPT title.”
Of note, he also took fourth in the Season I WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts event for $298,760, an event that comes with a pricey buy-in of $100,000.
As for 2016, Koon closed it out with a bang, two of them, at the Season XV WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic, but his first WPT title will have wait until at least 2017. That’s when Season XV of the World Poker Tour will continue, with first up being the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open at Borgata in Atlantic City.
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