Jonathan “JonnyCosmo” McGowan’s didn’t look like much a few years ago. The 22 year old journalism major was just plodding along at San Diego State University, and was only showing gradual improvement at his poker hobby as well. But with the help of fellow poker playing friends and hard work McGowan has catapulted into poker success and a tough opponent at midstakes cash games. With poker winnings this year that double his prospective entry level salary as a journalist, it looks like it’s going to be a promising year for the future pro. Hopefully, more stacks of Benjamins like this one he brought to the Wynn Classic.
DS: So tell me your poker story.
Jonathan McGowan: I started playing poker with friends in high school, little $10 home games, where we’d play 10 cent 20 cent blinds. I got instantly hooked, since I love these mind games and I was a huge Starcraft player before. In 2004 I began online poker on a small website called Bugsy’s Club. They held $50 prize pool freeroll tourneys every hour and so I started out playing those to try and build a bankroll.
Jonathan McGowan: From there I cashed in a few of those freerolls and had a couple dollers online so I grinded $1 and $2 sit n gos and 5c/10c cash games to start. Got a decent size bankroll by mid-2005 and started moving up, and put money onto other websites. Most of it went onto Party Poker before it closed.
DS: Wow, pretty sick.
Jonathan McGowan: Yea, I’ve never deposited a cent into online poker. 1000000% ROI for the win! When party poker shut down I was playing NL100, and decided to move over to PokerStars where I continued to play NL100 for a solid 7-8 months. then moved up to NL200 at the middle of 2006, then moved up to NL400 beginging of 2007, but had to move back down by the summer since I cashed out a lot for WSOP + downswing. Got back up to NL400 in september, and now I’m still grinding NL400 & NL600 with a few shots at NL1000. Mainly I play on Pokerstars, but I have bankrolls on FTP, UB, and AP as well.
DS: Would you say your improvement in poker was gradual or did it come in spurts?
Jonathan McGowan: Very gradual. A big part of it probably has to do with the fact that I don’t do well playing after 2 hours straight online, so I’m not really able to play marathon sessions. I don’t really have much freetime to begin with to do marathon sessions thou so I guess that doesn’t matter much. And I’m a nit with bankroll management, like super nit.
DS: So does poker to you feel like an obsession or just a hobby?
Jonathan McGowan: It started as a hobby, but is becoming more of an obsession.
DS: Did your slow and gradual improvement at poker frustrate you at all?
Jonathan McGowan: Yeah, it became very frustrating at times. It amazes me at how many people are actually capable of playing this game for such a long period of time. When you are running bad, it’s very hard to keep an objective mind set about things. I guess same can be said when you’re running like god too.
DS: How confident are you about your poker game now as compared to a year ago?
Jonathan McGowan: I was like in 4th grade last year, and compared to that I feel like a college grad, when realistically I’m probably just entering college.
DS: What changed?
Jonathan McGowan: I met Lyric (High stakes cash game regular). Watching him play made me realize a lot about what I was doing wrong compared to what he was doing. Plus he was nice enough to introduce me to a bunch of other good players. I guess, a bunch of my friends got a lot better too so we all helped each other get better. I’d tell him about hands, and he’d actually tell me how I my thinking was off. That helped a lot. But I mostly learned from what I saw him do and talking to other players online.
DS: You do some coaching with low stakes players. What do you find is a common leak among them and what is some advice that seems to apply to everyone you coach?
Jonathan McGowan: Well I offered coaching services a while ago, and then I realized ‘omg i’m too fuckin lazy to do these lessons’ plus at that time I was making more than what I was asking for the lessons so I decided not to do them anymore. But obviously the biggest leak I find with low stakes players is there misunderstanding of position. When you hear “position is important” most people are like “oh yeah I know that” but I don’t think they really understand how important it really is. When you hear “position is important” most people are like “oh yeah I know that” but I don’t think they really understand how important it really is.
DS: Why is position important?
Jonathan McGowan: Because if you’re playing correctly and are good at reading hands, you can often get yourself in a spot where your opponent is forced to play their hand face-up, and that’s where the real fun begins… where you can feel out whether or not you need to get away from a big hand or turn a marginal hand into a bluff or just make a complete bluff or how to make funky bet sizes to value town the shit out of your opponent. There is all sorts of fun you can do in position. And when the stacks get deeper, it becomes easier and easier to totally pwn people in position.
