It was a raucous night in late August in the Lucky Chances poker room in northern California. There were several players at the final table, but one received plenty of cheers from everyone in the room. Regulars, visitors, and staff members alike were all cheering on retiree John Mokhtari as he kept battling at the final table.
The 75-year-old from Manteca, Calif., was playing in the PokerStars Moneymaker Tour and not only was a nice cash prize on the line for a buy-in of $86. After reaching the final four, the players agreed to make a deal. Each took home just under $12,000, with Mokhtari taking home $11,100 – a nice payday for such a small buy-in.
But it was Mokhtari who took home the ultimate prize with a roomful of supporters cheering him on. For his win, he earned a $30,000 PokerStars Players NL Hold’em Championship (PSPC) Platinum Pass for January’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. The package includes a $25,000 buy-in to the tournament, six nights’ accommodation at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, and travel expenses.
Getting to that point wasn’t easy. The tournament at Lucky Chances featured 1,072 entries, and Mokhtari was among the shortest stacks on Day 2. His 19,000 chips equaled only six big blinds. However, he was able to double up a few times quickly and got on a big roll.
“I was very excited,” he says of winning the pass and the cash. “That was the biggest win I’ve ever had. I had a lot of people behind me. It seems like everybody in Lucky Chances was cheering for me – from the management to the people who play there.”
A lifetime of cards
Mokhtari grew up in Iran and moved to the U.S. in 1965. His parents sent him to live with relatives and study business in America, but he soon decided he was more interested in just jumping into work life. He lived in Washington D.C. initially but moved to California a year later. Mokhtari spent his career running used car dealerships and still owns them today.
“I was studying business management, and I became manager of a company,” he says. “So I said, ‘I’m already manager of a company, why do I need to keep studying?’”
Even back in Iran, Mokhtari had always loved playing poker. He started playing the game at age 15 but learned some hard lessons about the game early. After amassing quite a few bucks for a teenager, a few poker players cheated him in a game and he lost much of his cash. He continued to play but learned to spot a crooked game. That loss still motivates him some today.
“I had a few thousand dollars in the bank, and some neighbors found out about it,” he says. “And they cheated me playing poker.
“I’ve still been playing poker since then and always been trying to get my money back,” he adds laughing. “I love the action, I love the moments when you’re up and down. I love talking with other people. It’s a very enjoyable game.”
Before his retirement, Mokhtari played once or twice a week. Now he hits the tables as many as five times a week playing cash games and tournaments.
Poker in paradise
When he lands in the Bahamas for the tournament at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, it will be a nice getaway for Mokhtari. He and his wife plan to enjoy a bit of time by the white, sandy beaches of Paradise Island.
“We’ve already got our tickets, and getting there early to relax,” he says.
While some beach time is on the menu, Mokhtari is also planning to bring his poker face on the trip as well and will have a shot at a much bigger score. The PSPC is a completely rake-free tournament with $9 million contributed to the prize pool, including $1 million added to the first-place payout. A deep run on such a massive poker stage would certainly be nice.
Opponents may know him as a bit of tight player, but he’s also not afraid to mix it up occasionally and make big calls when he has to.
“I’m going to use what I know,” he says. “Every time I play poker I add it to my experience and remember the mistakes I’ve made for the future and try to do better. Some people say I’m a tight player, but if I feel a guy is bluffing I may call with Ace-high.”
In the tournament, Mokhtari also feels he got a bit lucky and hopes that streak continues at the PCA.
“Sometimes when you get lucky, it helps you win four or five hands in a row,” he says. “And I want to use that luck.”