Kyle Kitagawa is finding his footing. The West Coast pro, perhaps better known on social media as ‘Cali Kidddd’, is an up-and-coming poker content creator, and just before the start of WPT Rolling Thunder he’s standing in the center of an empty Thunder Valley tournament room trying to stick the landing on the opening to his latest vlog.
It takes a couple of stop-and-starts, a few abandoned “what’s up guys?”, but Kitagawa is persistent, and in no time the intro is complete and he’s minutes into the hours-long journey into creating his next video.
Kitagawa’s a relative newcomer to the poker content game with his burgeoning vlog having only been around for roughly six months. But the highlights of his poker career go back much further. A live grinder with results dating back to 2014, Kitagawa racked up modest results early in his years that included some five-figure scores and consistent deep runs.
But everything changed in November 2019. Kitagawa, who is from Sacramento and calls Thunder Valley his home casino, tackled the 356-entry field of the WPT Deepstacks Thunder Valley Main Event for a career-high score of more than $106,000 and his first major title.
Within months, however, the COVID pandemic hit and Kitagawa was unable to ride that live momentum. That’s part of the reason why, in the post-pandemic poker world, Kitagawa has now doubled down on his poker grind – and, as of last year, he added to that by diving head-first into the world of poker vlogs.
“I’ve been on social media, primarily on Instagram, for several years and I’ve built up a following that way,” Kitagawa said. “But I’ve always kind of wanted to do a vlog. I guess I just procrastinated on starting it. So last year I just said screw it. I’m just going to do it and see what kind of content I get and if I can kind of piece it together into a story. Everything I do is one hundred percent edited and done by myself.”
It’s one thing to have launched a poker vlog back in 2018, when the concept was new and there were fewer videos to consume. It’s 2023 and the poker content game is crowded and challenging. But Kitagawa is persistent and has been grinding out new videos as fast as he can, putting his poker adventures on display despite the heavy workload and challenges that come with it.
“When I’m on a downswing, I’ve still got something to look forward to…producing content.”
“I already knew before I started that it would take a lot of time. I’ve done a little bit of editing just for fun, like Reels on Instagram. I know that it takes up a lot of time, so that was one thing. Then, the other [challenge] was just whether or not people would actually find my stuff entertaining and if I would just burn out from it.
“So far, I think it’s really benefitted my play and overall happiness, because it’s a new skill set that I’m learning how to do and it keeps the poker grind entertaining. When I’m on a downswing, I’ve still got something to look forward to, producing content. I’ve also been able to review my hands better.”
In addition to kicking off his vlog last year, Kitagawa notes that 2022 was the year he also made strides as a poker pro. He went all out, playing as many live tournaments as he could and learning the lessons that a full schedule can teach a young pro. His results from last year, including some deep runs in World Series of Poker and WSOP Circuit events, paint the picture of a player who routinely has put himself in a position to win, but just narrowly missed out on a breakthrough score.
Kitagawa is honest with himself about where he’s at. And like any good pro, ‘Cali Kidddd’ is making the adjustments he needs to get back to his championship form. That includes keeping it close to home in 2023, being more selective in the events he opts to play in, and continuing to lean into his commitment to content creation.
“So far this year, I’m kind of just breaking even. I’ve had one or two deep runs, and a lot of complete whiffs. But one of the major changes that I’m looking to accomplish this year compared to last year is last year I focused on a lot of volume and just tried to play as many live events as I could. Honestly, it didn’t go too well for me. It wasn’t really a good year, and I just felt burnt out for most of the year. So this year, my focus is to play the events that I really want to play, just to make sure I’m enjoying it and having fun.”