Josh Mancuso: The Best New Orleans Poker Player

Mancuso with poker chips
Photo Source: The Hendon Mob

With total live earnings of over a million dollars, American poker player Joshua Mancuso is not an opponent to be sniffed at. He made waves in the poker world with his big win at the main event of the Borgota Winter Poker Open in 2012, but it must be said that it’s been a while since he saw that kind of success.

Mancuso is a native (and current resident) of Mandeville, Louisiana, a state where he currently ranks seventh on the all time money list. It was while he was at college that poker really sank its teeth into him. Studying at Louisiana State University, he was on a trajectory to become a lawyer, but poker had other plans for him. He began playing both online in the Full Tilt and Poker Stars rooms and in person at Baton Rouge’s Belle Casino as well as Harrahs in New Orleans.

Graduation was creeping closer, and while practising law is no poor way to make a living in the United States, poker was looking like an increasingly viable alternative. It was a $38,000 win in an online tournament that tipped him over the edge, pushing Mancuso to realise that he had enough talent to make as strong a living as a professional poker player as he did with an entry level position at a law firm. He decided to take the plunge, making the shift to full-time player and leaving his plans to enter law behind.

From there Mancuso began paying his dues in a serious way, racking up hundreds of hours playing online and beginning his journey to the annals of poker success stories in earnest.

The first serious proof that he was on the right track came in October 2008 when he showed he had the mettle to beat out some 3,000 other players in a Full Tilt tournament that saw him walking away with an impressive $132,000. With that win behind him, Mancuso decided it was time to enter the big leagues.

Mancuso strode into the live arena alongside the biggest players in the game, entering the main event at the World Series of Poker in both 2009 and 2010. He didn’t make any headlines, but with a $10,000 buy-in Mancuso showed that he meant business when it came to his poker career and intended to sit at the table alongside poker’s most accomplished players.

Still, online poker was making up a significant amount of Mancuso’s play and storm clouds were building on the horizon. When the fabled ‘Black Friday’ event hit Mancuso’s course in the world of poker was changed forever.

For those who don’t know it, Black Friday saw US lawmakers swoop down on a number of poker’s biggest online operators, effectively taking out American online poker rooms in a single decisive move. It proved to be the making of Mancuso.

Many of Mancuso’s peers, seeing their online poker careers move away from them, opted to relocate outside of the USA to regions where they could continue to ply their trade online. Not Mancuso. He chose, instead, to double down on the live game. He made the shift from spending hundreds of hours online to playing anywhere from 30 to 50 hours at Harrah’s, his stomping ground as an undergraduate.

Mancuso’s friend and fellow poker player Chad Grace would later say that this move was a key turning point for Mancuso. It forced him, for the better, to improve his live game and bring together that online background, his intelligence and his aptitude for number crunching into a single live package that was shored up by his icy cool self discipline.

Another friend and poker player, Dan Buzgon, characterises Mancuso’s play as ‘emotionless’. Unswayed by the winds of chance, Mancuso plays his hand the same whether he’s streaking ahead or whether his entire pot is on the line.

All these factors came into play at the Borgata Winter Open in 2012, where Mancuso beat out the likes of Jeffrey Papola, Marc Goldman, Nicholas Manfredo, Christian Iacobellis and Samuel Bernstein to take home the lion’s share of the prize pot.

It’s easy, with hindsight, to see that win as an inevitability. It wasn’t. A day into the tournament Mancuso was eliminated. He was staring down the barrel of a tough choice – hop on the next flight home or stump up the not inconsiderable $3,500 he would need to get back in the game. His decision was not a given, and it took some calls to friends before he called it, but ultimately the allure of a $500,000 prize pot won out.

Mancuso rejoined 700 other players at the tables and began an epic five day journey that would take him to the final hand.

On the final day, a grueling eight hours of play reduced the field to just Mancuso and Jeff Papola, a seasoned veteran of the poker circuit with 131 tournament cashes under his belt and a World Series of Poker bracelet on his wrist.

The hand that did it was two kinds, beating out Papola’s sixes to give Mancuso a $542,000 beast of a pot and cement his name as a player of note. Mancuso’s reserve was on display even in the heat of victory, when celebrated with a demure fist bump given to Buzgon.

That cool is at the core of Mancuso’s game. While he says that in order to win it’s necessary to live and breathe poker, he approaches every game with a calm, analytical mindset that he says is more in line with that of a stock broker than a gambler. He notes that calculating the odds is crucial, and says that there’s a greater level of skill involved than many people acknowledge.

It’s been eight years since Mancuso first made his name, however, and he’s yet to top that cash out. Many players in his position might be wondering if their best days are behind them, but you can bet that Mancuso isn’t sweating it too much and is, instead, approaching his career with the same cool he brings to every hand he plays.

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