Jesse Lonis entered 2021 on the brink of a breakout, bookending the year with his first career World Poker Tour final table at the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open at Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood in January, and a deep run in the 2021 World Series of Poker Main Event in November.
It served as a launching pad for a prolific run in 2022.
So far this year, Lonis has logged 46 live tournament cashes, according to The Hendon Mob. That’s a live payout every 6.7 days, plus four additional $10K+ results Lonis recorded in WSOP online bracelet and ring events, including an online bracelet win in September. And when you factor in the tournaments Lonis didn’t cash in — even if there were only a few — he’s clearly been one of the busiest tournament pros in the world this year.
“I’m running good, and just playing at my top level right now. It’s really cool,” Lonis said. “And being at that sort of level, it’s something where you wake up every day being super excited to get out there and just play whatever you can get out there and play.”
Lonis has cashes in everything from $215 online tournaments to the $25,000 High Roller event at the 2022 World Series of Poker, and pretty much everything in between. He won a tournament on New Year’s Day, and logged results all over the United States. Lonis just missed his first career live WSOP bracelet with a second-place finish in the $1,000 No Limit Hold’em Super Turbo event in July, before winning his online bracelet.
“I think I finally came into my full, not potential, but a fuller understanding of tournament poker, and I’m grasping it better than ever right now,” Lonis said. “The last two months in particular have been really good, online and live. I joke with people at the table, because [sometimes they] feel like, ‘Man, you’re just winning everything you want. You’re so lucky.’
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, you know, I wake up every morning like I’m just gonna go get luckier than everybody today.’ I mess around with them [a little]. But I think it’s just been about putting the hard work that I put in, and the volume and just striving to be one of the best has really starting to pay off more and more lately.”
Lonis, a 27-year-old from Little Falls, NY, cleared $1.7 million in career tournament earnings this year, won almost exclusively over the last three years. He settled his family, including a newborn, in Las Vegas in 2021, and immediately got to work racking up tournament results.
While it rarely lacks for poker options, Las Vegas as a city is filled with transplants and tourists, which can make for a lonely experience for those new to town. But that hasn’t been Lonis’ Vegas experience, as he’s found community in poker — especially as he’s added more small-field $10,000-plus buy-ins to his tournament schedule.
“I feel like a lot of you become a group, almost like a family with a lot of these guys,” Lonis said. “You’re all reaching for the same goal, you’re all trying to feed your family at the end of the day. It’s our job, for a lot of us, and we take it very seriously, but at the end of the day we can all bounce off each other. When we’re low, we can talk, and they’re all there to lift you up.
“The more and more I get to play, the more and more I become cool with a lot of these big-name guys that I always looked up to on TV — guys who, when I was younger, I never thought I’d be buddy-buddy with and hanging out with them, and that’s been a really cool thing.”
As of late October, Lonis was holding his own among players like Chance Kornuth, Jeremy Ausmus, Alex Foxen and Stephen Chidwick, among others, at No. 20 in the Global Poker Index ratings – ahead of names like Erik Seidel, Darren Elias, Josh Arieh and Andrew Lichtenberger.
And after breaking through with more wins and deep runs, remaining competitive regardless of if it’s a larger field and a smaller buy-in or an elite composition and a bigger entry point, Lonis is excited to get out there almost every day and test himself.
“Most poker players can relate — we’re all very competitive people, and a lot of us come from sports backgrounds. When I’m making those runs, I get locked into a point where it’s like a basketball game or a football game where my adrenaline has me hyper-focused to the point where I’m just not going to make a mistake. You just feel like you’re so locked in, and there’s nothing like it when you get to the end.”
With the way things are trending in his career, Lonis couldn’t be blamed for seeking out each and every poker tournament under the sun. And while he’s eager to continue to pile onto his monumental list of results, family priorities will take precedence and largely keep Lonis in Las Vegas for most of that stretch.
“I have two tournaments I know I’m playing [in the next couple months] — the $10,000 WPT World Championship at the Wynn, and a $25K in the Bahamas,” Lonis said. “Having a young daughter, your life revolves around her and then you can schedule the poker tournaments around that.
“On top of all that, I’m probably one of the worst when it comes to scheduling and being prepared like that. I’m more of a last-minute guy, and everything else I play is just going to be playing it by ear — wake up, and if there’s a good tournament that day, I’m probably going to be there.”
Tournament poker can be grueling in the best of times. Hours upon hours spent in pursuit of a ballooning payout at the very top, with one misstep or moment of bad luck looming to end a day with little or nothing to show for it all.
It’s a big reason why poker players need to take extended breaks to recharge their batteries and mentally refocus themselves. But sometimes, when you’re locked in and the cards are falling the right way, it’s hard to resist any opportunity to keep a good run going — and while it’s good, Lonis intends to keep riding the wave.