Longtime poker standout John Monnette won the World Series of Poker $10,000 limit hold’em championship in early October. It was the California native’s fourth career bracelet and his 17th final-table appearance at the series overall.
But this win felt different for the 39-year-old high-stakes pro. It was the first time he won one of poker’s most prestigious titles as a father. And unlike his first three WSOP victories, this one was more of a team effort.
Monnette topped the 92-entry field for $245,680 and defeated FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver heads-up to secure the title. As soon as the final card hit the felt, and the bracelet was officially his, Monnette was met with a warm embrace from his wife Diana, who he credited with being a huge part of his milestone victory.
“I told her that I couldn’t have done this without her,” said Monnette. “She knew what I needed. She’s been so supportive and then even gave more when I asked it of her. I can’t thank her enough for that.”
Diana is no stranger to the poker world herself and is well-suited to living the poker life. The Oregon native spent years working in poker media, including for the Card Player Poker Tour, and currently acts as the social media manager for PokerGO.
The two have been married for five years, but this was the first WSOP Monnette competed in as a father. And with the COVID-induced layoff of more than two years, he became a father to not one, but two children. His daughter, Willa, was born just a few months after the 2019 series concluded, and his son, Jay, entered the world earlier this year.
The shutdowns centered around the virus in 2020 caused many poker players a lot of pain, but Monnette found himself in a situation where he could take advantage of the time away from the felt and spend time with his new family.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be in the spot that I’m in to take time off work during COVID and just basically stay at home,” he said. “At first my daughter, and then eventually both of my kids.”
The mixed games crusher found himself taking on a new role. Instead of focusing on making the most optimal decision in a nosebleed-stakes cash game in Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio, he was making sure that mouths were fed, and diapers were changed.
“I needed to be a dad and a husband, and that’s what I did for most of COVID. And it was awesome,” Monnette admitted. “Spending time with Willa in the beginning of shutdown was really fun. She was just learning to crawl and eat and all that stuff. We would just go to the park, and it was amazing… It was good in a way because it was time that I got to spend with my daughter that I wouldn’t have had if I was focusing more on my career.”
Aside from his family responsibilities, Monnette used the down time to work on himself as well. He began exercising more often, eating healthier, and getting through some books he wanted to read for some time, all in an effort to further shed his “angry” nickname.
It’s not a moniker that Monnette particularly enjoys, but one that stuck after spending his early years at the tables earning a reputation for a salty attitude. But as Daniel Negreanu pointed out on his vlog, if John was angry, it was usually for a good reason.
“[Not to sound] cliché, but I didn’t want to be so angry,” he said. “I just wanted to be calmer in life and realize that things that used to upset me so much like a stupid mistake by a dealer or a bad play or whatever… I was just really trying to not let that stuff bother me because I’m at home trying to be a dad and I can’t be like that around the kids. I have to be better. They deserve better than that.”
Eventually, the world started to return to some semblance of normalcy. Poker rooms in Las Vegas started reopening and Monnette needed to start clocking into work again.
“Once I got vaccinated, I started to play a little bit back at Bellagio,” said Monnette. “We were playing some mix and it was a little smaller than I normally played, but it was a good limit with a good group of guys that I like to play with. I wasn’t playing my best. I was definitely tired, and it was hard for me to adjust.”
Monnette’s newfound duties as a father didn’t exactly mesh with the lifestyle of a high-stakes poker pro. Or at least the sleep schedule didn’t.
“I was used to waking up with my son at like 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning, which for a poker player isn’t normal,” said Monnette. “I would get to the Bellagio at 2 p.m. to start the game and then by 9 p.m., I would just be exhausted. I was used to going to bed at 10 p.m. So, I would play late, get stuck, and it was just hard adjusting back to those hours. Even my brain wasn’t functioning as it should be because I had real responsibilities. Before, I would be at the poker table and would just be super focused because that’s what I was there to do. Now, I’ve got a million other things on my mind.”
With the high-stakes action that comes with the WSOP, he knew that playing with that level of attentiveness would come at a heavy cost.
The entire poker world has public knowledge of the tournament action, but what doesn’t usually get reported are the cash games that break out alongside them. For Monnette, who has been a regular in Bobby’s Room at Bellagio for more than a decade, those games are often worth much more than any tournament he could win.
“Before the pandemic, we were playing $2,000-$4,000 limit,” he said. “And in the big bet no-limit games, we had a $40,000 cap. There were times when certain players would come to town, we would play $2,500-$5,000 or $3,000-$6,000 with a $150,000 cap and that game played really big.”
Monnette earned nearly $250,000 for his fourth bracelet. Despite more than $3 million in live tournament earnings, his career-best tournament score remains just shy of $280,000. If the right guys were in town, the profits of a single win could be erased just from losing two hands during a big-bet round at Bellagio.
“There are times where first prize can’t even get me unstuck from the night before,” admitted Monnette. “But it’s also just like a challenge to me. I just tell myself that I’m going to play good poker no matter what the situation.”
At least when it’s a tournament that has a five-figure buy-in, the stakes can be somewhat comparable to what Monnette could win in some of the smaller cash games he would frequent. But with tournament buy-ins varying so greatly throughout the series, sometimes Monnette will find himself involved in an event where the buy-in wouldn’t even cover a small bet in his normal game.
“A couple years ago I busted the $50,000 Poker Players Championship and I was really disappointed,” said Monnette. “There was a tournament running that afternoon and I jumped in it. A $1,000 no-limit hold’em. I played the best I could and ended up getting fifth. I definitely had an opportunity to win it, too. I got it in good five-handed for most of the chips and if I won the pot, I would’ve been a favorite to win. But I got fifth, and it was for $47,000. It didn’t even cover the buy-in from the previous tournament. But I didn’t care. I just went in there to do my best.”
