From Missionary To Poker Mission: Nathan Manuel’s Crazy Quest For A Platinum Pass

Sean Chaffin December 3, 2018 671 Reads
Nathan Manuel

It sure seemed unlikely. Nathan Manuel has been trying again and again to win a PokerStars’ Platinum Pass, but he was aware of the odds of winning the tournament.

But at Run It Up Reno in late October, his odds improved.

He topped a field of 825 entries to take home the coveted pass to play the PokerStars Players NL Hold’em Championship (PSPC) in January in the Bahamas. The $30,000 package includes a $25,000 buy-in to the PSPC tournament, six nights’ accommodation at the Atlantis Resort and travel expenses.

It was a dream come true for Manuel.

Chasing a dream

Originally from Garland, Texas, the 39-year-old has been living in New York City for 10 years.

He manages a facilities and real estate team for a large advertising technology company, which involves traveling the world designing, building and furnishing various office locations.

He loves the job and has taken advantage of some time abroad to chase the pass. The first effort came at a MegaStack event at London’s Hippodrome Casino in April.

“I was in London working and found out about it,” he said. “I actually paid for my own flight change and hotel stay for two extra nights so I could stay for the weekend to play a ridiculous £150 event.”

Despite playing all four starting flights, Manuel didn’t win. However, living in New York City gave him more opportunities with attempts following at the Foxwoods, Maryland Live! and others.

Despite not claiming a pass, Manuel kept trying. In August, he played an event at Stones Gambling Hall in California.

He attempted to win a pass from Jaime Staples’ Ultimate Sweat Challenge and was a finalist but not a winner.

He attempted the PokerStars’ #VloggerInParadise competition. No luck.

Manuel just kept coming up short until Jason Somerville’s semiannual Run It Up Reno tournament. A longtime follower and subscriber to Somerville’s Twitch stream, the event was Manuel’s seventh to attend.

“That’s kind of my home base,” he said of the event. “Those are my friends.”

Having some friends in the house must have helped because Manuel finally won his pass.

Newly married, his wife was there to cheer him on – the first time she’d seen him play live US poker. She plans to join him on the trip to the Bahamas for an extra honeymoon.

A passion for poker

It’s been an interesting path for Manuel.

He studied art and design at Corcoran School of the Arts & Design in Washington, D.C. and served as a church youth minister and missionary in Austria. He then went on to do some business and information technology consulting work for a nonprofit in D.C.

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, he helped in the rebuilding efforts and loved the work.

“That really opened the door for me to combine some of the things I’d been doing,” he said.

Manuel later moved to New York City to attend graduate school. There, a friend asked to work at his company; he’s been there for 10 years.

Like poker pros David Williams and Justin Bonomo, Manuel came to poker after playing the card game Magic: The Gathering.

When Williams finished second in the Main Event in 2004, it served as an inspiration. Manuel had played “Magic” against Williams, who also grew up around Dallas, and was interested in his new card game. Manuel became a casual player for about a decade.

“I’m very passionate about the game,” he said. “In graduate school in New York City, I became a little more interested.”

The city’s famed underground games became frequent stops for Manuel. By his second year in grad school, he was playing 20 to 30 hours a week and turned a $30,000 profit. Not bad for a student.

Jimmy’s boss

After he began working for his current company, an employee named Jimmy Cappucci turned Manuel on to tournament poker.

The two headed to Vegas in 2015 to play in a World Series of Poker event and other tournaments.

New to the idea of swapping a percentage in each other, they traded 30 percent in each player’s action. In a $400 tournament at Planet Hollywood, Manuel finished fourth for $17,549. Coughing up a third of that to Cappucci was tough.

“What happened though was that it fueled us,” he said.

More tournaments followed and Cappucci would have his own big score a few months later. Living in Boston at the time, Cappucci had been going to Canada to play online – and winning a PokerStars Sunday Million for $115,000.

“That Monday morning, I got a phone call I knew was coming,” he said. “Jimmy said, ‘Nathan, I am no longer going to be working for you because I’m going to play poker full time.’ Since then, ‘JimmiesBoss’ has become my online screen name for just about everything.”

Now a card-playing fanatic, along with watching the Run It Up Twitch coverage, Manuel also listens to several poker podcasts.

“The big thing I see about the Players championship for people like me who are passionate about the game is that it opens up the door to play at the highest levels and against people who think about the game on a really deep level,” he said. “People I’m just not going to play with otherwise for life-changing money.”

As January’s event approaches, Manuel is thankful he has a shot.

“I really think what they’re doing is pretty unique,” he said. “I’ve been in the poker world long enough to know that opportunities like this don’t come up that often. So it really does feel like a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m really trying to grasp it and go after this.”

After a moment he added laughing: “I better get a lot better at poker. I never really thought I was going to win one on some level because I’m a poker player and I understand how these things work. The likelihood of winning these things is very low.”

After overcoming such long odds, Manuel’s hoping to do it again.

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