High Roller Radio has interviewed some of the greatest gamblers, casino insiders, sports bettors, authors and poker players. Here is our interview with WSOP bracelet winner, and son of a world famous jeweller, Justin Oliver talks about his path to glory, his family run business and life as a tournament poker pro.
"One of the toughest players I've ever played against!"
- Justin Oliver on David 'The Dragon' Pham
Justin Oliver Interview
Champion, 2012 WSOP $2,500 Buy-In 4-Max (Full Audio Q&A HERE)
Q: Your father is Russell Oliver, for those who don’t know, one of the most famous jewellers in Toronto and Canada. He’s the ‘Cash Man.'
JO: I will correct you Derrick because if my father were here right now he’d say, 'No Derrick, not the most famous in Toronto, not in Canada, but in the world.’ People come in from all over the world to see him. Whenever we travel, the strangest places, could be an island in the Caribbean, when they find who he is they say, ‘I see your commercials down here.’ For some reason those commercials travel everywhere.
Where ever we go people know us. My Dad would definitely want me to correct you on that one.
Q: Is he the most famous jeweller in the world?
JO: Definitely! I don’t know who else would be more famous. You look at some of the big companies like Tiffany’s or Cartier, they’re companies, but there’s no one particular person who represents that company whereas my father is a one man machine. He’s known everywhere. He definitely has the most known store and makes the most money per square foot of anyone in the world because he only has two locations in Toronto. These other big companies have thousands of locations.
Q: He’s quite a businessman, those commercials are great. It’s a family business, I see commercials now with your father and your brother?
JO: Yes and if you go to youtube you’ll see that I’m in some of the earlier commercials as well. I grew up in the business. I worked in the store since I was a little kid up until just a few years ago when the poker thing started to really take off. I’m not in the business anymore but I have three younger brothers who are.
Q: Are there any similarities between the jewellery business and poker? Any lessons that apply to both fields?
JO: One hundred per cent! Growing up in the business, my job as a kid was to greet the customers when they came in. I had to evaluate their jewellery and my biggest job was negotiate with the clients that were selling the jewellery. I had to work with them, get a feel for them and learn what it was going to take to get a deal done. A lot of that is body language and reading people and that’s definitely one of my stronger traits in poker that’s helped lead to my success.
Q: You tweeted out a picture of your dad wearing the bracelet. That must have been a special moment for you?
JO: It was interesting the way that happened actually. I won the bracelet last year and just threw it in my safety deposit box. I didn’t really do anything with it. This year, I was running deep in a $2,500 event and I made the final table and the final table was on father’s day. I talked to my dad that day before I played and and said, ‘Dad, I’m going to win you this bracelet. I’m gonna win it and I’m gonna give it to you.’ So, I ended up finishing second, came close but I don’t win the bracelet. Later that week, I was surfing the net looking on WSOP.com, looking at some player information, and I saw myself on there. They had a little note on there saying I had won a bracelet and given to my father for Father’s Day. I was going to do that but I didn’t actually do it. So, rather than correcting them and telling them they had to change it, I just decided to give him the one from last year. It’s the best thing to give him for a belated Father’s Day gift anyway. I mean, what do you give a guy who has everything? This was the only thing I could give him he couldn’t get himself.
Q: I take it he might be a bit a poker player too? Did you guys have some him games growing up?
JO: We actually never really played poker growing up but I used to love playing Monopoly when I was a kid. It was kind of our family game. I used to play against my dad and, when I was younger, he used to always kick my ass. He taught me strategy and, although I didn’t learn poker from my father, he definitely taught me how to be analytical and how to read people and their body language. My father gave me a lot of tactical skills.
Q: I understand you have an interesting story on how you got into poker. You’re 38 and you’ve only been playing for four or five years now but your success has been incredible.