It’s an attitude that has served him well at the WSOP, which makes up nearly 85 percent of his lifetime tournament earnings.
With so much on the line, John and Diana worked out a schedule that could work for the entire family.
“She was supportive of that,” he said. “Her mom came to town to help out with the kids and Diana really stepped up. She’s taking care of the kids, working, doing everything, and she wasn’t putting any pressure on me. I’m not waking up as early, I’m sleeping well, and I’ve been really focused on playing. I immediately felt different in my play and my mentality.”
While Diana was picking up some extra slack, John didn’t completely relieve himself of fatherly responsibilities. In fact, he decided to hold off on registering for the limit hold’em championship until he spent some quality time with his family.
Monnette was “frustrated” after bubbling a couple of tournaments and decided to fly out to Los Angeles to watch the Dodgers Wild Card game with a few close friends from back home. He flew back home the next day, which was also the first day of the tournament.
“I got back to town, and I could’ve went straight to the Rio to play,” said Monnette. “But I didn’t want to. I went home, hung out with my family, and took my daughter to the park.”
He traded the first 10 levels of the event for quality time with his family and registered as late as possible.
“We had dinner as a family and I put the kids to sleep,” he said. “It was just a normal day and it felt good. And then I registered the tournament. To win after that was pretty cool because [it confirmed to me] that it was a good decision. The best decision was to take the day off and relax a little bit and spend time with my kids. Even though I registered late and came in short [stacked], I played well and had a couple hands go my way. Pretty soon, I was in the money, then at the final table, and then it happened.”
The final table was streamed on PokerGO and the extra rest allowed Monnette to show off his skills in front of the camera. It was the first of his four bracelets that his friends and family were able to watch live from home. Monnette admitted that there was likely extra social media buzz around the event because he defeated Silver, a noted political analyst, heads-up, but still really enjoyed what is a unique experience for mixed game players.
“It was cool for my friends and family to watch me play,” he said. “And the announcers were very complimentary about my play. I never really cared about that stuff, but after winning one on PokerGO, it was cool to have my friends tell me that it was ‘the best sporting event they watched all year.’ They were sitting at home streaming it on their big screen.”
With his most recent bracelet in limit hold’em, Monnette now has a bracelet in four different poker disciplines. He scored his first bracelet in 2011 in the $2,500 eight-game mix, earned a second the following year in the $5,000 seven card stud, and won his third in the $10,000 no-limit 2-7 single draw championship back in 2017.
He also has two runner-up finishes in smaller buy-in no-limit 2-7 single draw events. In 2009, Monnette made his first WSOP final table in the $2,500 version of the game. He ended up heads-up with none other than Phil Ivey for what would’ve been his first WSOP title, but instead, it became Ivey’s sixth.
“We played two huge pots and he won both of them,” said Monnette about his first heads-up match. “He made a seven both times… It was fun playing, but it was disappointing [to fall short of winning the bracelet].”
Now, he has four. In terms of mixed game tournaments, there isn’t much left for Monnette to accomplish. In fact, there’s only one proverbial monkey he is looking to get off his back.
“Yes, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship,” said Monnette when asked if there was a specific tournament he wanted to win. “I don’t know why, but I’ve played that tournament 10 or 12 times and I’ve never even cashed the damn thing. And it’s just something that haunts me.”
It’s the one event on the tournament schedule that gets all of the high-stakes pros out of Bobby’s Room and to the Rio.
“That is the tournament that all the best players are showing up for,” said Monnette. “They might not be the best tournament players, but just on a pure poker level or a cash game level, they are the best. That’s what makes the $50K special. When you play a $10K now, the best tournament players are showing up, but the best cash game players aren’t. It’s just not worth it. It’s just not worth taking three days off when first place is going to be $250,000. I love the competition of the $50K and the side bets and different things like that.”
It was more of the same for Monnette in the 2021 event. He made it to day 3 but busted well short of the money. And while he’ll get another shot at his white whale in 2022, even if he falls short, he’ll still have his smiling children and wife to go home to. And that’s nothing to be angry about.
Monnette’s WSOP Final Tables
|June 2011||Eight-Game Mix||$2,500||1st||$278,144|
|June 2017||No-Limit 2-7 Single Draw||$10,000||1st||$256,610|
|Oct. 2021||Limit Hold’em||$10,000||1st||$245,680|
|June 2012||Seven Card Stud||$5,000||1st||$190,826|
|June 2016||Dealers Choice||$10,000||3rd||$135,061|
|June 2012||Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better||$5,000||3rd||$109,444|
|June 2009||Omaha Eight-or-Better||$10,000||5th||$97,422|
|July 2016||Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better||$1,500||3rd||$66,601|
|Sept. 2012||WSOP Europe NLH Shootout||E5,000||3rd||$62,845|
|June 2009||No-Limit 2-7 Single Draw||$2,500||2nd||$59,587|
|June 2016||No-Limit 2-7 Single Draw||$1,500||2nd||$57,061|
|July 2017||Seven Card Stud||$10,000||5th||$53,621|
|July 2017||No-Limit Hold’em||$1,000||6th||$46,758|
|June 2014||Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better||$10,000||8th||$41,277|
|June 2014||No-Limit 2-7 Single Draw||$10,000||6th||$35,549|
|June 2013||Omaha Eight-or-Better||$1,500||7th||$32,798|
|June 2016||Seven Card Stud||$1,500||7th||$11,878|