The Pro’s Pro with Joseph Hebda

Joseph Hebda relocated to Canada after Black Friday

The Pro’s Pro appears in each issue of BLUFF Magazine and is also featured on In it, we look at the lives and careers of some of the most successful tournament pros traveling the circuit today. This edition takes a look at Joseph Hebda, who is one of the many American players that relocated to Canada to resume playing online.

Hebda has been a regular on the World Series of Poker Circuit, playing mostly across the Midwest. He’s an Indiana native and his largest live cash to date is 6th place finish at the 2011 WSOPC Hammond Main Event. After graduating from Indiana University, Hebda found himself working a mundane job and found himself looking to “Rounders” for inspiration.

BLUFF: Fill us in on your life before you found poker, was there a “Eureka” moment when you realized you could make poker a profession? Was your family supportive?

Joseph Hebda: I started playing during the “Rounders” boom, however, I was playing card games at a very young age. My family played cribbage and I was able to pick it up by watching my dad and uncle play together.

When I told my family this was something I was going to do for a living, it didn’t go over so well. My dad and sister are both pharmacists, my mom’s a nurse and my brother is a business consultant – very traditional careers. Telling them I was going to gamble for a living wasn’t taken in the best light. My parents are very supportive people and it took some convincing to get them to come around. After a year or so they realized this is what I love to do and whatever made me happy they supported.

What came first for you, online poker or live poker?

I started playing after the Moneymaker boom, playing with friends on weekends, and eventually started to grind $1-$2 at Majestic Star in Gary, Indiana. In college I started grinding on PokerStars and PartyPoker during the Neteller days. Back then, I was playing but my game was so full of leaks I was surprised I turned a profit. The caliber of play was so bad back then with a lot of passive play. The game has evolved ten-fold since then.

Before we get into your move, take me through the time immediately following Black Friday.

Black Friday hit our house especially hard, as a whole we had over six figures tied up on UB. That morning I received a call from my friend Andrew “Pokerchump87″ Rothfolk, he knows knot to call me before noon and he was blowing up my phone at seven a.m. that morning. I had recently put up some decent scores of UB and Full Tilt the month prior and was nauseous when I read the DOJ prompter.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do in the weeks following Black Friday. I mulled over the idea of getting a “real job,” however, the nine-to-five grind wasn’t the ideal fit for me. I had also been out of the work force for almost four years.

I received an offer from Ari Engel to move to Canada but wasn’t quite ready to make the move. I came to the conclusion that i needed to start grinding the live circuit.

What changed your mind to pick up your life and move to Canda?

Travel and life on the road can be expensive and variance can be high on the live grind due to higher buy ins, rake and overhead. Playing just one tournament for two days can be very stressful – the sample size just isn’t there. After a full year on the circuit I wanted to be more stationary, I needed online play back in my life. I was my happiest when I had a balance of 85% online and 15% live play. I would travel when I needed breaks from online and it would be more like a vacation than actual work. This tended to yield my best results.

Has the move been what you expected?

The transition has been great. Ari (Engel) asked if I wanted to move again and I knew saying no for a second time would be a huge mistake. I’m playing on more sites now than I was prior to Black Friday. I’m truly grateful to have the opportunity to play online again; many of my friends back in the states have reverted to getting “real jobs” and most don’t have the luxury to move with families, kids and other situations that keep them home.

How do you keep your personal life balanced with so many aspects of your life dedicated to the game?

Since Black Friday it hasn’t been easy. I have been trying to make the most of the time I do have with my family and I recently became an uncle. My previous travel schedule and the move to Canada has taken a toll on some of my relationships. This is something that I am still struggling to balance.

The main thing is to not let this game take control of every aspect of your life. You have to be able to enjoy the little things in life, whether it’s going to see a White Sox game, or even just sitting around and grabbing a beer with friends. It’s a must to have other activities going on outside poker.

I’d also like to mention Red Corner Benefit. It’s a charity started by Kevin McColgan and it raises money for a child diagnosed with cancer every summer. We need more people like Kevin in the poker community. 

How do feel about the future of poker as a professionin the next couple years versus how you felt when you got into the game?

When I first got into the game poker was booming. There was dead money everywhere, including myself at the time. The game has evolved so much over the years and information is more prevalent online now more than ever. The game has gotten tougher of the years and you must adapt along the the changing trends. I don’t feel I’ll do this forever, this is a stepping stone for bigger and better things.

What does your 2013 poker schedule look like?

I plan on going to visit Tony “the Ute” Utenage in Rosarito, Mexico for a few weeks in January for some vacation and warm weather grinding. I plan on playing the Chicago Poker Classic, WSOPC West Palm Beach and the WSOP in Vegas. That’s all I have planned for the moment but I’m sure I’ll hit some more stops.


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Paul Oresteen

Senior Writer: Paul Oresteen originally joined BLUFF in 2008 as an intern. He covered two World Series of Poker’s before leaving to join After a two year hiatus Oresteen returned to BLUFF in November 2012. Since starting as a poker journalist Oresteen has covered the World Series of Poker, WSOP Circuit, World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour. He graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. in Communications in 2008.
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