JO: I’m blessed and feel fortunate to have the success I’ve had. I’m five years in, won the bracelet 4 years in and that’s incredible. In this day and age it’s not that uncommon anymore because when you’re in Canada and you can play on the internet, you can play on sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt, the competition level really improves your game. Plus, the number of hands you can bang out early in your career is incredible. You know I played a million hands online before I even played tournaments live. So you gain the experience so much faster. I’ve said this before, I’ve played more hands in my life than Doyle Brunson has. You just get that experience so much faster than years ago.
Q: How did you get into poker?
JO: It’s funny because I used to go to Las Vegas for vacation a couple times a year. I would just gamble blackjack, slots or roulette, whatever we were doing, just for fun. One year I was with my brother Jonas, who works in the family business now, and he said, ‘Why don’t you try poker?’ He said, 'Just go in, relax, have fun, have a few drinks and your money will last longer than those other games, and I’ll teach you some basic strategies.’ He basically taught me the rules of no-limit Texas Hold’em. We were out at the Cabana at the Bellagio and he taught me the rules. We took out a deck of cards and he said, ‘Just fold everything unless you get a pair or high cards and then just raise. After the flop,’ he said, ‘just make a continuation bet.’ That’s all he taught me. I went to the Bellagio poker room that day and I won! I won $600 playing $2/$5 my first day. So, when you win you get a pretty good taste for it and it started from there.
Q: Great start. You walk into a casino poker room, not knowing anything about the game, and win $600? You’re hooked, right?
JO: I was embarrassed. I didn’t even understand when it was my turn and I could tell people were snickering at me. I was at such a disadvantage at the game because I didn’t understand the math that, at one point, I said to myself, ‘I’m just gonna play without looking at my cards.’ I just decided to play it blind, just try to read them and it worked out pretty well on that first shot. I ended up winning.
Q: Seven cashes at the WSOP, two final tables, the 2nd this year for $300,000 and, of course, the bracelet last year. Early days for you but how would you describe your tenure at the World Series of Poker so far?
JO: I came into that first final table near the bottom of the pack. When it got to heads-up he had a six or seven to one chip lead on me and people always ask me how I kept myself composed? I was never nervous for one second at these final tables because I had visualized it for years already. It was my goal to win bracelets. It was my goal to be at final tables and I had visualized it over and over again. When I was there it was like I had already done it. So when I won it wasn’t any surprise because I had already seen it in my mind.
Q: I know you gave the bracelet to your dad but it’s got to be something special, something nobody can ever take away from you?
JO: It is. In poker there are lots of ups and downs, so sometimes you’re in a downswing and feel down on yourself. When I’m in a downswing, I try to remember that I’ve won this bracelet and it makes me feel good. I plan on doing great stuff in my career. I’m gonna do my best and hopefully I am fortunate enough to have more titles, but if I don’t I can still say my poker career is a success. I’ve won a bracelet, come close a second time, and I’ve had a big win online, my first big score in 2012. I came 2nd in a WCOOP event online. So when you have these wins under your belt it gives you the confidence when you’re in downswings. You know, you’ve done it before and you can do it again.
Q: You were 7th out 8th when you started that final table. You had the likes of David ‘The Dragon’ Pham, John Juanda and Jarred Jaffe staring across the table at you. Did you have your sights on moving up a spot or were gunning for first all the way?
JO: I play every tournament to win. I don’t even look at the prizes. When I’m at these final tables I have no idea what the prizes are. I refuse to look at it. I refused to look at the bracelet when they brought it out. All I do is focus and try and win the tournament. This year, when I came second, I was upset when I busted. I went over to my rail, I had a fantastic rail led by my fiancé Stephanie, and I asked, ‘Well, how much did I win?’ She said, “332-thousand-198 dollars.’ She had it down to the penny. When she said that I wasn’t so upset anymore because I had no idea second was that much money. I just don’t look at the numbers. I try and win the tournament. I’m there for the gold, there to take top prize, there to compete and that’s all I set my mind too.
