There are certain truths that we accept about today's young professional poker player. They play hold 'em, usually of the no-limit variety. Sure, they'll mix it up with Omaha on occasion, but hold 'em is their bread and butter. They've spent the majority of their table time online. They travel in packs and chatter about hands as if poker is its own language. They stick mostly to tournaments.
This is the image we conjure when we think of young poker players today, and that's why John Monnette is such a striking figure in the current poker landscape. He doesn't fit the mold, really, in just about any way.
Monnette had a phenomenal World Series of Poker in 2012. Among his five cashes were a win, a runner-up finish and a third-place finish, all in events whose high-end buy-ins meant he was playing against the crème de la crème. It was a remarkable run that deserved more attention than it received, but Monnette's story got swallowed by successes involving names like Phil Ivey, Antonio Esfandiari and Michael Mizrachi.
History is somewhat repeating itself at WSOP Europe. Esfandiari won Event 2 on Tuesday, and Mizrachi finished third in Event 3. Not to be outdone, Monnette notched a third-place finish in Event 4, the 3,250 euro no-limit hold 'em shootout, and finished 23rd in Event 2 after holding the chip lead with fewer than 30 players left. It's just another example of the old-school fight repeatedly shown by an old-school player in a young man's frame, a player known as "Angry John."
Monnette's professional career started 10 years ago in his native California, playing a strict diet of limit hold 'em. For Monnette, a 20-year-old at the time, winning wasn't enough. "I played [limit hold 'em] exclusively, then got into no-limit, but after playing the same game over and over, there were so many other games out there I wanted to learn," Monnette told ESPN during his summer run. "I read a little bit and just jumped in at the lower limits. I just wanted to figure out the games. Even today, we're playing new games all the time. I'm usually playing cash games, where we're even creating new games just to see how they work. It keeps poker new and exciting, fresh."
See, Monnette's WSOP success is anomalous to a degree because he's not a tournament player. Search the roster of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure or the L.A. Poker Classic or the WPT Championship and you're not likely to find his name, because big-money hold 'em tournaments just aren't his game. Monnette is a veteran of the Bellagio and the Commerce, the biggest cash game operators in the world. There, he doesn't sit against faceless, sunglass-wearing kids. He plays with poker gods.
"I've been playing with him a lot over the last year," said Doyle Brunson. "I knew he was a good player because my son [Todd] had been playing with him and said he was the best of the young guys. I thought he'd be good and he is in every game! I think he's one of the tops of the future. I wasn't surprised at the [bracelet] win by a bit."
Monnette's closest friends in the game aren't guys his age, the people he'll be competing against for the next 40 years. It's legends like Brunson and seven-time bracelet winner Billy Baxter. "Who they are, what they've done, the history what they've had to do to be successful," Monnette said of the forefathers he calls friends. "Back then, it was a lot more of being smart. There was more than just playing poker going on."
I think it's safe to say that he's kind of the way we would have been if we had the books and Internet around to teach us how to manage.
”-- Doyle Brunson on John Monnette
"He'll be standing when the dust settles," asserted Baxter, seen by some as the shrewdest man ever to play the game. "I can answer that quick. He's a very good player. I've played with him in California, a lot of hours, so I'm not just guessing either. Doyle will do pools where he picks players for WSOP, and when they cash he'll get points and so on. When Doyle was picking his list, he asked me who'd be good to put on, and I told him he needed John Monnette on his list, and that was before [Monnette's 2012 WSOP success]. I think a lot of his play. He's a very good player, I think he'll be around forever. He's very talented and has a good head on his shoulders. He's a tough player."
Brunson said: "I think he's a little bit smarter than we were. I think he probably manages better than we did in the old days. We put our money on the table every day. He manages his, which is a good thing. I think it's safe to say that he's kind of the way we would have been if we had the books and Internet around to teach us how to manage."
That's the thing. The more you hear about Monnette, the more he strikes you as the new-school version of the old-school rounder. The cash games, the variety of games, the company he keeps, the live play even his well-known temper. Monnette has long been called Angry John by his fellow players, a reflection on the emotions he wears on his sleeve at the table. Throughout his 20s, Monnette was known for berating dealers, an old-school habit that he knows he could do without.
"I would overreact at the table," Monnette admitted. "I was an [expletive deleted]. I'd take a beat and say something stupid, get upset. I'd be overly emotional. Even people I was playing with, if they got lucky I'd say something stupid to them. It became a joke. People would say: 'You're so angry. Why are you so angry?' and laugh about it. I still have my moments, but I think it's calmed down. At [the 2012] Series, people have been joking, saying: 'Happy John! You're not so angry today, huh?' [It's] because I'm winning."
Monnette has been winning, and perhaps growing up a bit as well.
"I've made an effort to get better," Monnette says of his anger issues. "I wasn't really happy about the way I acted. When you're young and you play poker, you feel like you should win all the time. If you're better than your opponents, you feel like you should never lose. As you get older, you realize that with the game there's an element of luck. It's what draws the crowd, makes the game as great as it is. You can't control it, you can only make the best decisions and move on from there. If you do that, you have to accept the results and try not to get too upset. I don't know if that understanding is why I've been so successful this year. After I won the bracelet, I finished third and I took back-to-back beats and people mentioned I didn't complain. You can't complain after winning, you know? I've been running well and doing well I can't let those beat affect me."
They haven't been. Monnette's name has been a constant in the late going of WSOP Europe events as he fights to get back into the Player of the Year race, currently led by Esfandiari who overtook October Niner Greg Merson with his recent victory. The newer, older, more mature Monnette seems to have replaced at least some of the anger that earned his nickname with focus, with his results the proof of his mentioned progress.
Regardless of his personal reformation, there's little doubt Monnette makes us hark back to a different time. Between hanging out with the true rounders, winning seven-card stud bracelets, sticking primarily to cash games and choosing live over online even before Black Friday, he's a breed apart from the standard fare. It's probably intrinsically linked to his success in Vegas and at Cannes.