DS: You recently won an event at the Wynn Classic for about $100,000 (Although you were staked, sad face). Tell us the story about that tournament.
Jonathan McGowan: I’ve told the story a bunch. I basically ran like god. At the table there were 174 players in the tournament, of which, MAYBE there were 15 good players and 15 others somewhat competent players and everyone else were complete morons like the kind you would find playing $4 180man sit n go’s on Poker Stars. Once I sucked out to get a huge chip lead, it was all over because there was 1 good player at my final table and he was too crippled to do anything, and the other competent player to my left who was playing totally fine all day 1 decides to blow-up and overjam AQo with no fold equity versus some donk. So after they were gone, it was like… ez ship. Got half of first for $48,500.
DS: What advice would you give to people who are playing big buy in live tournaments for the first time?
Jonathan McGowan: Have a lot of patience. Buy an ipod, make a playlist of 150+ of your favorite tracks, keep your headphones on and get in the zone. Ignore the donk who’s trying to tell you about his horrible bad beat 4 days ago when he ran AA into KK and the guy spiked his K, or the old guy who gets angry at your and takes it personally when you steal his big blind every orbit. Just use your head, because not many people do, and it’s will give you a HUGE edge to just think when you play a hand.
DS: Regarding your poker game, how would you say your playing style differs from your opponents online, and what gives you trouble?
Jonathan McGowan: Obviously the hardest opponents to play against online are the ones that are relentlessly aggressive. Probably the type of player I have the most trouble against are the ones that I try to abuse, and continue not to adjust. Because for some reason, I always want to think that they are going to be playing back at me because I’ve been so aggressive to them when in reality they are stupid nut peddling nits who aren’t adjusting, so I end up paying off those kind of players too much. Although I’m definitely working on this part of my game. I just tend to think that everyone has a breaking point, but have difficulty gauging where that breaking point is vs some people.
DS: You play a good mix of live and online. What are the main differences between the two and how do you change your strategy based on that?
Jonathan McGowan: Everyone sucks live. Even some good online players suck playing live. It’s really weird. The biggest difference is that the preflop action is far more passive live than it is online. Almost no one 4 bet bluffs, and only the good regulars are the ones 3 betting at all. Everyone else just wants to see a flop and go from there. Also, almost all the live games are 9 handed, so adjusting from 6-max is somewhat difficult but I’m sure not nearly as tough as a full ring player going to 6 max. With that said, I’m a lot more patient when playing live, mainly because not many people have that kind of self control.
DS: Are you happy about what you’ve achieved so far in your poker career?
Jonathan McGowan: Yeah, although I regret not being more serious about it earlier when the games were easy and we could all play on party poker and hold 15+ptbb/100 winrates while 10 tabling. I’m content right now.
DS: So you’re thinking of dropping out of school and playing poker for awhile?
Jonathan McGowan: Yeah, the big issue with me and school right now is that I am a Communication major w/ emphasis on journalism. A starting job coming out of SDSU as a journalist is $30k/yr. I more than doubled that last year, and have already doubled that this year and it’s only March. If I can’t get my major changed to something else I might just take another break off of school. I’ve also never been much of a “stellar” student anyways, basically did enough studying to get by. School isn’t really my thing.
DS: So if you do drop out, what’s your outlook as a poker professional?
Jonathan McGowan: Well it’s comforting to know that I am not a total degenerate like some of my friends. I’m pretty much the last person I expect to go busto out of everyone around me. As for yearly earnings or expectations, I don’t really like to set goals, although I am very confident I can make more than 30k/yr so fuck my journalism career. I just have to make sure I stay motivated and log in enough hours every month. I think in the future I’m going to be concentrating a lot more on playing live because that really is where all the dead money seems to be. I’m going to Bellagio Cup in April and WSOP in the summer, and plan to make trips to these big events more frequently.
DS: Alright, well I’m sure everyone at FTR wishes you luck in the future, thanks for the interview!
Jonathan McGowan: No problem.