Q: Pham, Juanda or Jaffe? Which one is more fearsome at the poker table?
JO: That’s an easy, easy question, David Pham! I don’t know how old he is, he’s gotta be in his fifties, but he plays like a 21 year old internet player. He will six-bet bluff you and fold. I watched one hand last year in the 4-max where he six-bet and the guy jammed and he folded claiming to have Ace-King. I said, ‘Now I know why they call you David ‘The Dragon’ Pham because you breathe bullshit out of your mouth.’ He plays phenomenally well, especially if you don’t he is. When you go into to play poker, you don’t expect someone in that age group to be six-betting light. When an older guy six-bets it’s usually Aces and not even Kings. When he six-bets you and folds to a jam, you know that this guy’s here to play. He is definitely one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever played against.
Q: You are good at table talk. You’re able to converse with your opponents at the poker table. Is that to alleviate boredom or to pick up information?
JO: I am definitely always picking up information. As soon as I sit down at the table, I formulate reads on the players instantaneously. I look around at everyone at the table and before they even say a word I get reads. As soon as they talk I get more reads and the more they say the better read I get. So definitely I talk to get reads. I also like to have fun because poker is supposed to be fun. You know, when I was heads-up with Nick Schwarmann for the bracelet last year I didn’t want it to end. I was having the time of my life. You can’t hear it on the broadcast but that’s what I was saying. I said to Nick, ‘I don’t want this to end. I’ll play heads-up with you for the next three days. There’s nothing better than this, I just want to die at this table. I will stay here forever.’
Q: You’re in that special club, the bracelet club, and that’s gotta be special to you?
JO: It really is. There is nothing quite like it. Winning a bracelet is something they can never take way from you. Nobody can ever say otherwise, no matter how bad I play the rest of my career.
Q: The importance of coaching?
JO: If you want to be good in poker, and you’re just starting out, beginner, intermediate or expert, yes everyone should have a poker coach they can discuss hands with. My success is definitely attributed to Bill Hubbard. When I first started I probably read a dozen books and played for about a year before I met Bill and my game when from a zero out of ten to about a two out of ten. Then I met Bill, worked with him for a few years and got my game up to a nine out of ten. He basically taught me everything there is to know about poker. There’s nothing I could ever do to thank him enough. I definitely attribute my success to him. He was watching me play one day at Aria and I had a Rolex on. Bill liked the watch. So I told him, ‘You know what coach? When I win my first bracelet I’m going to give you this watch.’ So last year I won the bracelet, coach presented me with my gold bracelet on stage at the Rio and I presented him with the Rolex. I would not have been able to do it without him. What he taught me was incredible.
Q: The November Nine is fast approaching. If you were at the final table of the main event how would you handle the three month lay-off?
JO: If I was at the final table of the main event, which I hope to be someday, it would be a dream come true. I need to get visualizing on that one. My life would be poker for those three months. I’d eat, drink and sleep poker. I don't think I’d drink alcohol, I think I’d cut out alcohol for that entire period. I’d be exercising everyday to get my body fit. I would be exercising my mind. I would be playing poker a few times a week at least. I’d be travelling for tournaments, trying to get in shape for tournaments, and I would get a team of coaches. I’d probably get a team of tournament coaches to run scenarios. You know, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity so to not be as absolutely prepared for it as you could be would be a sin. You have to maximize your chances of being world champion. I would research every single player at that final table. I would track them down, find them on youtube, and data mine them. I’d want to know every piece of information on them.
As for the break? I do like the three or four month layoff and the reason I like it is because no other tournament has it and that should be the case with the main event. The main event should be special. It should be promoted, the final table should be promoted, and there should be a lot of tension leading up to it. The event should stand on its own.
Justin Oliver Thank-you!
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High Roller Radio
Russell Oliver - The 'Cash Man'
World famous jeweller, Oliver Jewellery, Russel Oliver received a terrific Father's Day gift, a WSOP gold bracelet from his son.